D.C. City Council member Nadein Winter (D-Ward 6) said yesterday that she wants to change the makeup of the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board to make it more responsive to community groups challenging liquor sales near schools and residential neighborhoods.
Winter said she will introduce legislation today that would ban D.C. government employes from serving on the three-member board, thereby unseating two appointees of Mayor Marion Barry. The bill would also expand the board to five members and require that the nominees to the board be approved by the City Council.
During a press conference at the District Building, Winter said her office has received numerous complaints that the ABC Board consistently overrules the protests of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and other community groups in granting liquor licenses.
Of 39 applications for liquor licenses that have been protested for various reasons by community groups this year, Winter said, only three were denied.
ABC Board Chairman Robert Lewis, who is also Barry's director of the Department of Licenses, Inspections and Investigations, challenged Winter's figures. But he could not provide a specific accounting of the number of successful community protests this year.
"Anyone who wants to protest a license has the opportunity to testify before the board and we are extremely responsive to the wishes and needs of the community," Lewis said.
There are 355 licenses to sell hard liquor; 371 food stores licensed to sell beer and wine; 699 restaurants licensed to sell liquor by the drink and about 66 beer and wine licenses for other establishments.
Besides Lewis, the other ABC Board member who would be unseated by Winter's bill is Dwight Cropp, Barry's executive secretary. The third board member is Larry C. Williams, a private attorney. Williams was an early supporter and fund-raiser for Barry during his election campaign.
Winter said her criticism of the ABC Board -- whose members were appointed by Barry -- was not necessarily directed at the mayors administration. "I would not like it to come out that way. I'm just giving you the facts," she said. Winter said Barry shares her concern about community participation in ABC Board decisions.
One complaint Winter received about the board came from a Northeast Washington neighborhood group protesting a liquor license application for a food store that is across the street from Spingarn High School at 24th Street and Benning Road N.E.
Roy Kaufmann, a lawyer hired by the 25th Place Block Club to oppose the application, said ABC Board members "were really downright nasty to this group" during an Aug. 15 hearing on the application.
Mrs. Ludia Choice, a representative of the group, said she and others are concerned that high school students who use the food store as a gathering place will be "enticed" by beer and wine sales at the store if the license is granted.
Kaufmann said the board is considering the application, but he added that he will petition for a rehearing because the neighborhood group was not represented by a lawyer during the first hearing.
Lewis, the board's chairman, said in an interview that "the community may be at a disadvantage in many instances" during ABC hearings because citizen groups are seldom represented by an attorney.
"Just about all applicants (for licenses) come before the board with attorneys with well-prepared and well-documented cases," Lewis said. And, he added, in most cases, license applications are not opposed.
Winter said she would like to see more members on the board to represent more areas of the city. She pointed out that the three current members live in Ward 4.