Housing Complex

ANC Votes Down Liquor License for New Anacostia Restaurant

Anacostia residents who are eagerly anticipating the opening of a new restaurant on the site of the old Uniontown Bar and Grill: Don't hold your breath. The local advisory neighborhood commission voted last night not to support the restaurant's liquor license application, potentially preventing it from opening in June as hoped.

"I am beside myself, and I have been for the last 12 hours," says ANC commissioner Kendall Graham, in whose single-member district the restaurant will be located. Graham was unable to make the meeting last night, and two commissioners say they did not vote in favor of the license because Graham was not present—despite Graham's support for the measure. The vote was two in favor, two against, and one abstention.

Anacostia has sorely lacked sit-down dining options since Uniontown closed last year, months after its owner was convicted for smuggling cocaine. Neighbors have anxiously awaited its replacement and cheered the announcement last month that a new restaurant—then billed as the Cherry Hill Bar and Grill, but now likely to be the Cedar Hill Bar and Grill, a reference to the nearby area that Frederick Douglass called home—would soon be opening.

David Taylor, the attorney for the restaurant's owner, says the lease for the restaurant is contingent on securing a liquor license. The goal is to open in June, and Taylor won't rule out a June opening if the ANC approves the license at its next scheduled meeting on May 7, but he says he's "not confident about [the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] in terms of speed. It's an agency that has a very big demand and little resources." And he says distributors won't talk to the restaurant until it has a license.

The trouble is that none of the ANC commissioners who declined to vote for the license actually seems to object to it. The ANC chair, Yvonne Moore, says she abstained from the vote out of respect for Graham; if there were a project in her single-member district, she says, she wouldn't want it voted on in her absence. Commissioner Barbara Clark tells me she voted no because she didn't have time to read the restaurant's voluntary agreement (although Graham says it was made available to the commissioners a week before the vote and displayed at the restaurant's Saturday open house) and wanted more information before approving it, although she thinks it's "a good idea." Commissioner Natalie Williams says that although she's "in full support of Anacostia and the economic development of Ward 8," she voted against it because she felt "no sense of urgency" from the restaurant operators and wasn't sure what Graham's position was.

But now that she's been made aware of Graham's support, Williams says she'll try to convene the commission again within the next 15 days to vote again on the measure.

Any delays could threaten the restaurant's ability to open in time for Lumen8Anacostia, the big neighborhood arts festival on June 22 that brings in visitors from all over the city. Graham also worries that it could scare off other potential businesses and restaurants who perceive a hostile ANC. She wants to avoid the kinds of delays that have faced the other big new neighborhood project, the Anacostia Playhouse.

"We don't want to have the same kind of delays that the Playhouse had," Graham says. "There were no valid reasons for the down votes that happened last night. This shouldn't even be an issue."

Update: To be clear, this doesn't doom the ABRA application. Had the ANC voted to support the application, that support would have been given "great weight" by the ABRA board. The ANC has missed that opportunity. Taylor says the restaurant also applied for a "stipulated license," which would allow it to open in June but does require ANC approval, according to ABRA spokesman Bill Hager. Hager says the Notice of Public Hearing for the application has not yet been issued; he expects it to be issued next Friday, April 12. If the ANC gets a motion of approval or disapproval to ABRA before the hearing, it will be considered.

Update II: Graham passes along an email she sent to Moore and Williams before the ANC meeting that she says makes clear that the commissioners were aware of her support for the application:

Hey Guys,

I just wanted to share this positive feedback in case it comes into question tonight when this new restaurant asks for your support obtaining their licenses...

This is the response I sent them today...

"Thank you, David, for the revised agreement draft. I think Saturday went very well and I heard nothing but support from visitors. It's also a plus that other commissioners also came out and were able to meet the new owners.

Due to unexpected work obligations, I will not able to make it to tonight's meeting. When they start successfully cloning humans, I'll be the first in line!

Thank you again for your great work so far. I don't anticipate any issues tonight getting support for your licenses. The community very much wants Cedar Hill B&G open and operating ASAP."

Sincerely,
Kendall

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Guest

    Pretty pathetic. Why even get into community activism/local government if you just defer judgement on things, or can't/won't make time to DO THE JOB YOU RAN FOR.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Moore abstained from the vote out of respect for Moore? I'm confused....did you mean out of respect for Graham?

    What was Graham's reason for not being able to make the meeting? (Not being accusatory, just wondering, since it was brought up in the story.)

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    Fixed, thanks.

