City Desk


Washingtonians opposed to development could soon find themselves facing something new: residents who support liquor licenses, want to see more construction, and are actually organized. And if that happens, it'll be due in small part to the proposed U Street NW liquor moratorium.

"I feel like the current system basically gives a heckler's veto to a small group of people who are organized enough," says 26-year-old Columbia Heights residents Michael Hamilton. When Hamilton, an administrative assistant at a District nonprofit, heard about the proposed freeze on liquor licenses, he decided to see if friends would be interested in a group that would oppose it: In My Backyard DC.

The name's a not-so-subtle play on Not In My Backyard, a pejorative term for people who are seen as reflexively opposing any new development. So far, Hamilton's week-old Yes In My Backyard agenda only boasts a website and a Google Doc of people who've said they're interested (albeit a Google Doc with 190 names).

In the future, Hamilton says he plans to hold meetings for the group and decide what kind of businesses they want to support. In My Backyard DC's website suggests that it would be aimed at supporting new apartment construction and granting new liquor licenses.

Hamilton, who's lived in Washington for almost two years, says he understands the concerns of area NIMBYs who see themselves being pushed out of their neighborhood, but thinks development would be good for them too. "I can definitely sympathize with people who see new people as invaders or invading the neighborhood," he says.

Photo by Flickr user dcmetroblogger used under a Creative Commons license.

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  • DCLifer

    I've lived in DC for decades and am married to a native Washingtonian, and I generally support most of the development that goes on in the city. It's been great in terms of quality of lifestyle and my real estate values. However, the following 2 lines from this article encapsulates so much of the tussle going on these days: "Hamilton, who's lived in Washington for almost two years" (re: probably knows nothing about his neighbors, his neighborhood much less the history of DC, nor is likely to give a shit) and "I can definitely sympathize with people who see new people as invaders or invading the neighborhood" (re: I'll be moving on in a few years, but in the meantime let's put a bar and massive condo on your formerly quiet block, never mind the people pissing in your yard at 3am every weekend and making it impossible for you to park). That said, I recognize that it is necessary for everyone to have a voice, not just the NIMBY's. Tricky town to navigate these days...that is if you plan on making it your home.

  • anons

    Oh, we go.

    A 26 year old male secretary who has been here two years, who was a whopping 14 years old when the current real estate boom in Washington DC started in 2000. Yes, I am sure he is exactly the DC commercial construction or retail expert to fight against all the perceived “injustice”.

    You live in Columbia Heights now but was 19 living elsewhere when Target and Giant opened, and before Columbia Heights experienced more than 1 billion dollars in commercial development in a 3 block stretch of 14th street. Yeah, those NIMBY’s have really cramped Columbia Heights style.

    Same for U Street. Since the “great recession” started in 2008, an 8 block stretch of the U Street neighborhood has added 1,900 new residential units and just under half a million sq/ft of commercial retail space. There is another 1,200 units either under construction in U Street or set to break ground in 2013

    We get it kid, you are in your 20’s, likely live in someone’s basement apartment and spend all your disposable income on 8 dollar “craft” beers, and you are brought to tears every time someone even thinks about not possibly letting another bar open.

    I know at your age you can’t possibly understand why every neighborhood in DC doesn’t want to become the next “Adams Morgan”, but as someone who used to own a house there, until you spend every Saturday and Sunday morning collecting all the discarded jumbo slice plates dropped in your front yard and hosing the vomit off the sidewalk in front of your house from the night before, DC residents have good reason to be wary of letting their neighborhoods follow the model.

    On the construction side, the District has built 29,000 new housing units in the past 12 years, more than enough to accommodate every last of the 58,000 people who have moved to the District during that period, with a few thousand in spare (persons per household in the District is 2.13).

