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Posts from the ‘DCRA’ Category

DCRA Announces Business License Amnesty Program to Run Through December 31, 2012

On October 31, 2012, District of Columbia’s Mayor Vincent Gray announced a temporary amnesty program that will allow businesses operating without or on an expired business license (expired prior to August 1, 2012) to obtain one without receiving $2,000 in penalties, from November 1 through December 31, 2012.

The amnesty program, which will be administered by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (“DCRA”) mostly targets delis, restaurants, grocery stores, beauty salons and barber shops, all of which have the lowest compliance rates of businesses in the city for obtaining proper business registrations and licenses.

Additionally, any corporate entity with expired or missing corporation filings, and businesses operating without current registration of their UPC scanners, commercial weights or scales, produce scales or gas pumps may also take advantage of this amnesty program.

The program comes in the wake of the controversy that arose this summer between DCRA and a group of six businesses that sell used records, furniture, clothing, and jewelry.  DCRA investigators visited these stores and required them to obtain secondhand business licenses, which have more requirements than a general business license.  The secondhand business license costs nearly $700 every two years and comes with strict inventory-reporting and background-check requirements as checks against the receipt of stolen goods.

After intense lobbying by the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District (“BID”) and a group called “Save Our Shops”, DCRA published new regulations exempting used and vintage stores from obtaining a secondhand business license, as long as certain requirements were satisfied.  To read the full text of the regulations, click here.

No Compromise: Food Truck Association Continues Campaign Against DCRA Regulations

The D.C. Food Truck Association (“DCFTA”) activated its public relations and lobbying campaign to oppose the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ (“DCRA”) second attempt to update the vending regulations in the District.  On October 5, DCRA published proposed regulations to update the 30-year-old regulations which provide health and safety guidelines for sidewalk and roadway vendors but currently do not include food trucks.

In a continuous effort to encourage food truck owners to operate in designated areas and avoid overcrowding city streets, the Government’s most recent legislation establishes Mobile Roadway Vending (“MRV”) zones, wherein up to three food trucks may park from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so long as the individual trucks hold operating licenses.  Outside of these zones, food trucks are still permitted to park in metered parking spaces as they have been, provided they pay for the meter.

In spite of the flexibility that this legislation gives to food trucks while also clearing up traffic in otherwise crowded streets, the DCFTA vehemently opposes the newly proposed regulations.  In particular, the DCFTA cites the need for dense concentration of food trucks during certain planned events as a primary incentive to turn down the Government’s proposal.  DCFTA also objects to the requirement that an MRV may not be established “[w]here the adjacent unobstructed sidewalk is less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide in the Central Business District or seven feet (7 ft.) wide outside the Central Business District.”

Sidewalk vendors currently have a similar restriction, which requires vendors to maintain ten feet (10 ft.) and seven feet (7 ft.) walkways where they vend.  Restaurants with sidewalk cafes must also follow strict regulations that maintain unobstructed walkways.  Food trucks claim they are being unduly burdened by these long established rules for maintaining clear walkways for pedestrians.

DCFTA is lobbying the D.C. Council, which ultimately must vote on these regulations, and is asking food truck supporters to petition Mayor Vincent Gray to rewrite the rules.  The public can still make comments on these regulations until 5pm on November 13th.

Comments may be sent to Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at 1100 Fourth St. SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024. Comments may be e-mailed to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov.

Changes to the District’s Alcohol Laws Debated at D.C. Council Committee Hearing

During a five hour hearing by the D.C. Council Committee on Human Services, over 30 witnesses testified about the Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Amendment Act of 2012.  Chairman Jim Graham (Ward One) presided over the hearing and mediated between the concerns of local restaurant owners and neighborhood community leaders.

The amendments to the bill are a result of a taskforce, assembled by Chairman Graham, which met from December 2011 until April 2012, to help draft the legislation.  The taskforce consisted of 26 stakeholders including 14 Advisory Neighborhood Council (“ANC”) Commissioners, six alcohol licensees, two Business Improvement District (“BID”) representatives, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, and government officials.

