Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ANC2B Files, Then Withdraws, Protest of Hank's; Residents Threaten Legal Action

Tossing aside months of statements amounting to "we're not going to get involved," ANC2B voted at last week's meeting to protest the renewal of the liquor license for Jamie Leeds' popular Hank's Oyster Bar--then promptly rescinded the letter of protest after working out a deal with Leeds.

Meanwhile, a group of resident protesters led by Q Street resident David Mallof have threatened to file an appeal with the DC Court of Appeals should the alcohol board allow the termination of Hank's VA with the residents, along with a request from Leeds to add a rooftop garden and french doors leading to the street-level patio.

That's right: residents are threatening legal action over french doors.

If you're wondering what happened, well, so are we. it's rather long and winding road towards what has been a rather absurdly drawn-out protest of a popular neighborhood eatery. (Our post from a few months ago covers the protest in excruciating detail. Pour yourself a stiff drink before reading it.)

Basically, what it comes down to is this: a few area residents have decided that Leeds' plans to expand into the adjacent vacant space, and to vacate her existing VA with them, amounts to the end of life as we know it. Or something akin to that. Never mind that Leeds is perfectly within her rights to pursue expansion into the adjacent space--the recently re-ratified 17th Street Liquor License Moratorium specifically permits Leeds to do exactly that. And never mind that said protestants were unable to demonstrate any actual or potential harm by such a move--or even why a VA was necessary.

The ANC had voted to take no action on either the' "substantial change" to Hank's license (namely, the expansion into the neighboring building and outdoor space) or Leeds' request to terminate her VA with the Dupont Circle Citizen's Association and the aforementioned neighborhood residents.

The ANC's decision to reverse course came as a result of comments made by Leeds' attorney, Andrew Kline, at a November 3 alcohol board hearing, where he mentioned that Hank's would be legally permitted to maintain sidewalk cafe hours until 2 AM weekdays and 3 AM weekends--which they would. Except, they had no intention of doing so. Leeds had stated repeatedly that she had no intention of expanding Hank's patio hours.

Still, the ANC, as commissioner Victor Wexler put it, "does not want to risk having those hours allowed for anyone." So they filed a protest. Leeds immediately filed letter with ABRA which restricted her hours to 11 PM and midnight, which matched the statements she repeatedly made under oath at the alcohol board hearing. Subsequently, the ANC withdrew its protest, leaving Leeds' last remaining hurdle an upcoming ABRA Board hearing on the resident's protest of the expansion and substantial change.

Or perhaps not. In a ridiculously hyperbolic email recently sent by Mallof to a group of "interested" residents (subject line: "Grave ABC Board actions affecting all of DC"), he threatens to pursue further legal action should the alcohol board not side with his and his group's opposition to Leeds' plans:

"We await word on theses dramatically proposed instant license change requests," the email states. "If the Board approves these without placarding and public comment, we shall appeal to the DC Court of Appeals as well."

Is it any possible wonder why Leeds wanted to vacate her VA with these people?

In case you were wondering, Leeds' request to vacate her VA is entirely within the bounds of the law--any business that has been operating under one for at least four years has the right to make such a request. And although such requests were rare, in Leeds' case the alcohol board found that the key points of contention which would otherwise be addressed in the VA--namely, occupancy and operating hours--were addressed in the licensing agreement, thus making the VA redundant.

And so here we are, nearly a year after Leeds launched an effort to expand her restaurant: the ANC is not opposing the move, and the alcohol board seems poised to permit it. So where does that leave Mallof and the other resident protesters? They could certainly appeal the alcohol board's decision, but it's unlikely that such an appeal would meet with success. Most likely, they're going to be left on the outside looking in: having only themselves to blame for behaving so unreasonably and essentially forcing Leeds to pursue remedies to vacate the agreement she had signed with them. Ultimately, they'll likely be left with no recourse other than sending emails to each other complaining of the "hurricane of precedent setting, DC-wide rule of law and negative externality impact implications happening here in Dupont Circle."

Goodness, you'd think Jamie Leeds was trying to install french doors or something.


convexhull said...

this is silly. these nattering nabobs of neighborhood purity ruin city life. This is the type that will spend more time and karma getting angry about a few feet of commercial sidewalk space while people get the shit beat out of them three blocks away.

Anonymous said...

maloff has got to be the biggest loser this side of anywhere. his hate for our councilmember and ward 2 restaurants and businesses begs the question - WHY ARE YOU HERE?

maloff - there are plenty of quiet condos in falls church - check them out!

ps - get a life!

DC Raconteur said...

No wonder DC was recently ranked one of (or was it the?) worst place in the country to do business.

Anonymous said...

ANCs all over the city are considering automatic protest of any license request as a policy. Even without articulation of an actual protest. And requiring all license holders to have VAs. Check out ANCs in Ward 6.
ANC 6D is has also toyed with the idea of requiring community benefits agreements for any public space permit by a business.

Anonymous said...

Mallof doesn't even own in the neighborhood. At least he's not listed in property records within blocks of Hanks.

Anonymous said...

All these neighborhood cranks -- whether in Dupont or Capitol Hill or elsewhere -- need to realize that no one fears them anymore. A fact that will undoubtedly take them some time to accept. One can only hope that their flailing about will at some point become more private. At least that way the rest of us won't have to keep averting our eyes. Or laughing hysterically.

Anonymous said...

Of course the protestants have a right to tell Jamie Leeds what kind of doors her restaurant should have. The old VA actually told her what could - and could not - be printed on the umbrellas in her sidewalk cafe.

And for the good, and protection, of the neighborhood no doubt. No doubt!

Lance said...

Wow ... lots of false statements and false assumptions throughout this piece. For starters, the licensing did NOT automatically incorporate the earlier closing hours. The vacating of the VA meant that any and all stipulations in the licensing that were based on the VA also got vacated in the licensing. No sooner had this happened then did Hank's lawyer assert they had the right to keep the patio open and that they would be doing so. And that is why the ANC ended up threatening to protest.

And as for the 'french doors'. It's not a style issue like you make it sound. It's a sound issue. This is an openable wall, and it was not discussed prior or in any plans presented to the ANC. I.e., Without disclosure that this was going to be there, the ANC didn't get a change to fairly evaluate the impact of noise on adjacent neighbors from the restaurant having the ability to be fully open to the street. Had it known about this openable wall and the fact that a bar is planned for behind these doors, the ANC might have decided to get involved in the process long ago. And that is the basis upon which they threatened to now protest (if the ABC board would allow them to at this late date.)

Mr. Other Upper NW said...

Lance, there's no sense going back and forth with you on these things, but I am going to explicitly call you out on one blatant falsehood: neither Jamie nor her lawyer EVER stated that they would be keeping the patio open later than 11 PM and midnight. Not once. All that was said was that they *could*--which was true. The statements, including yours, that made it seem as if Hanks' patio was going to be operating until 2 or 3 AM was simply fear mongering.

Now, enough with this nonsense, which has gone on far too long. Time to move on.

Lance said...

@Mr. 14th and You,

The representative was asked at the ANC meeting if he'd said anything to the effect that they would be staying open to the max hours. He answered that he had, but that it was all hypothetical and that Jamie hadn't acknowledged it so it didn't matter anyways. (I.e., He said 'yes, but that doesn't mean yes.' Interpret that as you will.)

Also, the president of the DCCA said (at the ANC meeting) that the representative had clearly said they'd been staying open to the max hours.

Btw, David has done a good write up on the situation (today) over at Greater Greater Washington.