    6,000 of those housing units were built in the last two, with another 8,000 under construction right now with another 28,000 in the pipeline yet to break ground. DCRA has permitted nearly 60 billion dollars of privately funded residential and commercial construction in the past 12 years. To accuse DC of doing anything but focus on real estate development the past decade means you are simply uninformed. Then again, you just moved here 2 years ago and have made it abundantly clear you have no idea what you are talking about.

    I suggest you bone up on the recent and current state of development in DC at large, and more specifically in the neighborhoods you call home and hang out in, because with your current lack of knowledge, the NIMBY’s will eat you alive.

  • J Gray

    Way to project a pretty compelling straw man on Mr. Hamilton, anons.

  • DC Voter

    Can't add much to what DCLifer and anons said. They said it all and are right on target.

  • Lance


    Oh, man... here we go

    An older, longtime DC resident snarkily commenting about the influx of new residents who were "a whopping 14 years old when the current real estate boom hit Washington DC".

    This is a classic Washingtonian comment relating to gentrification and/or any resident who might actually want more density, ammenities (yes, like craft beer - go drink some sherry, old-timer), and development.

    We get it gramps, you're likely in your 50s, go to bed at 9pm, and are probably brought to tears at the thought of more people making more NOISE in whatever tranquil little corner of the city you're defending via obstruction.

    I know at your age you can't possibly understand why someone would want ANOTHER BAR/YOGA STUDIO/BIKE LANE that would get in the way of your YOUR DC THAT WE'RE INVADING.

    Then again, how could anyone possibly know anything about *your* city when they havent lived here as long as you?

    I suggest you quit it with the condescending, holier-than-thou tone and try and engage your new neighbors rather than patronize them. Because, despite your belief that we're going away in a couple years... everyone's clock runs out at some point and by the time yours runs out mine will just be getting started.

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  • anons

    J Gray,

    Prove me wrong. For all the flack NIMBY's get, some 26 year old tyro new DC arrival whose primary complaint is the perceived lack of bars and complete blindness at the Dubai level of development that has been taking place in DC the past decade, the last 3 years more so than ever, is going to do more damage to the "imby" movement than help it.

    Some 26 year old, bar fixated, non-homeowning transient that will move around DC neighborhoods pogo-style the next few years before leaving the District for "insert reason here" and who doesn't have to deal with the daily issues caused by Adams Morgan-ification of their neighborhoods is going to have a hard row to hoe if he thinks he is going to sway ANC or city level decisions against the homeowning, medium to long term residents in these areas who pay a fortune for property tax and are tired of Mr. Hamilton and his friends waking them at 2:30am on Friday/Saturday night as they stumble past their home from the bar, vomiting on the sidewalk, urinating on their landscaping and dropping trash as they go.

  • anons


    There are 118 registered liquor licenses in a 4 block radius centered at 13 and U. Thats up from 21 in 2000, a 600% increase.

    Census Tract 44, an area spanning an 8 block radium with 13/U at its center has added 2200 residents in the past 12 years. You've increased the number of loquor licenses by 600% (almost a hundred) in a tiny 4 block by 4 block area and increased its population by only ~1100 (half of census tract 44).

    U street suffers from many things. Lack of bars is not one of them.

    The one thing I will say about Nimby's is they are generally good with factual data, using actual "facts" to substantiate their side, rather than the IMBY side which is usually limited to drunken yelling of "I want more bars".

  • Lance


    As J Grey said, you're doing a fantastic job creating a compelling straw man with the "drunken yelling of 'I want more bars'" imagery

    Of course there is a place for well meaning, concerned citizens when disucssing development. NIMBYs opposing specific developments/projects - fairly or not- that no one want in their neighborhood (trash dumps, homeless shelters) are found everywhere. However, I think this IMBY group is a response to the particularly Washingtonian-styled NIMBYism, which really stands for "NOTHING [else] In My Back Yard".

    The liqour moratorium that only speaks for a small, vocal subset of residents is an example of this skewed obstructionism. Here's another example:

    and another:

    The reality is that these NIMBYs are loud, vocal, and effective because the model for input into one's neighborhood favors older folks with nothing to do. IMBY folks' voices are drowned out because in-person neighborhood meetings are not frequented by those with jobs and social lives.