Out of the 43 changes proposed by the taskforce and codified in the bill, the most controversial provisions relate to 1) standing requirements for a D.C. resident to protest an alcohol license; 2) the conditions that are permitted in Voluntary Agreements; and 3) the enforcement of noise complaints against licensees.

Standing Requirements to Protest a License:

Currently, D.C. Code § 25-601 lists the persons or entities that may protest a new alcohol license as 1) an abutting property owner to the establishment; 2) a group of five D.C. residents;  3) a property owner within 600 feet of the establishment; 3) a citizen’s association; and 4) affected ANCs.

The new regulation would require the group of five residents to live within 400 feet of the establishment.  During the hearings, it was established that 400 feet is the equivalent of one city block, which many of the neighborhood witnesses believed was too restrictive, although most conceded some geographical limitation is appropriate.

Voluntary Agreement Provisions:

The D.C. code does not enumerate what types of provisions a Voluntary Agreement may contain, but the new regulations provides greater clarity as to what types of restrictions or affirmative requirements may be imposed on the licensee regarding entertainment, noise, litter, parking, security, hours of operation, and occupancy.

Additionally, Section § 25-446 is to be amended to give Voluntary Agreements negotiated between ANCs and applicants precedent over Cooperative Agreements negotiated between residents and applicants.   Graham corrected a typo in the current bill, which states that once a Voluntary Agreement is signed between an ANC and the applicant, all other protests would be dismissed by the ABRA board.

The purpose of this provision is to reduce the number of duplicate voluntary agreements, unnecessary paperwork and extreme delays in the licensing process caused by duplicate protest groups.  It was included to give due respect to the opinions of the democratically elected representatives of the ANCs and grant them greater weight in the process.  However, Graham noted that the bill, as drafted, mischaracterized the process.  Protests by neighborhood associations would not be dismissed after a Voluntary Agreement with an ANC is signed, and any Cooperative Agreement signed prior to the Voluntary Agreement with the ANC would be incorporated into the final Board Order.

Enforcement of Noise Complaints:

Two solutions proposed by new regulations to help abate the noise issues between establishments and neighbors is to require ABRA to maintain a noise complaint line and track noise complaints and to require all mixed use buildings, constructed after January 1, 2013, to be built with a minimum sound transmission class rating.

Ernest D. Jarvis, President of the D.C. Building Industry Association testified against such a blanket provision for any new mixed use building, citing the economic burden placed on builders, and Nicholas Majett, Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), echoed Mr. Jarvis’ sentiment.  Chairman Graham agreed to work with Mr. Majett to include language that would be amenable to both builders and neighborhood residents.

Chairman Graham and the Committee will review all of the comments submitted by the witnesses.  A final version of this bill will likely not be presented to the full D.C. Council until Fall 2012, at the earliest.

If you have any questions about this pending legislation, please contact our offices.  To see the full video recording of the hearing, please click here.

D.C. Council to impose sales tax on Food Truck Operators

On March 1, 2012, the Committee on Finance and Revenue of the Council of the District of Columbia passed out of committee, by unanimous vote, the Vendor Sales Tax Collection and Remittance Act of 2012, which would require vendors in the District to collect sales taxes from patrons and remit them to the District, like other businesses.  Both Virginia and Maryland require food vendors to collect sales tax.

Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) first introduced the bill last year to amend a section of the District’s tax code that exempts sidewalk and mobile street vendors from sales tax requirements.  Currently, sidewalk and mobile street vendors, including food trucks, pay a quarterly fee of $375 to the District in lieu of having to pay the 10% retail sales tax on prepared food the way other food service businesses must.

Food truck operators’ main objection to the bill focuses on how the District will tax each street vendor.   Food truck operators claim that there exists the threat that they will be taxed multiple times because some trucks hold multiple operating licenses.

Stephen Cordi, Deputy Chief Financial Officer for the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue, is quoted in a Washington Post article on the subject as stating, “the way [he] reads the proposed bill, each business vendor — not the individual licensees tied to the business vendor — would be required to submit sales taxes.”

