DC Nightlife Noise


Performance Oversight Hearing – Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration

Abigail C. Nichols, Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The processes by which residents give needed input to the alcohol licensing process need to be reengineered.
The District depends on residents to tell the government if an alcohol establishment which would be appropriate in one situation would be inappropriate for another situation.   The law starts with the maximum allowable in occupancy, hours, entertainment and outside service.  The law depends on residents to tell the government when the maximum is not appropriate.

In only a few exceptions can the Alcohol Beverage Control Board make such a decision about an application on its own unless there is a complaint from residents.  Even if the Board knows that an application was a bad idea for a neighborhood, if no one else notices, the Board can do nothing.
However, the processes by which residents protect themselves from inappropriate establishments is so burdensome to residents that it should be considered broken.  This is true for Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and Citizens Associations but more so for the resident groups who are most closely affected by proposed or existing damage to the peace, order, and quiet of their homes.

Anything goes unless:
1)    To get standing volunteer ANC commissioners, citizens associations and resident groups must show up during working hours simply to prove that they exist.  If they fail to show up, they lose standing.  This spring two of the six businesses with roof decks causing noise problems south of Dupont Circle failed to show up for the roll call hearing.  However, their applications were reinstated, and protestants who showed up for the roll call hearing will have to do so a second time.
2)    The notice requirements for citizens associations assume that it’s only fair to the business to give them a chance to present their case for what they are proposing.  However, in many cases an application for large occupancy, maximum hours, outside service, and entertainment endorsements are plenty of notice that further exploration is needed.  The wording of protests implies that any protestant is completely against the business, when in fact protestants are most often concerned about certain aspects of the business.  I have negotiated eight voluntary agreements allowing maximum hours.  Yet the structure of the law under which I did this work, conveys to others who don’t know better that I am “anti-business.”

Besides the problems with the process of managing individual licenses, there are also problems for managing the big picture, for example managing the kind of overall retail changes that we have witnessed  south of Dupont Circle.  Within twenty years, most retail has disappeared to be replaced by thousands of seats in alcohol establishments.  I agree that the Moratorium is an imperfect instrument, but uncontrolled growth is not good either.