I’m picking up where I left off a couple of weeks ago with the Black Cat story . . . After talking to Dee Hunter and Dante Ferrando, I was interested in how differently they each interpreted recent events. Below I’ve written a comparison of their statements. I must admit that I did not ask the gentlemen to address each other’s comments. Read on and see what you think , . .
Ferrando expresses that he may or may not build the deck; the potential costs of the project may limit its profitability, and Ferrando might not be permitted by DC to build the structure. Ferrando shares that he is not thrilled about having smokers standing outside of the club because of security issues and possible complaints from neighbors. The deck would be one way for him to provide a smoking space while mitigating the current liabilities of the outdoor smoking space.
Hunter says that he represents residents who take issue with the traffic, noise, and rowdy patrons brought to the area by Black Cat. He also states that there have been “numerous complaints about the current operation.” These factors are what have encouraged him to lead the protest against the deck, which he says will accommodate 450 people and amount to a one third expansion of the club.
The major neighborhood protestant is ANC 1B. According to Hunter, once they knew of Black Cat’s plans, “ANC 1B quickly reacted and came out against the proposal.” Hunter also says that he met with about 50 residents of the area about the issue.
Two ANCs, 2F and 2C, have, at the urging of the 1B Commission, written letters in opposition to the modification. Hunter tells me that a
Ferrando seemed disappointed that ANC 2F would unanimously vote to support the protest without having seen the plans for the deck. Ferrando is somewhat limited in what he can say about the protest because he has not been provided a witness list from the ABC Board though the protestants’ presentations are set to begin on September 19th.
When a liquor license is protested, ABRA asks that the parties involved engage in mediation. What is clear from both Ferrando and Hunter is that the mediation between Black Cat and ANC 1B was not particularly fruitful. Both do, however, agree that the protestants from the ANC would drop their protest if Black Cat would not serve alcohol or have music on the deck. The way Ferrando sees it, “the opposition didn’t really have any interest in a voluntary agreement. There were some mediated discussions. It wasn’t in the realm of compromise.”
Ferrando was sure to say that most people in the neighborhood “have been pretty reasonable.” He says that he has met with residents to discuss his plans and that he’s redesigned the deck many times to accommodate their input. Contrary to Hunter’s statement, Ferrando says that the club has no formal complaints against it right now. As a good neighbor and a good businessman, Ferrando would like to keep it that way. He says of his possible plans for the deck, “it’s a pretty thoroughly researched project . . . . there is no motivation for me to do it and do it poorly.”
To accommodate concerns about noise and sightlines, Ferrando would partially enclose the space. He must, however, leave the area somewhat open in order to comply with the provisions of the DC smoking ban. (Other establishments have had partially enclosed spaces sited as being in violation of the ban.) Currently planned noise-dampening provisions include eight foot high soundproof walls. Music in this space would be limited to what Ferrando called “background music,” and sound tests indicated that the music would not be audible in all portions of the deck area. As for his motivation to have a bar on the roof deck, it seems to be a business decision; building the deck requires an investment in architectural plans, permitting, and construction, and selling alcohol helps pay those costs.
Based on Hunter’s statements, he either does not know about the details of the deck plans or does not believe Ferrando’s description to be truthful. Hunter says that Ferrando “has no plans [and] does nothing for the community” Hunter was critical of the way that Ferrando has handled the ABC Board hearings by attending without a lawyer and by “tying up” the time of the protestants. Hunter also insisted that Ferrando has “incurred no expense in this matter.”
In contrast Ferrando states that it “costs a lot of money to fight a hearing.” He also says the liquor license modification process has been ongoing for over a year and may take another six to 12 months to resolve. Interestingly, his opponents question whether the deck is really planned as a smoking space and they use as evidence the fact that the smoking ban has already been in place for eight months. However, it seems possible that Ferrando began considering the deck well before the ban’s effective date.
In Summary . . .
Ferrando, though he has the support of his ANC Comissioner and some neighborhood residents, may not win approval to serve alcohol on a rooftop deck. He feels that the “ABC tries to force you into a settlement,” and he sounds unlikely to want to revisit negotiations with ANC 1B. He also says that when a credible protest is filed that “even if you are completely convinced that you’re going to win,” that the outcome of the hearings is uncertain. Yet, Ferrando expresses a desire to be a good corporate citizen. He agrees that it is reasonable for neighborhood groups to ask businesses for their cooperation on such matters as keeping their property clean and preventing noise from being heard outside. He just wishes they would choose to enforce adherence the goals rather than prescribe the means for achieving those goals.
Hunter expresses strong doubts that the license modification will be granted. He stated “it would amaze me if the Board would grant permission with so much opposition from the neighborhood.” And for his part, Hunter appears to be doing the best he can to represent that opposition and to seek others who may be opposed.