As we discussed in our January blog, “Three Tips Every Restaurant Owner Should Consider Before Applying for a D.C. Liquor License“,it is important for business owners to learn about zoning regulations prior to signing a lease for a restaurant. This is especially important in the Arts Overlay District, which covers 14th Street, N.W. from N Street to Florida Avenue, and U Street, N.W., from 9th to 15th Streets. The area has become a hot spot for new and innovative restaurants in the District.
The Uptown Arts-Mixed Use (“ARTS”) Overlay District restricts the street frontage for eating and drinking establishments to only 50 percent of ground-floor retail space on any city square. When the regulations were established in 1990, the maximum allowed street frontage was 25 percent. In 2010, due to intense lobbying from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (“ANCs”) and business and community groups, the D.C. Zoning Commission increased the cap to 50 percent for street frontage for eating and drinking establishments. At the time, it was believed to be a good compromise between encouraging retail and arts development while allowing new restaurants to fill vacate spaces in the area.
Missy Frederick of The Washington Business Journal recently wrote an article about the frustration of restaurant entrepreneurs and their retail brokers with this restriction, including delayed lease negotiations and empty store fronts. Unless the D.C. Zoning Commission lifts this restriction, restaurant entrepreneurs must determine store frontage availability for their new restaurant ventures before signing any lease in the Arts Overlay District.— April 16, 2012