City Paper Widget

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blagden Alley Meets Restauranteur at ANC2F Liquor Committee

The residents of Blagden Alley came out in force to quiz restauranteur Xavier Cervera on September 19 about his proposed new establishment. The venue was the monthly liquor-licensing affairs committee meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan, held at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle NW).

Blagden Alley is located inside the block bordered by 9th and 10th Streets to the east and west, and M and N Streets to the south and north. It is a National Park Service Historic District.

An anonymous leaflet, which taped to the doors of many area houses on the day of the meeting, apparently helped raise the level of attendance. Over thirty members of the public packed the tiny hotel meeting room, sending hotel staff scrambling for extra chairs.

Meetings of this type are normally attended by only a handful of individuals.

ANC misses protest deadline

Due to a communication error, ANC2F missed the September 9 deadline to protest this liquor license before DC's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board. ANCs often file protests before meeting aspiring liquor licensees in order to maintain leverage in negotiations. These negotiations often are about operating hours, trash pickup, noise, outdoor seating, and other parts of restaurant operation that effect the neighboring area. The agreements that restaurants, ANCs, and other parties sign on these matters are called "settlement agreements". In this case, ANC2F will attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement without the threat of a protest before the ABC Board.

Restauranteur Cervera testifies

Cervera is a long-time restaurant and hotel operator. Late last year, he sold all nine of his DC restaurants to a Boston equity firm reportedly headed by his brother. This restaurant, to be called "The American", is the first one he will open since the sale.

Future front of The American
Cervera told the meeting that The American will go up on a Blagden Alley site until recently occupied by a boxing gym, plus an adjoining parking area for a Rent-a-Wreck franchise. The boxing gym will convert into an indoor restaurant, and the parking lot in a large, completely-enclosed outdoor patio. This will require a "major renovation", he said.

The restaurant will feature "casual dining".

"We will be very neighborhood friendly," Cervera said.

The American will seek a category CR (restaurant) liquor license. There will be no entertainment endorsement, but recorded music will be used. According to Cervera, there will be no unusual operating hours for either the indoor or outdoor parts of the restaurant. This means the restaurant seeks permission to operate inside until 1am Sunday - Thursday, and 2am Friday - Saturday, and outside until 11pm Sunday - Thursday, and 1am Friday - Saturday.

Future location of The American patio
Commissioner John Fanning (district 04), chair of ANC2F's liquor-licensing
committee, asked about the planned patio. Cervera said he plans to level and raise the current parking lot two feet, and install a seven-foot high privacy fence around the outside of the property.

A placard outside the future site of the restaurant says the indoor seating capacity will be 70 and the outdoor seating capacity will be 75.

The planned opening is May - July 2014.

Cervera told the residents "restaurants are coming, not retail" because Blagden Alley is not on a regular route taken by either pedestrians or automobiles. Cervera also said the residents were better off dealing with a restaurateur with a proven track record.

The community's turn

Fanning said that each person would be granted two minutes to speak, but the rule was not strictly enforced. No one tried to monopolize the discussion, and  people gave the impression they had said all they wished to.

A few residents declared themselves categorically against the restaurant.

"Washington doesn't need another restaurant", one said. 

"Totally incompatible with families," said another. "Not compatible with we want in the inner city."

However, most seemed to want air specific concerns or request specific limitations. Most of these were about noise, trash, and parking.

Several of the area residents commented on the "canyon effect" of the alley, meaning, that the noise of exiting customers, deliveries, and other normal restaurant business would be magnified to intolerable levels.

Concerning parking, all sides seemed to be in favor of a complete ban of parking in the alley and instant ticketing for all violators.

"Getting in and out of the alley is a big concern to us," said resident of the 900 block of M Street.

Both sides seemed to agree on a provision that would exclude delivery trucks from Blagden Alley. All delivery trucks would have to park on adjoining thoroughfares and bring deliveries to the restaurant with handtrucks.

In response to a question from a resident of the 1200 block of 10th Street, Cervera said there would no signage showing the way to the restaurant.

A Blagden Alley resident who identified himself as a fellow restauranteur said he was concerned about the restaurant's exhaust and air conditioning system.

"My terrace is five feet from your roof," he said.

The fellow restauranteur and Cervera continued a long discussion over site diagrams in the corridor outside after the meeting was finished.

During the meeting, a debate occurred when the Blagden Alley residents tried to push back on operating hours for the outdoor patio. The residents lobbied for earlier closing on weekdays than 11pm. Cervera disagreed. Finally, there was an agreement not to serve customers outside after 10:30pm, although customers eating on the patio at that time would be allowed to finish their meals.

Motion to support passes

After more than an hour of community comment, ANC2F's liquor-licensing affairs committee passed a motion to support The American's application for a liquor license, with the understanding that there would be continued work on a settlement agreement. The vote was 5-0, no abstentions.

The matter may come to the attention of the full ANC at the next scheduled meeting on October 2 at the Washington Plaza Hotel. The meeting will start 30 minutes earlier than usual, at 6:30pm, to facilitate an appearance by Jack Evans, Councilmember for Ward Two on DC's City Council. Evans and members of the Metropolitan Police Department will discuss the recent gun-related violence in Logan Circle.

The next hearing on The American's application before the ABC Board will occur on September 23.

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