MVSNA endorses Single Sale Moratorium exemption

Last night at the December MVSNA meeting the membership discussed and put to vote a Single Sale Moratorium (SSM) exemption for Good Libations (1201 5th St NW).

Many lobbied the council to pass this Single Sales Moratorium in Wards 2 & 6 as it has been an effective tool in other cities for reducing trash, public drunkenness, public urination and loitering. The District also has a proven success story as the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has employed this ban since 2000.

The legislation was approved by the DC Council in October prohibiting the sale of single containers of alcohol; specifically, single containers of beer, malt liquor, and ale, as well as spirits in bottles of half pint or smaller. Emergency enactment went into effect for ANC2C, ANC2F and the 6C09 Single Member District (SMD) of Ward 6. It is estimated that the bill will be enacted for the remainder of Ward 6 in February.

The MVSNA membership discussion centered on whether to endorse Good Libations’ request to ABRA for an exemption to the moratorium. The ABRA is given several criteria by which they must make their decision, including considering:

  • great weight to the position of the ANC
  • impact of an exemption to the effectiveness of the overall ban
  • one year track record on violations of the licensee
  • licensee community participation
  • clear and convincing evidence that there has been no negative impact of single sales in the community

Prior to the meeting the MVSNA board drafted a proposed Voluntary Agreement (V/A) as a focal point for the discussion. MVSNA President Cary Silverman introduced the agenda item and provided Good Libations owner Ron Greene the opportunity to talk on behalf on his business. Members then had a chance to speak both for an against the exemption. MVSNA Recording Secretary Jefferson Parke has many of the positions captured in the meeting notes.

Many of the positions were emotional anecdotes rather than facts or objective statements for instance “I’ve seen a lot of young neighbors buy singles of Heineken at the store.” So? How does that prove they would not buy a 6-pack? And of what relevance is young? Sifting through some of that filler you can find that MPD has attested that no violations have occurred at the business and close by neighbors have not witnessed any ongoing loitering problems.

In the end the membership voted on the exemption:

Motion to approve the voluntary agreement, without an alcohol percentage specified, without a refrigeration clause, 20 oz minimum, and with a one year renewal clause: 17 in favor, 3 in opposition, 1 abstention (count of hands)

I was one of the 3 in opposition. My position is that nothing in the Voluntary Agreement the MVSNA is proposing protects the community from hobo brews from being sold. They simply trust Ron Greene to continue to not tailor his product offerings to vagrants. Subsequent exemption applicants who meet the objective criteria like zero MPD violations may not inspire the same “trust” Ron does. But since “trust” is not an objective criteria it is not defensible and crys of “unfair” will roar through community and ANC meetings over the next several months. This is a slippery slope we’re on. It’s bigger than one corner. It’s bigger than the mild convenience of buying a single vs a four-pack of beer…

I’ll write more on this over the coming days. One plan of mine is to tour the liquor stores of Mount Pleasant this Saturday to see how they adapted to the Single Sales Moratorium in which their community is now on their EIGHTH year. I know… surprising… singles were banned but the world didn’t end…

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  1. 1

    Anonymous says

    I agree that trust isn’t quantifiable but the ANC isn’t writing universal legislation it is granting initial approval to stores on a case by case basis. Since no one is obligated to approve the next request there’s no reason not to figure neighborliness into the decision. Let the stores that cause the problems complain. You (and the other ANC members) have a pretty good idea which stores are causing trouble. I can’t picture everyone rolling over at the first “unfair” hissy-fit.

    This particular exemption will be one more plus for the neighborhood.

  2. 2

    fourthandeye says

    @Anon 15:28 – Tell me how you would handle B&M Foodstore? Whereas Good Libations does not sell Steel Reserve the B&M Foodstore two blocks away does. Steel Reserve is a "hobo brew". B&M does not have a list of MPD violations. Would you simply say: 1) "We are not obligated to approve you even though you meet the same objective ABRA criteria we used to outlay support Good Libations" 2) "We know you have no violations but you must change your product mix before we will consider approving you" 3) "We'll approve you and you can keep selling Steel Reserves but stay out of trouble…"

    1 & 2 probably won't sit well with the proprietor. 3 is letting the community down to avoid conflict.

  3. 3

    DCDNA says

    The vote last night failed to appreciate that the erosion of the single sales law will impact all of us. It may be that those supporting single sales have not been impacted by the hobo brew sale the way some parts of the neighborhood have been hurt.

    The effort for the single sales moratorium engaged many DC residents who described the impact of “hobo brews” on the neighborhood. The problems accompanying inebriated individuals with substance abuse issues seeking their next can of brew from single sales outlets that act as unlicensed bars is a community problem. It has been documented throughout the city, along with the great results those areas with the moratorium have experienced.

    The sentiment that a neighborhood covers only a few blocks is unrealistic. As the Downtown stores stop selling single sales, those seeking them will only need walk a short distance. If these troubled individuals stayed on the Good Libations block and north of New York Ave, then it might be a good result for the southern neighbors. Sadly, that may not be the case.

    If one believes that places like Good Libations will not be an attractor for these troubled persons, a surprise awaits.

  4. 4

    Cozmot says

    Granting exemptions is not only a slippery slope, it simply isn't fair. The case of Good Libations and B&M Foodstore illustrates this. This is a good law and should be applied uniformly. The MVSNA is toothless.

    The story noted that Mt. Pleasant has successfully applied this law since 2008. Does anyone know if any exemptions were granted there? If not, then what basis is there for MVSNA to have endorsed the exemption for Good Libations?

    This exemption was a mistake. With the single-sales ban in my neighborhood (Chinatown), the drunks that hang around here will simply walk a few blocks to their new supplier. After loitering and urinating in the MVS neighborhood for a while, they'll head back over to my neighborhood to carry on.

