The ongoing dispute over alcohol licenses between businesses and disgruntled Washington, D. C. residents looks primed to escalate once again as the Shaw-Dupont Civic Association pushes a moratorium on new license acquisitions in the U Street area. If approved, this moratorium will be the fifth alcohol license freeze to be imposed in the District of Columbia in recent memory, following in the footsteps of similar moratoriums in Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Glover Park and Adams Morgan. Advocates have been vocal on both sides of the argument, highlighting a clear split in opinions regarding the issue within the community.
Proponents of the moratorium assert that the recent expansion of the highly lucrative bar scene into the U Street neighborhood has had a direct, adverse effect on residents’ quality-of-life, citing late-night clamors, scarcity of parking spaces and littering as key grievances. Furthermore, many claim that the steady inflow of alcohol-serving establishments in the neighborhood has come at the cost of displacing more traditional daytime businesses like retailers and small arts venues. Complementing this list is the citation of a letter from District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier that claims that four times the usual amount of police manpower is required in city blocks with ten bars or more.
Opponents of the moratorium, however, claim that the recent popularity of the U Street area owes itself to the dense concentration of bars, which draws in a large pool of customers eager to indulge in the city’s nightlife. The restaurant scene has revitalized the community and made it much safer for residents and raised property values in the once blighted neighborhood. Moreover, local bar owners have expressed doubts on the effectiveness of imposing a moratorium. They argue that a license freeze would stagnate the hospitality industry and make existing alcohol licenses expensive commodities, similar to what has occurred in other moratorium zones, like Adams Morgan and Georgetown. These two factors combined could result in bar owners selling off their licenses and moving out of the neighborhood, taking their business and popularity with them. Among the litany of individuals who have spoken out against the moratorium is District of Columbia Mayor Vince Gray, who has expressed concern over the well-being of the U Street and how the moratorium is likely to impede further development in the area.
At the Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) Board hearing held for the proposal on May 22nd, sentiments toward the issue appeared to be split as well. On one hand, several board members including Mike Silverstein clearly demonstrated opposition to the moratorium by questioning the wisdom of restricting competition in the marketplace. . On the other hand, the rest of the board, including ABC board chairwoman Ruthanne Miller, played devil’s advocate but fell short of rejecting outright the need for the moratorium.
In terms of support, the Shaw-Dupont Civic Association alleges to have amassed the signatures of 400 locals who purportedly back the moratorium. Prior to the hearing, ABRA held community listening sessions to discuss the moratorium, where the majority of attendees opposed the ban. There is also a Change.org online petition opposing the ban, which has approximately 1200 signatures. At the hearing, the civic association requested that the ABC Board disregard the online petition because there is no way to verify whether the individual signatures were District of Columbia residents.
The ABC board has 90 days to issue a decision regarding the moratorium.
For more information about the alcohol moratorium, please contact Rosemarie Salguero at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andre Barlow at email@example.com.