ANC6B Irked by ABRA’s Perceived Slights on Liquor Licensing
Tune Inn and Tortilla Coast Two Cases in Point
by Larry Janezich
In two more examples of city agencies giving short shrift to residents in favor of businesses – in this instance bars and restaurants – the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) has evidently come down on the side of the Tune Inn and Tortilla Coast, and against neighbors and ANC6B who were trying to press the popular neighborhood venues into signing Settlement Agreements.
In the case of the Tune Inn, the ANC has received complaints from nearby residents regarding late night cleanup operations noisy enough to rouse neighbors from sleep. ANC6B had made their support of the renewal of the Tune Inn’s liquor license conditional on the signing of a Settlement Agreement making concessions to neighbors. Although the owners of the Tune Inn objected to the proposed restrictions – especially those concerning late night/early morning disposal of bottles at the restaurant’s rear – everything seemed on track for the agreement. However, according to one ANC commissioner familiar with the Tune Inn’s interaction with the city, once owners were assured by both ABRA and the Office of the Attorney General that signing of the Settlement Agreement was voluntary, and – perhaps – allowing the applicants to infer it was unnecessary, Tune Inn owners decided at the last minute not to sign and to move forward through the process without the ANC’s support.
The second perceived thumb of the nose at ANC6B by ABRA occurred earlier this year when the board dismissed an ANC protest against renewing the liquor license of Tortilla Coast on First Street, SE. The protest arose from neighbor complaints and was based on requirements for peace, order, and quiet. Tortilla Coast sits in a residential area and MPD has been called numerous times because of a faulty burglar alarm. The restaurant, which is seeking an entertainment clause to its liquor license, has operated without a Settlement Agreement in recent years. ABRA dismissed the ANC protest owing to the ANC representative’s tardy arrival at the ABRA hearing. ANC6B’s appeal to reinstate the protest was rejected.
In the Tortilla Coast case, the new application for an entertainment license will give the ANC a second shot at requiring the business to come to terms with the neighbors. Tune Inn neighbors will have to wait three years for the next license renewal cycle.
Capitol Hill Corner contacted ABRA for reaction to the ANC’s concerns, asking how much weight the Board gives to ANC opinions in light of the two cases and what was ABRA’s reaction to the perception that the Board is biased in the interests of the businesses it serves.
With respect to the Tune Inn, the emailed response stated that ABRA is required to give “great weight” to ANC recommendations but that doesn’t mean that the Board is required to act as requested. “In the case of Tune Inn, there is no record of any protest to the license. Since the ANC did not file a protest within the provided timeframes, they waived their right to formerly protest the license.”
With respect to the Tortilla Coast protest, the request to reinstate was dismissed because the “Board finds that the ANC 6B did not demonstrate an effort to notify the Board or its administrative personnel of Commissioner Sarah Loveland’s delay to the Roll Call Hearing, and the Board finds no good cause to reinstate the ANC 6B” protest.
With respect to the perception of business bias, the Board’s public affairs specialist cited the wide opportunity for participation in the licensing process by the public and stated “the Board reviews each case on its own merits and in accordance with the laws set forth by DC Official Code.”
Still, between the lines of legalese there is left unanswered the questions of why, when the board had discretion to act, it did not act on behalf of the residents but on behalf of the applicants and why the benefit of doubt goes to the business in cases where it arose. In this, the agency appears to be complying with the letter but not the spirit of the law. ABRA is likely to hear more about this during the City Council’s oversight hearing for the agency next year.