Dueling Letters to Neighbors Highlight Public Relations Battle Prior to ABRA Status Hearing on Hill Center
by Larry Janezich
In an effort to shore up community relations, Nicky Cymrot, President of the Hill Center Foundation, sent a letter to immediate neighbors of the newly refurbished Hill Center. In it, Cymrot made note of the efforts on the part of the Center to establish good relations with surrounding residents and explained that the later hours on the Voluntary Agreement already approved by ANC 6B allowed the Center to clean-up after events.
Organizers of the 156 individuals who signed the petition protesting the liquor license to ABRA cited that the ANC agreement made additional allowances for clean-up beyond the closing hours cited by Cymrot in her letter. They continued to insist that the Hill Center sign a license that conformed to the liquor-service hours described on the Hill Center’s website.
Both letters are copied below. A comparison of ending hours for Hill Center as stated in the Center’s alcohol license application, ANC Voluntary Agreement, Hill Center Website, and the neighbors request was published previously by emmcablog, on July 29.
Neighborhood protestors have also recently called on residents to not patronize or volunteer for the Hill Center and ask friends and neighbors not to patronize it until the Hill Center negotiates a new voluntary agreement with its neighbors. At least one resident has asked for her donation to the Center to be returned. Both parties are scheduled to meet for a status hearing on August 10; if the dispute has not been successfully mediated, then a protest hearing is scheduled for October 5th. Without a resolution, no liquor license can be issued in the interim.
August 3, 2011
As you know, Hill Center is scheduled to open this fall. This is an exciting time. Years of hard work and dedication by many neighborhood volunteers has turned a derelict and neglected old building into a beautifully restored asset for the entire community.
Some of you have expressed concern about the operation of Hill Center and the impact it might have on your neighborhood. From the very first proposal to the city outlining the idea of Hill
Center some nine years ago, we have kept the interests of our immediate neighbors in mind. Like you, we are residents of Capitol Hill and value, just as you do, the quality of life we enjoy in our neighborhoods. With construction nearly completed, we are looking forward to opening Hill Center and remain fully committed to being good neighbors and conducting our operations accordingly.
We are listening to the concerns of neighbors and take them seriously. Please know that we are addressing these concerns whenever possible, and that we pledge to maintain an ongoing dialogue and an open-door policy to deal with matters as they arise:
• When our application to the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) for a license came before the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), we addressed concerns you raised about operating hours, shortened them, considerably in some instances, and crafted a Voluntary Agreement (VA) that was approved unanimously by the ANC.
• We convened the first of a series of ‘community listening sessions’ with Diana Ingraham, Hill Center’s Executive Director, who has pledged to be available to neighbors. We will continue those sessions.
• After a group of neighbors filed a protest against Hill Center’s liquor license, we joined their representatives at the mediation table to discuss changes they wanted to the VA. The mediator told the neighborhood group that most of the items they were requesting were not issues that could be included in the agreement—that ABRA had no jurisdiction over them.
We at Hill Center, however, will do our best to take into consideration those concerns as we develop our operational procedures.
There remains a point of confusion about Hill Center’s hours of operation. Our intention is to limit the hours of programs and gatherings inside the building to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Since these hours do not include time for clean up, the hours on the ANC Voluntary Agreement extend the operating hours to allow us to do so. The use of the garden for scheduled gatherings will be limited to 9 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. We will also thoroughly screen all caterers and use only those who maintain the sensitivity to our neighbors that we will demand. Hill Center staff will be on hand at all times to enforce these requirements.
At this point, Hill Center has almost completed the full rehabilitation of the historic Old Naval Hospital, and we hope you will agree that the result is very beautiful. We want our neighbors to be among the first to take advantage of the exciting educational, cultural, and civic programs that Hill Center has to offer. We ask that you give us the benefit of the doubt and extend your good will as we all begin this new time. We will continue to do all we can to make sure that Hill Center remains an asset to the neighborhood and to the community.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.
Nicky Cymrot, President
Old Naval Hospital Foundation
August 3, 2011
Response from Representatives of the Group of 156 Near Neighbors to the Letter from Ms. Cymrot on behalf of the Hill Center
The Hill Center’s letter from Ms Cymrot to neighbors dated August 3, 2011, states that there is “confusion about Hill Center’s hours of operation” and that their “intention is to limit the hours of programs and gatherings inside the building to 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday”.
If this statement is true, then why does the Hill Center (continue to) insist on continuing to hold to the ANC6B official licensing agreement showing alcohol service inside the building as late as 1 am Sunday through Thursday and 2 AM Friday and Saturday? The ANC6B Voluntary Agreement also has Hours of Operation (clean up, etc.) listed as going on until 2 AM on weekdays and 3 AM on weekends.
If the Hill Center is not going to serve alcohol after 11 PM, why refuse to agree to do exactly that and to make the public commitment to place these restrictions on their license? Instead, neighbors are asked to “trust” them and told that “they are our neighbors too”. (None of the board members, however, live in the nearby neighborhood.) Meanwhile, the Hill Center’s attorney, Paul Pascal, is telling the neighbors that the Hill Center will under no circumstances enter into an agreement with anyone (other than the ANC) about anything.
If there is any “confusion” about the hours of operation, that confusion is attributable to the Hill Center’s refusal to even discuss the numbers of visitors and closing hours with designated representatives for a group of 156 neighbors who signed petitions protesting the license. Those neighbors’ representatives are not confused about what is meant by closing at 1 AM and 2 AM. Those hours are not the same as 11 PM. The Hill Center rejected making the 11 PM closing official without allowing for any discussion or negotiation. Those are the facts.
The concerned neighbors are almost 100 percent supportive of the Hill Center and its mission. However, the Hill Center’s initial demand that they stay open for alcohol service until 3 AM came as a shock and disappointment to many neighbors, and especially to those who had been supportive in the past. The change negotiated by ANC 6B to reduce alcohol service closing time by one hour to 1 AM Sunday through Thursday and 2 AM Friday and Saturday was considered, by the 156 neighborhood petitioners directly affected by a late night operation, to be inadequate. An agreement with those neighbors that specifies 11 PM closing hours would dispel any “confusion” that exists and restore some level of the good will toward the Hill Center.
Jill I. Lawrence