- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

A vegetarian restaurant and lounge and a Baptist church in Northwest are battling over the restaurant’s application for a liquor license. The church says the restaurant is located near a school and cannot have the license, and the District’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration agrees. Meanwhile, two well-established liquor stores sit closer to the school than the restaurant but cannot be contested under current law.

The owners of the restaurant, Vegetate, and the office of D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, are working together to propose legislation that could change the way the city distributes liquor licenses.

“We are trying to facilitate some sort of rewriting or amendment that makes more sense,” Vegetate co-owner Jennifer Graham Redd said.

Current law prohibits liquor licenses from being granted to establishments within 400 feet of a school. That distance is measured from property line to property line.

However, a “grandfather” clause exempts from the 400-foot rule new liquor establishments of the same types as stores already open in the area.

That means Vegetate, whose back property line is 334 feet from Seaton Elementary’s rear property line, cannot be awarded a liquor license, said Jeff Coudriet, director of operations at the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration. But a liquor store would not have any problem opening next to the school, he said, because two already are established in the area.

“Jennifer Redd had said, ‘I could get another liquor store license in this neighborhood, but I can’t open my restaurant’ and, you know, she is right,” he said. “That is a correct observation.”

Rather than suggest abolishing the 400-foot rule, Mr. Evans likely will propose legislation that would change how the distance is measured and enforced, officials said.

“We will be doing something,” said Sean Metcalf, a spokesman for Mr. Evans. He said Mr. Evans likely will propose measurements from the entrance of the establishment to the entrance of the school “or something like that.” He declined to elaborate.

Vegetate, located in the 1400 block of Ninth Street Northwest, applied for the liquor license last fall. Shiloh Baptist Church, which has about 3,400 members and owns much of the 1500 block, protested the application twice.

Officials with Shiloh did not return calls for comment. Shiloh members yesterday said that the church does not want the restaurant to have a liquor license because, unlike the nearby liquor stores, Vegetate is open on Sundays.

“They’ll be selling liquor from what time to what time and that probably will increase the crime,” said one churchgoer, who refused to give her name. “We want to protect our children from that.”

Vegetate is the first restaurant of its kind in the developing, increasingly gentrified Shaw neighborhood, and some residents questioned the restrictions.

“I don’t understand how it’s in Shiloh’s interest to keep the neighborhood from developing,” said Bonnie Bacon, 28, who lives around the corner from the church. “I don’t know if it’s a race or gentrification thing, but it’s so disrespectful … to the neighborhood and another example of discouraging people from opening small businesses.”

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said he would support a re-examination of liquor license laws.

“This is a compelling case, but whether we should change the law in order to accommodate one business, that’s an issue that I would want to look at with a hearing,” he said.

The problem with the current law, Mr. Coudriet said, is that it does not take into account developing neighborhoods where few restaurants already are established.

“You have parts of town that haven’t had … sit-down restaurants. Things are happening in town … and ultimately that needs to be something the council looks at, and that is, do you want to automatically prohibit certain types of development?”

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