Wednesday, March 17, 2010

14th Street Burger Joint Running Into Strong Opposition

Thaddeus Curtz, a cook at esteemed Cathedral Heights pizza place 2 Amys, would like to bring a bit of Manhattan to 14th Street, but things aren't looking too good for his business plan.

Curtz is looking to a "burger joint" known as Standard (what's with the restaurant names these days?) modeled after Danny Meyer's eatery in Manhattan's Madison Square Park, in the former Garden District space (and, briefly, proposed home of the never-to-be-seen Crepes on the Corner) at the northeast corner of 14th and S streets. I think pretty much everyone in the neighborhood would welcome a place to swing by and pick up an inexpensive burger, hot dog or order of fries for dinner (Curtz has indicated that nothing on the menu would be more than $6). However, his application for a liquor license, operating hours until 1 AM during the week, and outdoor occupancy totaling 130 people have worried a lot of neighborhood residents.



There is so much concern, in fact, that the license has been protested by both ANC 1B and ANC 2B. (Typically, only one ANC protests a liquor license application, even if the operation in question could affect residents in both.) 2B commissioners voted unanimously to protest the license at last week's meeting, with many voicing concerns over the affect that the late hours and high outdoor occupancy could have on the nearby residents. It was noted, for instance, that no one on the Commission could recall an applicant coming before them and requesting such a sizable outdoor permit.

Privately, I have been told by those close to the negotiations that an agreement could be worked out if Curtz was willing to cut back his outdoor seating hours until 9 or 10 PM during the week. However, Curtz may be reticent to do that, since the indoor space only allows for seating of approximately 15 patrons at a time. As was noted at the 2B meeting, at the price point Curtz is proposing, he would need to sell a lot of hamburgers in order to afford the lease rates at that location.

Another potentially confounding factor is that the site may in fact have environmental remediation issues, as it is believed that at one point a gas station existed on the property (which would, in fact, serve to explain the awkward arrangement of the parcel.) If true, it would present another potential hurdle for Curtz--or anyone else, for that matter--opening a restaurant on the premises.

To the matter at hand, however, it's not hard to see the point of view of the ANCs on this issue. The space in question sits directly across from, and just down the street from, numerous residences, who undoubtedly would be affected by the noise emanating from upwards of 130 people outside drinking at midnight or 1 AM. I have a limit to my sympathy for people who complain about the general noise and din of 14th and U streets--this is, after all, very much an urban neighborhood. But the size and hours that Curtz is requesting for his venture seem unreasonable considering the location of his proposed establishment.

That said, I also feel confident in saying that a business like the one he is proposing would certainly be welcome in the neighborhood, which leads me to a point that I raised last summer during the discussions that took place during the meetings of the Arts Overlay review committee. Currently, individuals wishing to open an alcohol serving establishment essentially have two options to choose from: restaurant or tavern. Restaurant licenses come with strict requirements regarding food service, the hours during which a chef must be on premises, and so forth which many owners may find untenable. A tavern license, however, is far more likely to be protested due to the nature of the operation and the late hours during which they are allowed to operate. Why not create a third classification of license--call it a Pub class license--that provides for food requirements less than restaurants, greater restrictions on hours of operation, but greater freedom to operate in or near residential areas--something that a tavern license owner would likely face strong opposition against?

An establishment requesting a pub license, for instance, might agree to operate their outdoor seating areas only until 10 PM during the week and until 11 PM on weekends, and to be closed down completely by midnight, along with a 25% food requirement (25% of their income must be derived from the sale of food products, rather than alcohol). In exchange for this arrangement, the license holder could operate at a location such as the one in question at 14th and S streets that is near residential properties and would otherwise likely be prevented from opening.

The model for such a license would be the many corner pubs one finds sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods of London, frequently in or near residential areas. These pubs provide a place of enjoyment for those in the neighborhood that is close to their homes, yet close early enough so as not to be a nuisance to nearby residents.

Since no such license currently exists in DC, such arrangements would have to be worked out through the voluntary agreement process, a cumbersome, time-intensive and, at times, adversarial process. While I don't know if Curtz would be amenable to the type of operating hours restrictions that are being discussed, I would be hopeful that a workable compromise could be worked out. In the longer term, it would be helpful for ABRA to consider the evolving nature of many of the neighborhoods in DC, with an eye towards creating liquor license laws that provide for adequate protection of residents whilst promoting development and growth throughout the city.

As far as whether we'll see Standard at 14th and S anytime soon: I will keep you posted.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm betting that a third ANC protest is in the making, as he has yet to present/talk to ANC 2F, where the family residences directly across the street are located.

Anonymous said...

There was never a gas station there. Get your facts straight. In fact, this whole article, with quotes from "sources close to the negotiations" sounds like it's full of holes. Did you even talk to the guy trying to open the place?

I do like your idea about the pub license. We need more places like this in DC. If you can't open a place like this on 14th street then the city is truly in trouble.

Mr. 14th & You said...

Anon 8:37: The possible environmental issues at the site were discussed at the 1B meeting with regards to the site being a potential brownfield. Apparently, the DC DOE has some information about storage tanks buried underneath the property, but I've been unable to locate anything specific--hence my hedge about "possible" environmental issues. So, I'm comfortable with my "facts", seeing as how I didn't present the environmental issue as such.

