No Easy Answers on 8th Street Moratorium

by Larry Janezich

About 50 people attended a meeting of the ANC’s Special Retail Mix Task Force on Monday evening to hear from four commissioners representing three neighborhoods with moratoria or restaurant caps.  It was clear from the presentations that moratoria affect each of these neighborhoods differently.  Glover Park clearly supports a moratorium.  DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan have reservations.  One of the Adams Morgan commissioners admitted to being perceived as having an unsympathetic predisposition to moratoria.

Fred Moosaly, Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) Director, began the discussion by briefing on the moratorium issue.  Requests for a moratorium have to be made in writing – if not from the ANC then from a group of five citizens or an incorporated citizens’ group.  The Board wants to know the position of the ANC and is required to give “great weight” to that opinion.

Moratoria are issued in 600, 1200, or 1800 foot circles from a central location – often an ABC establishment.  There can be blocks exempted within the circle.  The request must state reasons – peace, order, noise, crime, littering, property values, parking, over concentration, etc.  The Board asks the opinion of the Council Member and the MPD and.  schedules a hearing.  It receives testimony from stakeholders and then makes a decision.  If approved, the moratorium goes to the City Council for approval.  If approved there, it goes into effect.  Moratoria are generally for five years, but the Board can make it three.  A moratorium is not in place forever.  Neighborhoods change and the issue can be revisited.  After two years, a moratorium may be tweaked by the ANC.  The entire process may take several months or longer.

Jack Jacobson, ANC Commissioner from DuPont Circle, noted that their moratorium had been divisive for the community, galvanizing hardliners on both sides.  Some people think vacant buildings are caused by the moratorium.  He thinks there are better ways to accomplish the goals the moratorium seeks.  It is impossible to say whether empty store fronts are caused by the moratorium or high rents.  Opponents of the moratorium say that 17th street is not welcoming to business.

Jackie Blumenthal, Commissioner from Glover Park, said a moratorium had worked well for them, limiting the influx of ABC establishments overflowing from Georgetown,  and that they had not had contentious problems.  The ANC will ask for a renewal.  The moratorium didn’t seem to have an effect on retail until businesses left.  But there is no way to prove whether empty buildings are due to the moratorium, high rent expectations of landlords, or poor choice of location by retailers.  Their ANC recruited a highly desirable business and were surprised when they ran up against landlords’ prohibitively high rent expectations.

Mindy Moretti and Bryan Weaver, Commissioners from Adams Morgan, urged proceeding carefully on a moratorium and urged emphasizing compliance with existing license restrictions and working with “good” operators to control problems..  They thought that there are tools available to shape the business mix without necessarily imposing a moratorium.  They said that the current 20 percent of businesses on Barracks Row serving alcohol “sounds ideal.”

Participants noted that Georgetown has just renewed their moratorium for five years and that H Street, NE, has decided not to pursue a moratorium.

The panel seemed to be in agreement that it is necessary to determine the real reason for seeking a moratorium and to figure out what it is you are trying to accomplish:  to stop growth, slow it, or change its direction.

If the reason for the moratorium is noise, peace, and order issues, some panelists suggested it might be better to impose a moratorium on nightclubs and taverns and work with the MPD.  In addition, ANCs can limit the time an establishment is open and limit the kinds of licenses which can be applied for.  They can impose a limited moratorium, stopping new establishments on one block and exempting other blocks.  ANC’s can establish guidelines on what they will accept from a bar or restaurant in terms of noise, hours, and outdoor seating.  The ANC can work with owners to encourage patron responsibility.

If the reason for a moratorium is to change the business mix to attract retail, panelists suggested it might be better to find a way to reduce rents.  One way to do this would be to work with Councilmembers to establish a business enterprise zone and get tax credits for new businesses and for landlords who support new business, instead of the tax deferments which is the city’s current conventional approach to the problem.  .

Chuck Berger, representing CHAMPS, emphasized that the issue was not a matter of licenses, but of usage and supported the idea of ANC guidelines for ABC establishments rather than a moratorium.

There was consensus that it is essential to involve the community, particularly with community meetings.

The Retail Task Force will meet again next Monday to decide what to do next.  It’s possible they will issue a preliminary report to the ANC in February.

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One response to “No Easy Answers on 8th Street Moratorium

  1. Thomas Riehle

    Larry,

    Thanks as always for attending this meeting and sharing this information.

    Rather than involving MPD, isn’t it possible to deal with noise and parking issues through a productive, well-planned meeting with restaurant/bar owners on 8th Street SE and residents on 7th and 9th? I bet an informal and short meeting that yields a plan in writing that all agreed to try, well-executed, might solve the noise and parking problems that contributed to the desire to impose a moratorium–and accomplish this in a neighborly way that would let everyone get to know each other outside of an antagonistic setting and find common ground.

    Also, would an 1800 foot moratorium circle cause problems for the Hill Center?

    Finally, the other issue beyond noise and parking is a desire to attract retail that is not bars or restaurants. That seems like a much harder question than noise and parking, and requires a very different panel of experts to discuss this with us–people who are in the business of retail development in small urban areas with very limited spaces available for stores. I think that kind of discussion, with people who have faced that kind of challenge elsewhere in DC or in other cities, would take us a lot further down the road than more discussions about a moratorium on liquor licenses.