I was hoping this would be my last post on this subject but alas probably not. So where do things stand? As I reported previously, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration had a hearing last night (Wednesday, March 21, 2012) to consider the position of community members who oppose the establishment of a bar across the street from Cleveland Elementary school. The hearing room was packed with parents, children, teachers and community members opposed to the granting of the liquor license. ABC Channel 7 has continued to cover this issue. Their report is below.
The video gives you a sense of how many folks were in the room, includes soundbites that are both for and against the granting of a liquor license to All Souls but unfortunately the local tv news format doesn’t allow time for details. One of the Cleveland Elementary School parents who testified in protest of the granting of the license, gave me a few details. According to her, the hearing started at 4:00 PM and didn’t end until 9:00 PM. Within those five hours the lawyers hired by the bar’s owner David Batista argued that they should be granted a liquor license because the area is blighted, the building in question is abandoned, attracts unwanted activity and that increased foot traffic near the school would make the area safer. Therefore, a legitimate business, like a bar, should be a welcome addition. Community members opposed to the license took the opposite position pointing out that adults with the impaired judgment brought on by alcohol do not constitute the kind of foot traffic that would enhance the safety of the area. Concerns were raised that the increased traffic brought on by the kind of upscale (i.e. wealthy) customers likely to frequent the bar might in fact increase opportunity crimes like theft and muggings. My favorite argument by far, which apparently caused at least one community member to break out in laughter, was that a bar across the street from an elementary school could in fact be used to educate the children (Kindergarten through 5th grade) about appropriate alcohol use. Who knew?! A bar as a learning tool! But of course. After all, today’s toddlers are tomorrow’s casual drinkers or perhaps, aiming for something a little more advanced, tomorrow’s functional alcoholics. I’m hoping to get a copy of the transcript so I can pull some actual quotes from the hearing.
There is an issue in question that could in fact make the whole thing go away. As reported previously, the District of Columbia has a zoning law on the books that prohibits establishments that serve alcohol from operating within 400 feet of a school. Although All Souls would be only 22 feet away from Cleveland Elementary School, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration would be allowed to grant the bar a liquor license because Boston Wine & Spirits at 1905 9th Street NW is or was thought to be within 400 feet of the school. If there is an establishment already within the 400 feet prohibition zone, the ABRA has the right to ignore the law and grant the license to other businesses that want to open near a school. David Batista, the owner of the building that would house All Souls Bar, reported to ABRA when he applied for the liquor license that Boston Wine & Spirits was already within the 400 feet prohibition zone and therefore his establishment should also be allowed within the zone as well. ABRA’s investigator, who is responsible for determining whether or not a business is in compliance with DC’s zoning laws, confirmed Batista’s position. HOWEVER, what came out in yesterday’s hearing was that the ABRA investigator has no actual evidence to confirm or refute Batista’s claim that Boston Wine & Spirits is within 400 feet of Cleveland Elementary School. If in fact Boston Wine & Spirits is not within the 400 feet prohibition zone then ABRA cannot consider granting ALL Souls a license. So, is it or isn’t it? The hearing ended with a promise that ABRA would investigate that very issue. They have 90 days to consider all the issues raised in the hearing and decide whether or not to grant the license.
In the meantime, the Ward 1 ANCs will be meeting on April 5, 2012 to decide whether they want to sign on to a voluntary agreement being offered by David Batista stating that he agrees not to open All Souls bar until 5:00 PM in the afternoon. The parent group who is behind the protest of the bar conducted a survey. According to the survey, 45% of Cleveland Elementary School teachers would be reluctant to attend evening activities at the school and 33% of parents would remove their children from the school should the bar open up across the street with or without the voluntary agreement. So what seems to be a no-brainer won’t be settled until May 2012.