Anonymous said...

I live in the neighborhood and I really hope this place opens. We need more places like this--casual, low-key, good food.

What frustrates me is that there is no way to make your voice heard when you support a new restaurant. We only here from the protesters, and that's not the way it should be.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:08, your voice can be heard at the ANC and ABRA meetings! Idiot.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea about the pub licenses. We really need places like this in the District and I will definitely be a customer at this proposed establishment. Residents have got to realize that if they want to live the "New York style life" they so desire by buying these condos in the city that they will have some noise and congestion from time to time. We are a metropolitan city folks. If you want suburbia, move out to Reston!

Lauren C. Tyson said...

In California, the Alcoholic Beverage Control is unable to issue a license within 100' of residences unless the applicant can prove that the operation will not disturb the residents' peace and quiet and enjoyment of their property. If the applicant agrees to license conditions such as limiting hours of operation and entertainment, requiring back doors to remain closed, etc., that will ameliorate any resident concerns, and then the ABC can issue the license.
Lauren C. Tyson
www.theliquorlicenseadvisor.com

Anonymous said...

Um, good thing this guy isn't trying to open a restaurant in California...?

Scott said...

What is occurring in this situation is the conversion of an outdoor garden center (very low impact use), into an outdoor pub and hamburger venue (high impact use), directly across and adjacent to single family row houses.

I really like the concept and the price points, we lack affordable pubs with food on 14th, and I enjoy outdoor seating, particularly on days like today, however it's not just hours of operation, its the location and the scale are at issue here.

The family housing across the street has been there since the 70's. So the people affected are not "New York wanting condo buyers," and 127 seats outside is three times larger than any other outdoor presence I can think of in the 14th & U area.

Their plans are for 15 seats indoors, 63 outdoors on private space and a request for a sidewalk cafe of 64 outdoors in public space. However, no site plans have been presented, so issues of how they are going to manage waste from the site, (Dumpsters next to tables?), have not been addressed.

I will reserve final judgement until I see the plans, however right now my preference would be to wait on the approval of the sidewalk cafe until after the business can demonstrate a track record of operations and the real impacts can be determined.

If the adjacent residents don't feel affected, then great, if they do feel it is negatively impacting them, then the public space can be used to landscape and take other measures to mitigate those impacts.

But, again, will wait for more details.

M said...

The size of the outdoor area does seem large. I think the places along 17th with outdoor seating stay open until midnight though. Do they have neighbor issues there? Are there structural things which can be done to mitigate the noise short of expanding the existing indoor space? Given there is only seating for 15 people indoors, it sounds like it would be lean times comes winter.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't he expand the place for more indoor seating? It probably wouldn't cost too much to put an atrium on the building. Personally I don't care of this opens or not. I think the burger craze is pretty disgusting and irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

This is just a general comment unrelated to Standard that I want to make to echo what Anon 1:56 said: The NIMBYism in this city/neighborhood is ridiculous. Aside from the merits of this particular venture (I'm reserving judgment and do see both sides of the issue), people living in DC's close-in neighborhoods need to lighten up a bit. Places like these are WHY I choose to live in DC. We need to start embracing them in our backyards.

Anonymous said...

A sign has gone up at the site saying "Office Space for Rent." Does that mean the potential renter has backed out?

Adam Gurri said...

Really, a well written and well thought through post. I feel a lot more informed having read it. Thanks!

Tom Lewis said...

I like the idea of the restaurant coming to town. Burgers / Cheesesteaks / Crepes all within a block of each other! Awesome. But I don't like the idea of an establishment open until 1AM serving liquor and having 130 people OUTSIDE. Thats a lot of people and a lot of noise. Perhaps cut the hours on the outdoor portion and liquor portion? I am usually open to new restaurants coming into town but thats assuming the noise is contained within the building, not outside.

Anonymous said...

The site likely was a former gas station based on its configuration. It's easy to determine - involves a hour of research at the DC MLK library. Previous use as a gas station would not preclude successful re-use as a restaurant. The new tenant / owner may not be responsible for environmental investigation or clean-up based on when the gas station ceased operation. I would be happy to discss further.

Anonymous said...

me type bad...

DAPPER VAN said...

This is unrelated, but does anyone know what (furniture?) store is setting up shop at 14th and Q? It looks sort of like a Design Within Reach, but there aren't any signs up yet.

Anonymous said...

$6 max menu...OMG the yuppies wouldn't dare be caught inside of there. He should raise the price of his burgers to $16 and he'll be approved in no time.

I'm so done with what the hot spot neighborhoods have turned into. The cultural diversity has all but vanished.

On a side note...Am I the only one seeing Jack Evans driving around talking on his cell phone time and time again.

Anonymous said...

The spot was a Texaco station, at least in the late 40's - early 50's. I gave the Standard guys a photo of property taken at that time. J.

Lance said...

Every time I've walked by the place all I've seen are beer cups. There might be one or two tables with snack food ... but that's about it. Unless this place has the kind of liquor license that doesn't require making a certain percentage of sales from food sales, I don't see how they're going to manage to retain their liquor license.