City Paper Widget

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

944 Florida Avenue: "The Neighbor Upstairs Wants the Place Closed"

At a meeting October 15, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted to recommend the ANC attempt to broker peace between the operators of Darnell's Bar (944 Florida Avenue NW) and a group of neighbors. But Nick Baumann, chair of ANC1B's liquor-licensing affairs committee, wasn't very optimistic of the chances of smoothing over the contending parties.
944 Florida Avenue (Google Street View)

"The neighbor upstairs wants the place closed and won't compromise," Baumann told the committee, reporting about an attempted mediation between the bar and its neighbors.

"The complaint about Darnell's is the music," a committee member said. Neighbors angry about the noise from the establishment have been protesting the renewal of Darnell's liquor license since at least 2013, according to documents available at the web site of DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).

A neighbor who lives upstairs in the same building from Darnell's gave the following testimony (see page 17 of a 24-page .pdf here) about the establishment at a February 26, 2014, ABRA hearing:
... [W]e tried to get along with the party and we need a sound proof because we can hear everything that's going on downstairs. Got my window shaking, my picture dropping off the wall. And we tell him to cut the music down, he don't. We done called the police. I bet a couple, over a hundred-some times, they go and they tell him, the manager, cut the music down.
In addition to the upstairs neighbor, residents of the Floridian, a nearby apartment building, and other neighbors have joined the protest against Darnell's.

There has been an attempt to settle the dispute by getting the liquor licensee to sign a settlement agreement, which could make clear, for example, the hours of operation, permitted noise levels, and mechanisms for resolving disputes. However, the settlement agreement recently drafted by the lawyer for Darnell's said, in summary, that Darnell's agreed to abide by the letter of the law -- not really a document worth signing.

"There's stuff to be negotiated but who will negotiate?" Baumann asked at the meeting. Baumann is committee chair but has said previously that contentious negotiations with liquor licensees often require the authority of an elected official.

Darnell's is in district 11 of ANC1B. The Commissioner is E. Gail Anderson Holness. Holness is running for election as Ward One representative on the DC State Board of Education. She will give up her ANC seat at the end of the year.

ANC1B Chair James Turner (Commissioner for district 09) attended the meeting, although he is not on the alcohol-licensing committee. Turner advised the committee that Holness could negotiate on this matter, but she would need clear guidance from the committee on what were the desired outcomes of the negotiations.

"If you ask Gail to make it better, make it specific," Turner said.

The committee came up with some clear goals for the negotiations, such as explicit promises to close all windows and doors while music was playing, no amplified music outside, no noisy disposal of glass bottles and other trash between 10pm and 7am.

The committee then passed a resolution to recommend a settlement agreement be negotiated by Commissioner Holness with the owner.

The resolution will probably come up at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled for Thursday, November 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets).

During the daytime, The Blind Dog Cafe, a coffee house, also operates at 944 Florida Avenue. The Blind Dog Cafe was not discussed at the meeting. 

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