  • anons


    "you're doing a fantastic job creating a compelling straw man with the "drunken yelling of 'I want more bars'" imagery.

    Then you follow it up with the same thing with " IMBY folks' voices are drowned out because in-person neighborhood meetings are not frequented by those with jobs and social lives". Kettle.

    Yeah, oh man... attending a meeting which falls after work is a real buzz kill huh? Interferes with your "social life".

    And this is why IMBY's will continue to lose the argument. I am 42, senior partner at a local consulting firm where I pull 60-70 hours a week. My wife is a lawyer and works similar hours yet we somehow manage to attend a handful of these meetings during the year.

    If you can't make these meetings, it is simply because you didn't want to go. You can't complain about not being included when you purposely chose to skip an after work meeting to go "socialize".

    Since factual data doesn't seem to be part of your argument, can you please explain why U Street needs more bars in this particular proposed moratorium area? Can you logically explain why 118 liquor licenses (up 600% in 12 years) is not enough in a small 4 block radius area? How many do you legitiamtely think should be permitted and why?

    I've explained multiple times why additional booz-eries aren't needed and yet no one on the IMBY side has looked at the hard data and said why they are.

  • Lance


    Michael Hamilton's IMBY idea strikes a chord with me because it combats a perceived notion that many of these neighorhood groups - that only obstruct development - speak for me.

    It's always the same mantra:
    Too many bike lanes! Too many bars! Not enough parking! Too many floors on the new condo that block the sun! And, too many new neighbors who dont appreciate the history of DC!

    You ask: "How many [liquor licenses] do you legitiamtely think should be permitted and why?"

    I would counter: I, and no person (or neighborhood group for that matter), can reasonably answer a question that will be determined by the market. U Street, like Adams Morgan, has become a place to enjoy nightlife that comes with living in a city.

    And, let's not pretend that a moratorium on liquor licenses is the only avenue for dealing with neighborhood complaints. The DC ABRA and ANC's have a long and storied history of advocating for residents - just look at the Shaw's Tavern fiasco as an example of what happens when these groups are trifled with.

    I hope the IMBY group can serve as an a counter to the NIMBY cries of "no" for the silent majority of young DC residents who want more vibrant neigborhoods.

  • kate518

    I always feel frustrated when these types of conversations start to turn on who has lived here longer and who owns property. I've lived in DC for nearly 9 years. I live, vote, and pay taxes in the District. Does that mean my opinion counts yet? Do I have to buy a condo first? Does a condo even count or do I have to buy an actual house? What if I don't have kids or do have kids and don't send them to DCPS schools? Then would I not be a *real* Washingtonian? Will whoever is in charge of determining who the *real* Washingtonians let me know when I am one? Do I get a special badge? Is there a test?

    In my opinion, if you care about what goes on in DC, I don't care if you've lived here for 10 years or 10 minutes - you have a right to voice your opinion and be heard. That doesn't mean anyone has the right to disrespect anyone else or that you get to ignore the culture of your neighbors. Native and non-native Washingtonians should quit chirping about who was here first and work together to solve problems - Lord knows there are more than enough to go around.

    Besides, when you say that someone's opinion doesn't count because they haven't lived here for long enough, they don't have an incentive to invest in their neighborhood, making them more likely to act out when they're drunk.

    For what it's worth, I think asking how many liquor licenses should be permitted is the wrong question. People who consume liquor responsibly aren't the problem. The problem is when people don't consume liquor responsibly and cause problems. If the city more proactively tickets people for urinating on lawns and hurling Jumbo Slice at homes, that would actually impact the people who are causing the problems. Moreover, this isn't a new problem. Other neighborhoods have bars - what are they doing differently that we could be doing?

    Then again, what do I know? I've only lived here for 8 years.

  • Lance