Food truck operators also argue that this issue should be dealt with under the proposed vending regulations that the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued in January.  The new regulations created controversy between the food truck community, which largely supports the regulations, and the brick-and-mortar restaurants, who argue that the rules grant food trucks an unfair competitive advantage.

The public comment period for the new vending regulations closed last week. More than 3,200 comments were submitted to the DCRA and the department plans to spend the next week or two reviewing the opinions and talking with city agencies and various stakeholders about how to resolve the conflicts between food trucks and bricks-and-mortars. The DCRA hopes to bring the final regulations to the D.C. Council before the end of the year. The Council could reject the regulations and force all parties to operate under the current ones.

Evans said to the Washington Post that he could not wait any longer for the Council to approve the new vending regulations before moving ahead with the tax bill.  “My position is, if I give you enough time and if you don’t do it, [expletive] you, I’m going to move ahead and put the tax in place. That’s how I operate. People know that’s how I operate.”

The Vendor Sales Tax Collection and Remittance Act, which is expected to pass the full Council, could receive its first reading in April and go into effect October 1st.

Bringing Order to D.C.’s Food-Truck Craze (By Editorial Board, Washington Post)

(The following article was published in the Washington Post’s Editorial Section on February 28, 2012.)

Something else — in addition to a new president — was inaugurated in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009. That day, the Fojol Brothers served up their signature Indian food in the D.C. debut of food trucks. Since then, there has been an explosion of these popular mobile vendors, with lunchtime crowds lining up for everything from lobster rolls to Korean tacos. The trucks have added vitality to urban dining and neighborhoods.

The rapid growth of this industry also has created issues that require thoughtful regulation. The job of writing rules that acknowledge the legitimate concerns of traditional restaurants without stifling innovation falls to the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), which “tries to force everybody into the room . . . and find something that works for everybody,” Helder Gil, legislative affairs specialist for DCRA, told The Post’s Tim Carman.

That seems to have been wishful thinking. The department’s draft rules, after 19 months of study, have fueled a fierce debate. “David vs. Goliath” is how food-truck fans portray the battle against the perceived clout of brick-and-mortar restaurants; the local restaurant association, in turn, professes to want not to ban food trucks but only to ensure a level playing field. The proposed regulations need D.C. Council approval to become law, which means the battle will likely intensify.

That’s too bad, because DCRA’s proposed rules strike a reasonable balance. Mobile vendors would no longer have to abide by the silly “ice cream truck” rule that requires them to drive off when no one is waiting in line. Instead they could pay the parking meter and remain in that spot until the meter expires. Vending development zones would allow neighborhoods some say in how many mobile and sidewalk vendors to allow in an area. DCRA officials stressed that this couldn’t be used to ban vendors but would be an urban planning tool, akin to communities regulating the number of alcohol licenses.

Some further refinement is needed. How the zones would be managed and by whom needs to be spelled out. A restaurant owner may think, for example, that there are too many trucks at Franklin Square, while customers may find that concentration has brought new life to the downtown park. Perhaps truck vendors can do more to deal with trash and other nuisance issues that arise from their operations. We also don’t understand the logic of insisting that trucks selling ice cream and other sweets remain subject to the rule of having to move if no one is standing in line.

Restaurants complain, fairly, that food trucks don’t have to collect sales tax. That doesn’t come under the purview of these regulations: A bill making this fix has languished in the council for the last year and should be passed. Also deserving of attention are complaints from the restaurants about the burdensome regulations they face in setting up sidewalk cafes and undertaking other improvements. Freeing restaurants from excessive regulation is a better way to level the playing field than is piling misery on those who operate food trucks.

The Washington Post Editorial Board, 2.28.2012
www.washingtonpost.com

Debate Continues Over Food Truck Locations

As the debate continues over Food Truck regulations, residents in Dupont Circle and other areas are concerned with the possibility of mobile restaurants in front of their homes.

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission unanimously passed a resolution on Jan. 30 calling for trucks to be banned on streets with Residential Permit Parking restrictions.