  • Alison

    Agreed with Guest. The relevant documents were made available to the commissioners in advance, and the SMD commissioner was aware of the meeting date and time and the vote on the agenda, so she should have either a) shared her opinion on the matter in advance with her fellow Commissioners, or b) been present for the meeting. There's no excuse for this kind of hyper-local political blockage of an important economic development engine in the neighborhood.

  • joan

    No sit down restaurants in Ward 8!

  • lovessoldier

    Just WOW... Potential proprietors in Ward 8 should take note of the sloppy behavior of these individuals prior to paying loads of money to DCRA. In my HUMBLE opinion...

  • lovessoldier

    Albeit a dive, Players lounge is a sit-down restaurant that has been in Ward 8 for centuries...

  • MLD

    A-f*ing-mazing. She should have emailed the ANCs beforehand to tell them all she supported it. Would have solved the entire problem.

    I would also be interested to know her reason for not showing up.

  • noodlez2: electric bugaloo

    ANCS DO NOT APPROVE LIQUOR LICENSES. ABRA DOES. THE ANC CAN SAY WHATEVER IT WANTS NOBODY LISTENS TO THOSE CHUMP ASS BAMMAS ANYWAY.

  • http://greatergreaterwashington.org/ David Alpert

    It's not clear from the article here whether the ANC actually passed a resolution to protest the license or whether they just failed to pass a resolution to support it.

    As noodlez2 electric bugaloo said, ANCs do not need to approve licenses. The Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board does. They are required to give ANCs "great weight," but don't have to go with what the ANC says.

    Also, "great weight" in the law only applies when they actually take actions. If they pass no resolution at all, that has no meaning to the ABC Board. Only if they actually protest the license does the ABC Board have to take notice, and even then they don't have to block it just because the ANC says so.

  • James

    It's hard to keep track of all the restaurants going in over there. Oh wait...

  • Smh

    Kendall had to work last night. Also, this was discussed at their executive meeting 2 WEEKS AGO.

    The NO votes by Natalie Williams and Barbara Clark and the abstention by L. Yvonne Moore makes no damn sense whatsoever.

  • Bob See

    Maybe the Anacostia ANC is trying to brand the neighborhood as an Exclusive Ghetto.

  • Christopher

    I attended the meeting.

    Five of the seven ANC members were present, the ones that were not were commissioner Holly Muhammad, and the other was Kendell Graham, whose SMD is where the Uniontown/Cedar Hill Bar and Grill is to be.

    To be fair, Commissioner Charles Wilson did notify the other commissioners of Graham's support, but still the vote was 2-2-1 and therefore a letter of support was not passed. It should be noted, that no one stated on the record they were AGAINST it. They just voted not to submit a letter of support at this time. Its possible they could have a vote at the ANC executive meeting on April 15.

    I'm not a ANC commissioner and have never been one or interesting in being one, but one thing has been clear in my 22 years of living over here. If you are a ANC commissioner, or with a civic organization, which I am, if you are for OR against something in this community, you MUST be present to fight for or against that issue when there is a presentation or a vote to be held on it. I'm not sure why Ms. Graham wasn't there last night, but in simple math, and after hearing the excuses for NOT supporting it from those who voted against the letter of support at this time, had Ms. Graham been there, the vote would allegedly have been 3-2-1 for, if everyone stayed with their vote.

    Hopefully, for the people who want it, the ANC Commissioners will vote to support if with a letter real soon.

  • name

    You all are suckers.

    The terms of the bar's financial support of the ANC probably had not been worked out to Graham's satisfaction and she's clearly queen bee over there. Without her blesupport, no one else had the brains to know what to do.

    Typical ANC thieving BS. This is why Anacostia doesn't have nice things.

  • Anacostian

    Ms. Graham had to unexpectedly work late, which if you work for the private sector, you are probably aware that sometimes this is not your choice, nor do you always have much warning. As a local resident, I do not put the blame on her working late if her position was communicated and based on all of the preliminary preparations. ANC are not paid and have to attend a lot more than just monthly ANC meetings. We cannot expect them to quit their day jobs just to serve. Many of the good ones take enough time off and skip the out-of-town vacations already.

    I do, however, blame the commissioners who voted against or abstained from the vote. Their grandstanding is shameful. No, the ANC does not issue alcohol licenses, but try getting very far if you can't get ANC approval. Yes, it can be voted on next month, but that throws off the whole timeline and means that the restaurant will not be open for Lumen8Anacostia this summer and other events where a restaurant is needed. Delays can also be costly or completely derail a project.

    From my understanding, the lack of overt support during the vote was not consistent with recent surveys of the commissioner's support so the restaurant couldn't have done more before paying fees and starting the process. They have been very accommodating in terms of addressing the community and their concerns.

  • CapCityRecordsPanhandler

    This is the new Ward 8!

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