Georgetown residents, who claim their historic neighborhood is being turned into a "nighttime strip" of bars, taverns and restaurants by a permissive D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, are fighting plans to open a large California-style cafe in a former automobile showroom on M Street.
The center of the latest battle between neighborhood groups and the city's liquor licensing authority are West Coast restaurateurs who hope to open two beer-wine and sandwich cafes here this summer: One in the recently closed Embers Restaurant at 19th and L Streets NW - which apparently no one opposes - and one in the former Williams Chevrolet dealership, at 3307 M Street NW, which went out of business last fall. They plan to call the cafes, if granted liquor licenses, Pierce Street Annex, downtown and Georgetown, the same name given similar cafes they operate in California and Alaska.
A hearing before the ABC board on the Williams Chevrolet site, set for May 13, was canceled by the ABC board May 12 in a sequence of events that still is not clear. About 20 opponents of the Georgetown appliation, armed with petitions against the new restaurant, appeared at the District Building to testify but were turned away. They had not heard of the cancellation.
The hearing - now rescheduled for June 24 - was postponed because ABC officials said the placards announcing it had been taken off the building a few days before the hearing, and thus had not been posted a full 30 days, which they insist is required by D.C. law.
However, ABC officials have been unable to point to any city regulation that requires posters to be up every one of the 30 days, only regulations requiring that notice of the hearing be posted on the building and be given at least 30 days prior to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which was done.
"What is really strange is that the applicants themselves took the placard down, then they turned around and asked the ABC board to postpone the hearing because the placard was donwn . . . and the board did," says Georgetowner Dorothea Capello, an Arena Stage actress knownprofessionally as Dorothea Hammond, who has been fighting the influx of bars to Georgetown since 1965.
In their request to have the hearing postponed and the building replacarded, the applicants admitted they had "inadvertantly" removed the placard. But the attorney for the Pierce Street. Annex group, Stuart Bindeman, has since said his clients will not discuss what happened to the placard.
"That's something between the ABC board and the Georgetown group went to court three times on this issue (the postponement) and the courts upheld the ABC board. We're not a party to it and we're not going to reargue the issue in The Washington Post."
The Georgetown Citizens Association went to Superior Court on the eve of the hearing to force the ABC board to hold it, but Judge Sylvia Bacon denied the request on the grounds that getting all the opponents to come out to another hearing would not cause any irreparable injury to their case, according to association attorney Courts Oulahan.
"The whole thing is a perfect case of Catch 22," says Oulahan, who claims the ABC board violated numerous board and city regulations in its action, and based its action on a regulation which doesn't exist, "all of which was upheld by the courts," says Oulahan.
In answer to charges that his group sought to delay the hearing in order to gain time to muster some neighborhood support for their proposed restaurant - they had no petitions in their favor to match the 180 residents and businessmen who oppose the restaurant - Martin A. Davis, who lives in Nevada, one of the founders of the growing chain of Pierce Street Annexes, insists they wanted the hearing held last month - "We flew here from California for it."
Davis says, "We're too much maligned over this thing. There's all sorts of misconceptions going around about how we're trying to open a giant beer hall, which isn't true." He said the Annex they're proposing for Georgetown would seat a maximum of 200 people, smaller than several existing Georgetown restaurants, although the Annex they plan for the former Embers Restaurant would seat 400, the same number the Embers held.
"We will be an asset to Georgetown, not a detriment," Davis says. The restaurant site has close to 100 parking spaces on existing side and back lots and if they use the building's third floor for cars, as did Williams Chevrolet, the restaurant could park at least 165 cars. "That's far more than 200 patrons would need," said Davis.
In addition, Davis and his two major partners, James Curran of San Francisco and Jerry Hardman of Arlington, who helped Restaurant Management Inc. run the Greenery Restaurant and two saloons here, P.W.'s and Rocky Raccoon's, say they will be spending $150,000 to turn an ugly garage into an attractive restaurant.
"There will be an indoor-outdoor cafe, with removeable windows," in the first floor showrooms of the former auto dealership, and the interior will be a "rustic decor" of sandblasted brick walls and "weathered" wood, says Davis. The building's exterior would be unchanged, except for replacing the large Williams Chevrolet sign and some landscaping around the parking lots.
The problem of the late night rowdyism in the streets of Georgetown "is police problem," says Annex attorney Bindeman. "We're aware of the rowdyism and we don't want it. It's not something to hold against these guys. They're going to be an asset on that street."
Many residents question whether any additional bars and restaurants in Georgetown, no matte how they're decorated, can be an asset to the community. City Council member Polly Shackelton, whose third ward includes Georgetown and areas west of Rock Creek Park, says, "they've already reached the saturation point there, they don't need any more bars and restaurants."
The Friday and Saturday night traffic "is now so bad that fire engines couldn't get through to a fire there, just opposite the Williams Chevrolet place, a few weekends ago," she said.
Shackelton said she is particularly concerned "that the ABC board is giving concerned citizens cuh back of the hand treatment. When citizens have asked for postponements they are always refused. I do think the people in Georgetown have good cause for complaint."
She said her staff is looking into the 43-year-old Alcoholic Beverage Control Act which allows the City Council to "limit the number of licenses of each class to be issued in the District . . . (and) in any locality, sections or portions of the District."
As of last August, Ward Three had 192 liquor establishments, including 104 restaurants, three hotels, 8 taverns, 39 liquor stores and 30 markets licensed to sell beer and wine.
Don Shannon, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3-A, which represents Georgetown, says the area already is supersaturated with liquor places. "We're already carrying a bar stool for every resident of Georgetown and some left over."
He called the ABC board's last-minute cancellation of the Pierce Street Annex hearing "a pretty shoddy deal. The board invoked a rule nobody had ever heard of before. But it was typical of the current. ABC board's attitude toward the community.
"Their attitude is they're working for the liquor busines - there are no citizen members of the board, no input from the ANCs and almost automatic approval of liquor license applications. No one can remember more than two liquor license applications turned down by the ABC board here in the past dozen years."
ABC board staff director, John R. Johnston, says "two have been turned down, maybe three, and those two were fairly recent."
The three-member ABC board was reconstituted under home rule, ending paid board members and giving the mayor power to appoint three unpaid members. The current chairman is city administrator Julian Dugas. The board's other two members are James W. Hill, director of the city's department of economic development, and Arthur W. Jackson, who also is chief hearing examiner for the city's human rights commission.
"They're all pro-business, totally unresponsive to residents and putting monkey wrenches in the way of citizens who try to protest" more liquor-dispensing establishments in their neighborhoods, says Paul A. Chadwell, who has lived on Potomac Street NW for 21 years.
ABC staff director Johnston, to whom calls to board member Hill are referred, denies the board is pro-business. "There's nothing like that. They go by the book - consider the neighborhood, parking, things like that. They go by the regulations."
Another Georgetown resident, Caren Pawley, is helping organize opposition to the proposed Pierce Street Annex "because Georgetown is being turned into a bar area, a nigttime strip with drunks screaming obscenities and fighting in the the streets and waking my daughter at 3 and 4 in the morning.
"And all the trash and thievery. I clean up dozens of liquor bottles and beer cans from my sidewalk every weekend morning. Our plants, even our Christmas decorations, are stolen on weekend nights and I have had to call the police at least 25 times because men are urinating against our house, which is on an alley. It's disgusting, and it's not that I'm a teetoaler. I love beer," Mrs. Pawley said.
By law the ABC board is required, in its decisions granting new liquor licenses, to find that the area is an appropriate one for a new liquor establishment, considering the "surroundings and the wishes of the persons residing or owning property in the neighborhood."