Dupont Circle commissioner Bob Meehan voiced his concerns at the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, “I cannot support food trucks being able to say, ‘Oh, I can’t get on the main street, I’ll go in front of the houses right around the corner’,” Meehan said, “That’s not acceptable to me.”

Proposed restrictions would also give the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs the right to designate additional food truck zones with more rigorous restrictions. The Dupont Circle commission unanimously requested that the neighborhood commissions be allowed to weigh in on those established zones.

The regulatory agency plans to take two months to speak to the food truck and restaurant industries to discuss any changes to the proposed regulations. The Agency extended the comment period on the proposed Food Truck regulations to March 1.

Robert W. Doyle, Jr.

(202) 589-1839

rdoyle@dbmlawgroup.com

DCRA Issues A Second Round Of Proposed Vending Regulations To Support Food Trucks

Almost two years after publishing proposed regulations enforcing the Vending Regulation Act of 2009 (D.C. Law 18-71; 56 DCR 6619), the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (“DCRA”) published on January 20, 2012 a second round of proposed regulations attempting to enforce the statutory requirements of the 2009 Act.  The 2009 Vending Act updated the District’s authority to regulate commercial vending, and authorized the Mayor “to require vendors to vend only from designated locations, to grandfather existing vendors into designated vending locations;  to authorize vending development zones within which alternative forms of regulation of vending may be tested, to authorize the Mayor to charge fees for licenses and other authorizations to vend from public space, to authorize the imposition of civil fines for the violation of this act or rules issued pursuant to this act, and to authorize the regulation of public markets.”

In response to over 2,500 constituent comments submitted about the 2010 proposed regulations, DCRA made substantive changes to the proposed regulations, including exempting mobile food truck vendors from the public space “site permit” requirement that every other vendor must obtain and allowing them to use legal parking spaces.  In essence, the revised regulations relax restrictions on savory food trucks, allowing them to stay parked for longer periods of time when they are not serving customers.  DCRA is soliciting comments on these new proposed regulations.  All persons who wish to comment should submit comments in writing to Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 Fourth Street, SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024, or via e-mail at DCVendingRegs@dc.gov, no later than February 20, 2012 , which is thirty (30) days after publication of the regulations in the D.C. Register.

To see a copy of the new proposed regulations, please click here.

Three Tips Every Restaurant Owner Should Consider Before Applying for a D.C. Liquor License

There are a myriad of issues to consider when applying for a liquor license in the District of Columbia.  Below are three important, but, surprisingly, often overlooked issues that business owners should consider prior to applying for an alcohol license in the District.

1)      Check Zoning Regulations – Before signing any lease, a business owner needs to make sure the building is located in an area zoned for commercial use and alcohol sales.   In 2010, restaurateurs were caught off guard when the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (“DCRA”) announced that it would begin enforcing the 25% limit on the number of bars and restaurants allowed to operate in the Arts Overlay district of the 14th and U Streets NW area.  According to the DC Office of Zoning, The Uptown Arts-Mixed Use (“ARTS”) Overlay District was established to “encourage retail, entertainment and residential uses that require pedestrian activity; an increased presence and integration of the arts and related cultural and arts-related support uses; a design character and identity of the area by establishing physical design standards and adaptive reuse of older buildings in combination with new buildings; and increased public safety” – in other words, prevent the area from becoming populated exclusively by clubs and restaurants.  When the cap is reached, the DCRA Zoning Administrators will no longer approve occupancy permits for bars and restaurants.   Due to intense lobbying from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (“ANCs”) and business and community groups, the cap for street frontage for eating and drinking establishments was increased to 50%.   With new restaurants and bars opening every day in the area, new establishments need to check available store frontage/special zoning requirements before signing any lease agreement.

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Overhaul of D.C. Code Title 29 (Business Organizations) to take effect on January 1, 2012.

District of Columbia Official Code Title 29 (Business Organizations) Enactment Act of 2010  reforms and revises the business entity laws of the District of Columbia and replaces Title 29 of the D.C. Code.  The new Title 29 takes effect for all existing entities on January 1, 2012 as long as appropriate funding is made available to the District’s Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to implement the changes in the Act.