ANC Update: More Liquor Licenses for Georgetown?

-The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E’s May meeting began on a sobering note, with the Metro Police Department’s John Hedgecock admitting that Georgetown — and the District at large — has experienced what he called a “spike in violent crime.” The already laconic lieutenant brusquely cited 21 robberies occurring in Georgetown this year, in addition to 22 burglaries (though the latter figure has declined since last year). Hedgecock said that incidents have begun a noticeable shift from business corridors on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue to residential areas, likely due to the BID-sponsored reimbursable detail program keeping watch over the commercial sector. He advised residents to be on high alert after dark or in isolated sections of the neighborhood, to remove valuables from cars and to use 911 for any suspicious activity.

Burleith resident Steve Brown, who raised eyebrows last month after posting photos of partying University students on his none-too-subtly titled blog, interjected to report threats made against him by individuals he presumed were students. Brown’s original incarnation of the site, which identified the offending party houses and showed the faces of their residents, drew the ire of the student community and a recommendation from police that he blur any identifying information in his photos. The commission hesitated at Brown’s request for a formal condemnation of the threats, desiring to look into the matter more closely first, but Chairman Ron Lewis piped up with a de facto statement.

“We abhor threats against our residents,” Lewis said emphatically. “[Threats] will be taken very seriously. We urge MPD to do everything in their power … where there is an unlawful threat, to investigate it.” Hedgecock agreed, encouraging residents to call authorities if they ever feel in danger.

A lively and, at times, heated discussion over the upcoming liquor moratorium renewal occupied most of the evening. The restriction on liquor licenses in central Georgetown, last renewed in 2005, expired last month and has been extended until early June, when a meeting of the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration will meet to outline the neighborhood’s next round of liquor regulations. While the moratorium was originally instituted to curtail the establishment of restaurants in Georgetown in favor of retail stores, the policy has taken flak in recent years for its inflexibility and the detrimental effect it has on fledgling eateries looking to set up shop. While the total number of licenses has been capped, incoming restaurateurs have decried the fact that 18 licenses are currently in safekeeping (read: sitting unused). The moratorium law allows restaurant owners to hold their license in safekeeping indefinitely until they can find a buyer, even if they no longer operate a food establishment. Defunct licenses in safekeeping, then, have become a finite resource and a valuable commodity in Georgetown, with recent sale prices for licenses stretching into the tens of thousands.

In response, the ANC, under Commissioner Bill Starrels’ leadership, plans to petition ABRA for an increase in the moratorium cap by seven licenses (up from their previous request of two), which Chairman Lewis hoped would ballast the current shortage. The resolution also imposes expiration dates on any licenses in limbo, which would likely drive their value down and encourage licensees to sell faster. Commissioner Charles Eason disagreed with the motion, arguing that existing licenses should be tapped immediately.

“It doesn’t make sense to add two, seven or 50 licenses when there are licenses in safekeeping,” Eason said. He advocated exclusively instituting time limits to shake loose any permits hoarded by former restaurant owners. CAG President Jennifer Altemus piped up in agreement, saying legislation to that end is already being discussed in the city council. Starrels’ resolution, however, was passed by the commission, with only Eason opposed.

Crepe Amour, the owner-rebranded creperie that once housed Amma’s Vegetarian Kitchen, stood up afterward to petition for a 24-hour food service permit, and a half-hour extension to their liquor service hours. Representatives for the sleek café, which also houses a wing bar and 40 seats on its upper level, said “there is ample seating upstairs … We are still a sit-down restaurant.”

But commissioners were leery of a phrase used by the company at last month’s meeting: “grab-and-go.” The board of seven — with the possible exception of University commissioner Aaron Golds — shifted uncomfortably at what sounded like the specter of Philly Pizza, less than a block around the corner.

“I’m very skeptical of the request we have here,” said 2E06 Tom Birch. “I don’t think it’s fair to the community for us to go forward with this,” given the precedent set by the Philly debacle.

Holding a student constituency (and a student himself), Golds defended the restaurant, saying “there are many more seats than [Philly].” He added that he opposed punitive action against an establishment with no ties to earlier troublemakers.

The commission voted to protest the request until further notice.

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