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Georgetown Set to Ease ABC License Cap

By Mark LiebermanCurrent Staff Writer

After an earlier accord fell through last month, Georgetown community leaders are drawing closer to a shared agreement that suggests terms for how to end the neighborhood’s moratorium on liquor licenses for restaurants.

The Citizens Association of Georgetown voted Monday night to support a slightly revised version of a plan to allow new restaurants while establishing strict standards for new businesses applying for such licenses. The proposal would maintain a cap on taverns and nightclubs.

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission is expected to support the new plan at its January meeting. The third group involved — the Georgetown Business Improvement District — declined to comment on the status of the moratorium negotiations, but representatives from the other two groups say all three parties are on board.

“We went back to the drawing board,” citizens association president Bob vom Eigen told The Current. “But the new agreement isn’t fundamentally different.”

The most substantial updates to the proposal compared to the previous version considered last month involve enforcement of stricter standards for liquor license applications. Under the new plan, applicants looking to fill spaces adjacent to residential areas would have to apply for shorter operating hours and face more limitations on noise than new restaurants in the noisier commercial district. The new agreement offers more room for flexibility on a case-by-case basis, vom Eigen said.

“It’s not that we’re insisting absolutely on the template,” vom Eigen said, referring to a proposed general agreement restaurants would have to accept. “There are certain circumstances that could make us more receptive to restrictions.”

Established in 1989, the moratorium is currently scheduled to expire on Feb. 3, pending the neighborhood commission’s request for a two-month extension. Representatives from the Georgetown Business Improvement District, the neighborhood commission and the Citizens Association of Georgetown have been collaborating in meetings for months on proposing an end to the moratorium, which currently prevents new restaurants, taverns and nightclubs from securing liquor licenses and maintains a cap on restaurant-class licenses at 67.

All parties have said in various interviews that the discussions have been civil and productive, though there were some bumps in the road.

The BID shared a previous iteration of the plan in November under the assumption that the neighborhood commission and citizens association would vote to support it. But the citizens association instead voted on an altered version, and the commission decided not to vote at all, instead asking city alcohol officials for a two-month extension.

Georgetown advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels told The Current he remains content with his commission’s decision to ask for a delay. Given the significance of lifting the cap, a few months would make little difference, he said.

“I’m not going to second-guess what we should or should not have done,” Starrels said. “It’s always good to build a consensus and to try to get everybody on the same page about things.”

Now that all three parties have reached a tentative agreement, Starrels said, he thinks each group’s compromises made the effort stronger overall.

“Everybody listens to each other’s viewpoints,” said Starrels. “We listened to each other, we took some points to each other — everybody conceded something somewhere.”

Assuming the neighborhood commission votes to support the new agreement as Starrels expects, the next step will be to submit the proposal to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for review and edits. Starrels thinks that part of the process will be easy because the parties have already been in touch with city alcohol regulators regarding specific language that’s necessary.

After that, the board will hold hearings to debate the minutiae of the proposal. Starrels said he’s confident the board will accept the plan that’s currently on the table.

“Hopefully it’ll be a signal that will be received from the restaurant community that Georgetown is definitely open for business,” Starrels said. “You have thousands of people that live and spend money in Georgetown. That can be a nice space for a good restaurant.”

This article appears in the Dec. 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.