- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It could be last call for the ever-expanding nightlife spots along the city’s H Street Corridor as local officials consider capping liquor licenses after residents complained that the neighborhood is turning into a drunken mess that keeps family-friendly businesses away.

The corridor - also known as the Atlas District that lies just northeast of Union Station - has experienced a renaissance in recent years thanks mainly to the influx of bars and restaurants into what was once a run-down section of town filled with vacant buildings and limited commercial options.

“The neighborhood is going to have to determine what kind of a street it wants to be,” said Jeff Soule, director of outreach at the American Planning Association. “I’d like to see H Street become one of the great streets in America.”

Cap opponents fear limiting new permits would stunt the region’s recent growth and push business away, bringing back its not-so-long-ago days as a ghost town when it was mostly avoided by residents and visitors.

The Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Committee met this week for the second time to discuss the issue with the community. Chairman Adam Healy, who has not yet taken a position on the cap, said the four-member panel could vote on the issue at its Nov. 15 meeting. If it approves a cap, it would then go to the full Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A for a vote, likely in December.

After that, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would consider the issue and could bring it to the D.C. Council for a final vote. Any cap would likely take a year to go into effect.

The committee is not considering stripping current licenses from bars and restaurants, only limiting the future number awarded.

The most likely route is to pursue a cap to the number of liquor licenses, Mr. Healy said, which would give the region a total number of alcohol permits. They could either cap it at the current amount - about 60 licenses throughout Ward 6 - or cap it at a different amount. If a license opened up, it would be on a first-come, first-served basis.

“That would allow for some growth,” Mr. Healy said.

Some restaurant and bar owners support the cap because it makes their liquor licenses more valuable and limits competitors.

From a purely business standpoint, Mr. Healy said, “if I have a license, I probably want a cap.”

Still, other store owners say having more restaurants and bars will bring in more customers and help turn the area into a regional hub.

“The more diversity that there is means the more people and the more foot traffic on the street,” said Jason Martin, a part owner at Rock & Roll Hotel, Sticky Rice and Dangerously Delicious Pies. “So we’re welcoming more businesses.”

Mr. Healy wants more retail diversity on H Street, “not just bars and restaurants.” He envisions it as a neighborhood filled with book stores, clothing stores and gift shops. His goal is to bring in more daytime traffic, so there’s a healthy balance between retail and entertainment.

“Having a retail mix would be very welcome,” Mr. Healy said. “There’s a real hunger to have more daytime retail on H Street so it’s not just viewed as a nightlife destination.”

Many residents don’t like the crowds the restaurants and bars attract, creating concerns about parking, traffic and noise.

“H Street is a family neighborhood,” resident Margaret Holwill said, “and as long as we keep it that way, it won’t have trouble.”

Parking is one of the biggest problems. On weekends, visitors pour into the side streets and make it difficult for residents to find spaces. Mr. Healy said the neighborhood is experimenting with Zone 6 Only parking on one side of the street.

“Some people expect to be able to have a parking spot in front of their house every day, and with growing nightlife that doesn’t always happen,” Mr. Healy said.

Many younger residents, however, oppose the cap.

“Once it gets bigger, then you can put a cap on,” resident Greg Taylor said. “But I think you still have room for growth.”

Chris Steinke, another resident, said he enjoys having nearby entertainment. “I moved here about a year ago,” he said. “I actually moved here because of the restaurants and bars. That’s what drew me here.”

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