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.
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.