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Georgetown BID Urges End to Restaurant Cap

By Mark LiebermanCurrent Staff Writer

The Georgetown Business Improvement District has voted in favor of abandoning the neighborhood’s moratorium on liquor licenses for restaurants, and the advisory neighborhood commission plans to vote on the proposal on Monday.

The BID’s proposal advocates for removing the existing cap that limits Georgetown to 67 restaurant licenses, while adding new protections on restaurant behavior.

The proposal asks the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to review its settlement agreement template for legal efficiency, in order to ensure that new restaurants comply with community members’ preferences for noise control, trash maintenance and hours of operation. The recommendation also calls for a mandatory BID meeting every six months to ensure that the community remains satisfied with business operations in the neighborhood.

Georgetown’s liquor license moratorium was first established in 1989. In addition to restricting restaurant licenses, the current restrictions, expiring on Feb. 3, prohibit any new tavern and nightclub licenses.

“The conditions for which the moratorium was created no longer exist in Georgetown,” BID president and CEO Joe Sternlieb said in an interview Tuesday. “At the same time, there are folks in the residential community who don’t want to give up all their influence and control over who comes in and how.”

The BID’s proposal, drafted after collaboration with the neighborhood commission and Citizens Association of Georgetown, doesn’t recommend any changes to the tavern and nightclub license restrictions.

In a previous interview, Sternlieb said community members had been “meeting regularly to see what types of things we can do together to discourage” negative consequences from restaurants, while encouraging high-quality establishments.

“We’ve come up with a pretty good scheme to do that,” he said.

In Glover Park two weeks ago, the neighborhood commission there voted unanimously to support removing its comparable moratorium on restaurant licenses. If the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board upholds that proposal, Georgetown’s moratorium would be the only one of its kind remaining in the city, according to Sternlieb.

Georgetown neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels said last week that stakeholders have been having a “good dialogue” about the future of the moratorium. He said the groups are looking toward a solution that will allow in more new restaurants but place key restrictions on hours and noise. “It’s time for a new chapter here,” he said.

Starrels expects that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will be receptive to the current proposal, though he said there’s been informal talk of extending the moratorium by 60 days if an agreement can’t be finalized before it expires.

“We would hope that they would embrace what we’re planning here,” he said. “If there’s something they’re not embracing, we’ll deal with it.”

Sternlieb also believes the alcohol board is likely to weigh in favor of his group’s proposal, especially because the restrictions on restaurant hours wouldn’t differ greatly from the existing situation given that so many Georgetown restaurants already close well before midnight.

If the alcohol board does relax the moratorium as proposed, the focus for all parties will be on drawing new businesses to the community. Starrels cites celebrity chef José Andrés as an example of the kind of culinary talent the neighborhood hopes to lure. Sternlieb also mentioned D.C.’s Passion Food restaurants and the Georgetown taco joint Chaia as models worth emulating.

This article appears in the Nov. 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.