Some Capitol Hill residents have watched with alarm as more restaurants and bars have flocked to vibrant 8th Street SE, replacing long-time retail establishments. Most recently, the darling pet shop Chateau Animaux announced it would sell its building to not one but two restaurants: A Moby Dick House of Kabob, and a noodle place called Nooshi.
For the last several months, a “retail mix committee” of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B has been thinking about the problem: How to retain neighborhood services like pet shops and dry cleaners, when bars and restaurants can pay much higher rents? The Barracks Row zoning overlay limiting eating and drinking establishments to 50 percent of street frontage only covers the blocks south of the expressway; most of the core commercial zone can have as many liquor licenses as it can hold.
Last night, Commissioner Norm Metzger laid out next steps. Starting in December, a series of public meetings will contemplate various potential remedies. First up: A moratorium, which would set a cap on the total number of licenses allowed. It’s the most blunt instrument neighborhoods have at their disposal to limit the impact of alcohol, and many have taken that step; Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and Glover Park all have caps in place. Councilmember Jim Graham recently raised the idea of slapping a moratorium on U Street.
It’s not a done deal, of course. “The take-home message from this is not that we are advocating for a moratorium on Capitol Hill,” Metzger cautioned. But there will be loud voices in favor. In fact, two people at last night’s meeting rose in support of a temporary freeze on new licenses while the Commission decides whether it wanted to endorse a full moratorium (which can only be imposed by the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration).
“We didn’t choose to live in an Adams Morgan-like environment,” said one woman, “which I think we can all agree is a bad thing.”