Haydee Vanegas is confident that city regulators will ultimately rule in her favor. “We expect a good answer,” she tells City Desk.

The co-owner of Haydee’s, a Salvadorean restaurant at 3102 Mt. Pleasant Street NW, sparked a neighborhood fight earlier this year when she decided to apply for a CN-class nightclub license, a move that would unburden her eatery from the city’s stringent food-sales requirements and allow her to expand its hours of operation.

After months of arguing the issue on neighborhood Listservs and meetings of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Vanegas and her detractors finally got to duke it out in front of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board on May 26.

At the hearing, though, Haydee’s opponents were thrown for something of a loop. A group of five nearby residents who had formed to protest the nightclub license were not allowed to testify because they had not filed the proper paperwork.  While the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance’s Sam Broeksmit was permitted to testify, the topics that he was allowed to discuss were more limited than he had anticipated.

Broeksmit had planned to argue that a tavern license would meet Haydee’s needs, that many of the signatures on the petition in support of Haydee’s application were not from Mount Pleasant residents, and that Haydee’s food sales are consistently above the 45 percent threshold it needs to meet as a restaurant. The ABC Board, however, only allowed him to speak to issues of peace and quiet, property values, and parking.

“They basically instructed Sam saying, ‘You’ve got to defend the assertion that the conversion to a nightclub will cause problems under one or all of those categories,'” says ANC Commissioner Jack McKay, a supporter of Haydee’s application. “He really wasn’t prepared to do that.”

“I definitely had to change on the fly,” Broeksmit admits. “I guess I would say it was uneven. There was a very narrow box being put around what we could say and then a broad box around what Haydee’s could testify to and what the Board to ask questions to.”

The limited scope of what he was allowed to testify about was just the latest hurdle in what has been a “frustrating” process for Broeksmit.

His neighborhood association has pushed without success for Haydee’s to instead apply for a tavern license with an entertainment endorsement, a compromise Broeksmit says would let Haydee’s achieve its desired goals of longer hours for dancing, greater capacity, and a lower food-sales requirement but without near-total lack of restrictions that comes with a nightclub license.

“We support almost everything she wants, yet she wants it within a nightclub for no clearly articulated reason,” Broeksmit says.

Given the bad blood between Broeksmit and Haydee’s, though—the two were foes in the 2008 battle over the ban on dancing and live music at Mt. Pleasant Street restaurants—it’s perhaps unsurprising that Haydee’s is resistant to the tavern compromise. Haydee’s owner Vanegas says she feels Broeksmit’s group is “anti-business” and that the tavern license would come with “too many restrictions.”

“They would still be at the mercy of the MPNA, and that’s basically what Haydee objected to,” McKay says. “I think largely because they have such a long history of conflict with the MPNA, they don’t want anything to do with the MPNA.”

The ABC Board has 90 days after the hearing to review and decide the case.

Photo by CarrieA, Creative Commons Attribution License