City Paper Widget

Monday, September 22, 2014

CORRECTED: DC Liquor Licensing Chief on Proposed New Legislation, Rules

CORRECTED (1:30pm): I incorrectly stated that all of the changes below would be contained in the new legislation to be considered by the City Council. In fact, some of the changes will be part of the legislation, and other changes will be part of a separate set of ABRA rule changes. The article underwent some rewriting as a result. Thanks to Jessie Cornelius of ABRA for the information, and apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Fred Moosally, Director of DC's Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), spoke on September 17 about two proposed new tweaks to DC's alcoholic beverage control regime. He told a meeting of the liquor-licensing affairs committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle that a City Council hearing on the a bill is scheduled for October 16 at 10am. The new legislation would amend the Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Amendment Act of 2012.

Moosally (standing) speaks at the meeting
This new legislation is called "The Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Amendment Act of 2014" and is Bill 20-902.

The second legislative item are new proposed rules, which are separate and require a 30-day public comment period. There will also be a separate public hearing on the regulations.

"The last draft I saw is a lengthy document," Moosally said, referring to new proposed rules.

Moosally said one of the aims of the proposed change to the 2012 law was to clarify of the rights of abutting property owners to liquor licensees. Some background: Under the 2012 bill, Section 25-609 of the District of Columbia Official Code was changed. This section concerned procedures when groups protest the issuance or amendment of liquor licenses. It changed the existing procedure so ABRA would automatically dismiss the liquor-license protests "groups of five or more" (usually neighbors of the establishment) if the local ANC reaches an agreement with the licensee -- see, for example, the cases reported in SALM blog posts of June 19, 2014, and November 18, 2013.

However, the 2012 bill was "silent", Moosally said, on the rights of abutting property owners, that is, property owners who share a property line with a liquor licensee. The new law would make explicit that, unlike "groups of five", a protest by an abutting property owner would not be automatically dismissed in the event of a licensee agreement with an ANC.

Another issue to be addressed in Bill 20-902 concerns what happens to liquor-licensing "settlement agreements" when an establishment moves. Currently, Moosally said, settlement agreements run with the liquor license. However, if an establishment moves, the old settlement agreement may be inappropriate. An example given at the meeting was if an existing settlement agreement included language about the use of a second floor of a building, and then a licensee moved to a new location with only one floor.

Another change, Moosally said, would concern "what happens when a licensee doesn't show up for a hearing". This would be addressed in the rule change. During the liquor license protest process, there are many hearings, held during daytime working hours. If a licensee shows up for a hearing but a protesting group doesn't, often the protest is permanently dismissed. On the other hand, if a protesting group shows up but a liquor licensee doesn't, the hearing is often rescheduled. Proposed amendments could change the law rules so that the two parties are on a more equal footing in this respect.

Under the projected change, "the settlement agreement does not move to a new location," Moosally said.

"Any time you're moving to a new location, you have to be placarded," Moosally  said, meaning, there must be a 60-day period when the establishment displays a large placard, inviting public comment, in a highly visible space at its existing or possible future place of business.

Yet another issue is liquor license "safekeeping". Unused liquor licenses sometimes stay in a state of safekeeping for years. The new law rule would make it easier for ABRA to revoke long-unused liquor licenses.

Another proposed change would amend certain details involving noise violations. As it stands now, an establishment with a liquor-license can only be cited once every 30 days for noise violations. The change would mean liquor licensees could be cited more frequently.

Noise from liquor licensees was the subject of much discussion at the meeting. The inter-agency noise task force, which started in March and includes members of ABRA, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), and the police, is still in operation, Moosally said. It is operating from 10pm to 3am on Fridays, Saturdays, and "some Sundays". During those hours only, the public can contact the task force with noise complaints at 202-329-6347.

Neighborhood residents told Moosally the process to force liquor licensees to obey noise regulation was still too slow and cumbersome. Neighbors with complaints often had to take multiple days off work over the period of more than a year, at the end of which the offending establishment might have to pay a $250 fine.

The result, one local resident said, was that one habitual noise violator in a neighborhood would turn a community against all restaurants. Any new establishment, no matter how well intentioned, would find itself fighting its neighbors every step of the way, since the neighbors felt that, once an establishment received a license, the establishment could do as it pleased.

"We'd like to see an ABRA starting violation at $1000," the resident said.

ANC2F Commissioners John Fanning (district 04) and Jim Lamare (05) were at the meeting, as well candidates for ANC2F seats in the November election. Fanning is the chair of ANC2F's liquor-licensing affairs committee.

The next scheduled meeting of the full ANC is on Wednesday, October 1, at 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle).

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