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Opponents of a proposed liquor license moratorium in the area around 14th and U streets NW outnumbered supporters about six to one at a neighborhood meeting last night. More than 100 people crowded in the Thurgood Marshall Center to voice their concerns in front of leaders from the U Street, Logan Circle, and Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
Joan Sterling of the Shaw Dupont Citizens Alliance, the group that proposed the moratorium, kicked things off by reading from a written statement in which she talked about the negative impact the proliferation of bars and restaurants has had on neighborhood noise, parking, and rat problems.
Sterling also talked about the need for a better balance of businesses. Who wouldn’t want grocery stores, hardware stores, movie theaters, galleries, and retailers like Urban Outfitters, Container Store, or an Apple store, she asked? “These are all businesses that will improve the daytime foot traffic and strengthen the neighborhood more than strip after strip of taverns,” she said. (The moratorium would not, of course, mandate that any of those other retailers come in, nor does the status quo ban them.)
In the comment period, in which people were given a minute and a half to talk, eight others voiced their support for the moratorium. They echoed sentiments about the need for peace, order, and quiet as well as more daytime foot traffic. There was also a lot of talk about the neighborhood becoming the “next Adams Morgan” (in a bad way). Among the more heated moments of the night, one moratorium supporter called the opposing effort a “pro-business jihad.” Another called the recently opened 14th Street Matchbox a “piece of crap.”
But the overwhelming majority of people who spoke up—47 by Y&H’s count—came out against the proposed moratorium. Many spoke about how a moratorium would kill the neighborhood’s vibrancy and jobs. Quite a few people talked how they used to feel unsafe in the neighborhood but now were comfortable walking the streets at night thanks to the revitalization and foot traffic created by restaurants and bars.
Another recurring comment was that problem establishments should be addressed individually, not with a blanket solution. As one neighborhood resident put it, “It doesn’t make sense to take away drivers’ licenses because some people are running stop lights.”
Sheldon Scott, a spokesman for ESL Management restaurant group, which operates Hanoi House, Marvin, American Ice Company, Satellite Room, and more, was one of the few restaurant or bar folks present. “What we’ve seen is a lot of the places that have moratoriums don’t attract new businesses and actually become a long term problem for the neighborhood,” he said.
Two reps from the JBG Companies, which is developing a big multi-use building on the 14th Street corridor, echoed the same idea. In addition to restaurants that will part of the Louis at 14th development, there will be a Trader Joe’s, coffee shops, and potentially gyms and spas. JBG VP of development James Nozar said the restaurants are what incentivize those other types of businesses to come to the area. “We have seven retailers, two are restaurants,” Nozar said. “The other five would not have come if those restaurants weren’t coming in.”
The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration will hold a hearing on the moratorium on May 22.