The Corner Forum
Saturday, Feb. 7, 2004
Issue #61

Ambrose Details Law On Local Liquor Bans

By Elizabeth Hague

500 block of 14th Street NE

Ward 6 Council Member Sharon Ambrose attended the North Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association (NLPNA) meeting on Tuesday night to talk about a provision in D.C. law that allows residents to request a ban on the sale of singles (or any other specific product) in all liquor stores in a neighborhood.

Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board Chairperson Charles Burger and ABC General Counsel Fred Moosally also attended the meeting.

Elizabeth Nelson, the head of the NLPNA, opened the meeting by asking Sharon Ambrose if she would support residents petitioning the ABC Board for a moratorium on the sale of chilled singles. Sharon Ambrose responded by stating that she would support a neighborhood ban on singles if it were limited in scope to areas where singles caused problems. According to Council Member Ambrose, singles could be a problem in certain areas for several reasons, including encouraging drug markets and loitering. In those areas, a ban could be enacted, but there were also areas, even within Ward 6, whose residents do not want a ban because they are not experiencing the same problems. Therefore, Ambrose said she would not support a ban on singles in all of Ward 6.

If a neighborhood has a problem, though, its residents can request that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ban the sale of singles in the neighborhood. If just one, two or three establishments are causing a problem, then residents could seek 1) a ban on the sale of singles in a very small area around those stores; or 2) a ban on the sale of singles in single establishments via a Voluntary Agreement between the community and the establishments.

A group of at least five residents can seek a neighborhood moratorium. In doing so, they must follow these procedures: they must state their names and the area that the moratorium would cover; there must be a sufficient density of licensed establishments selling alcohol in the area; and the residents must give an appropriate reason for their request, accompanied by solid evidence. According to Mr. Moosally, "appropriate" refers to peace, order and quiet, including noise, litter, rowdiness, criminal activities, pedestrians and parking. Procedures for seeking a moratorium are laid out in D.C. Code 25-352.

Another important requirement to meet the threshold requirements for a moratorium is establishing a compelling argument for a moratorium ("a detailed statement of the reasons that the moratorium is appropriate"). According to Mr. Burger, in theory such arguments could include public safety, over-concentration of liquor stores, trash, noise, disturbing the peace, criminal activity, or other reasons. The sale of singles in itself is not a protest issue without a compelling argument explaining adverse effects on the neighborhood of the sale of singles. The proof would have to be solid and might include, for example, police testimony. Mr. Burger would not discuss other examples, because he said this could be interpreted as "framing" the argument, but he did suggest that interested parties talk to Mr. Moosally, the ABC Board's attorney. Mr. Moosally's phone number is 442-4355. He was very helpful and willing to talk when I called him with questions on Friday.

Mr. Burger commented that a moratorium has several advantages over reaching a joint agreement with each establishment. First, it focuses on an issue or problem in the neighborhood, rather than on an individual establishment. Second, by working with the establishments, a moratorium can benefit both the community and the businesses because rather than restricting a single establishment — which a Voluntary Agreement would do — all businesses in the area would be affected equally, giving no business a competitive advantage.

In Burger's view, the most effective way to reach an agreement on a moratorium is to work with the businesses, rather than taking an "us versus them" attitude. During discussions, all parties would benefit from agreeing on specifics of the moratorium, such as how long the parties wanted the agreement to remain in place. Would the situation change in two years, and would it be appropriate to revisit the issue at that time? A moratorium cannot exceed five years.

Ambrose commented that a ban on chilled singles would be difficult to enforce. To this, ANC Commissioner Nick Alberti responded that a ban on chilled singles would be enforceable by clearly defining "singles" and inspecting the temperature and contents of the refrigerators. ANC Commissioner Nick Alberti expressed an interest in requesting a moratorium for the sale of chilled singles on 15th Street, where there are at least three establishments. He was open to the possibility of expanding the proposed moratorium to include establishments on 13th Street. §