This weekend brought another step in the drama that has been the expansion of Hank's Oyster Bar's Dupont Circle location. Owner Jamie Leeds says that Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators came by on Friday evening and told her she would have to shut down half of the restaurant's patio seating as it reviews the termination of Hank's voluntary agreement with the neighborhood. This being just in time for Capital Pride weekend, Leeds noted, meaning that an already long wait for patio seating had extended to at least two hours on Saturday.
What brought all of this about? Well, the closed half of the patio is in front of the property into which Hank's expanded last year — an expansion the restaurant undertook after having vacated their voluntary agreement that had prohibited expansion. The District Court of Appeals recently sent the termination of the agreement back to the ABC Board to review, which is what led to this patio shutter. Leeds says she has to apply for a stay to allow business to continue in the expanded space, but the patio is not included in that as it is public space. Says Leeds, "It's a loss to the neighborhood right now."
In the meantime, Leeds is taking on the NIMBYs with the following letter to the community, urging that "it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood."
Dear community member:
I am the chef/owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar, which I opened in 2005. Before opening the restaurant, I applied for an alcoholic beverage license. Although I had already made my name as a chef in Washington, D.C., and had no intention of operating a nightclub, my application was protested by certain individuals living in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Because, at that time, the ABC Board refused to give me a timely hearing date to contest the protest, I was forced to sign a voluntary agreement, or lose the opportunity to proceed with the project. The voluntary agreement restricted my hours, and prevented me from expanding or otherwise increasing the occupancy of my business.
In 2010, seeing an opportunity to expand my successful business, I requested that the ABC Board terminate my voluntary agreement. The advisory neighborhood commission (ANC 2B) whole-heartedly supported the request. After a hearing, and a finding that termination of the VA would not have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, the Board ordered the VA terminated.
The Board then had a hearing on a request to expand my business to include the building next door, and the public space in front of it, and approved that request.
In the meantime, the few neighbors opposed to me appealed the termination of the VA to the Court of Appeals. The Court has now reversed the ABC Board, finding that not only do we have to show no adverse impact in terminating the VA, but also that we tried to work it out with the protestants by entering into an amended VA, and that we need the VA termination because of changed circumstances.
We have our hearing on these last two issues next Wednesday before the ABC Board. We are confident we will prevail, because we did try to work this out with those opposed to us back when we first sought termination of the VA, but they refused to meet. Also, since the Court of Appeals decision was reached, we offered to address their concerns with a more limited VA, but they insist we cut our outdoor occupancy by 25%, even though there have been no complaints. As for changes in the neighborhood, I am sure they are well known to you. Of course, it could take months for the Board to rule.
Last night, as a result of a complaint by the protesters, we were visited by ABC investigators. We were told we cannot use half of our patio seating area, because of the Court of Appeals decision. This happened before we even have had a hearing before the ABC Board.
If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA, Ward 2 CM Jack Evans, CM Jim Graham, Chair of the committee that oversees ABC, and Mayor Vincent Gray. Let them know that the ABC Board should be urged to make a decision quickly after next Wednesday’s hearing, reaffirming the termination of our VA. Also let them know that it is time to stop allowing a few residents to dictate what happens in a neighborhood, particularly when the duly elected ANC members feel otherwise. The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law. Otherwise the situation I find myself in will undoubtedly occur again.
Jamie Leeds, Chef/Owner, Hank’s Oyster Bar