    Thanks MVSNA.

  5. 5

    fourthandeye says

    @Cozmot – Mt Pleasant has had the ban since 2000. I do not believe they have any exemptions. But I will continue to research this and visit the liquor stores first hand. Mt P should be the perfect case study. However assns are making these decisions to endorse exemptions purely on emotions and anecdotes of the 20 members who show up to meetings.

  6. 6

    Anonymous says

    I agree that the single-sales ban should be universal. I worked for years to combat the public urination (and defecation), loitering, and unruly behavior along H Street, NE. (I finally left the neighborhood prior to the ban, with one reason the lack of progress.) There is absolutely NO benefit to the neighborhood by single-sales; every benefit goes to the owner who pockets profit and who leaves the neighborhood to deal with the residue. MVSNA was wrong on this one.

  7. 7

    Anonymous says

    The last time I went to an MVSNA meeting, I was told by one of the Board members that it was just “too bad that I bought there (the Triangle).” I understand that similar sentiments were shared with other Triangle residents in attendance at this last meeting. It is why I and many of my neighbors do not participate in their meetings and instead participate in the DNA meetings. That being said — the MVSNA BOD members state in the blog that they oppose the single serve law. I believe that they have every intention of creating a slippery slope. Where were they when Louie’s Rogue came up for renewal of their liquor license and had no Voluntary Agreement? Thankfully the DNA and our ANC6C Commissioners stepped up and got us what we needed. The MVSNA representation of the Triangle is beyond poor.

  8. 8

    fourthandeye says

    @Anon 09:58 – I really hope that “it’s too bad you bought in the Triangle” is not pervasive on the MVSNA board. I’ve gotten to know several of the board members over the last several months who I think are wonderful people and I wouldn’t expect they carry that point of view.

    But for the one who did tell you that… I don’t want to hear from that member that Good Libations needs to sell singles to compete with Safeway. That of course would be hypocritical because Ron knew Safeway was coming.

  9. 9

    Jacquelyn says

    What I don’t understand is why on earth these anecdotes were convincing enough for an exemption. I guess I just don’t see any valuable argument for single-serving sales generally and I certainly don’t see a good argument for ONE place to have the ability to do it. Did Good Libations make some case that their business was going to fail as a result of this ban? What was their expected revenue from selling these? Was there any discussion about the negative impacts this will have on the city as a whole and the public costs the city will now have to bear as a result (hiring more cops to deal with more vagrancy, etc.)? And perhaps how Good Libations (now the MSVNA-endorsed monopoly) will be paying for that? The unfairness of this situation is just mind-boggling. While I don’t support single-serving sales, I think it’s massively worse to grant exemptions to squeaky wheels because it undermines the rule of law across the city.

  10. 10

    fourthandeye says

    @Jacquelyn – I learned in a separate meeting that 15% of Good Libations revenue comes from Single Serves. The owner never said in that meeting “I will go out of business.”

    The question I suppose is how much of that 15% of revenue will evaporate. Certainly nowhere close to all of it but I can’t say how much.

    But if it’s enough to make things a little uncomfortable for a business they need to adapt and innovate and earn new business. Become a far better alternative than your competitors and take some of their market share.

  11. 11

    Cozmot says

    @Anon 09:58, that comment by the MVSNA board member is defeatist. I wonder why this person is even on the board? The MNSNA needs community activists, not cynics, who carry the “Yes, we can!” banner.

    Based on this comment, and the endorsement of the exemption for Good Libations, the MVSNA strikes me as not just ineffective, but actually bad for your neighborhood. I know that the MVSNA has been around for a long time, but it sounds like it’s time for it to go. I’m sure that the DNA would be happy to step in and expand its boundaries.

  12. 12

    fourthandeye says

    @Cozmot – I absolutely do not agree the MVSNA needs to go. They are great advocates for many things including but not limited to parks cleanups, safety issues, transportation issues. I’ve also seen MVSNA BOD members attend DNA meetings.

    But I do not agree with their plan of attack on evaluating the SSM exemption requests. This is Ward wide legislation. I would have liked to see them engage the higher levels of community first for a coherent strategy rather than start with their membership who, many of which (I’m not shy about saying), clearly did not assign any priority to the larger communities they are apart of when developing their stance.

    ANC6C has postponed their discussions until more guidelines from ABRA are present. MVSNA on the other hand jumped on the express train.

  13. 13

    Anonymous says

    I personally think of the “Square” and the “Triangle” as parts of the same neighborhood that was ripped apart years ago and is finally being restored. This issue is revealing the different points of view and the lack of trust on both sides of NY Ave, though, which I think is a shame. The MVSNA is one voice of several that will contribute to the decision on the exemption, but I understand the disappointment of those that came out on the losing end.

    Only three voted against the exemption, though there seem to be many more that oppose it. This points to lack of participation– if you believe in the law as it stands and don’t favor the exemption, you need to attend these meetings and be heard. More participation will bring better representation to those in the Triangle, and will help prevent a lot of the resentment that is being expressed here. I think everyone is against public drunkenness and the hobo brews– its different perspectives on how to solve the problem that are dividing us.

    MVSNA seems to have a level of trust with Good Libations that the Triangle residents don’t. That’s understandable since Good Libations is a couple years ahead of the Triangle liquor stores in terms of cleaning up its store, its image, and attracting higher spending clientele. There also isn’t a club and a homeless shelter nextdoor to attract vagrants and loitering like Subway II. If you try to understand where each other is coming from, you can understand why each side supports their approaches. It doesn’t mean people in the Square don’t care about people in the Triangle, or that the people in the Triangle don’t have a very good point about the slippery slope of the exemptions. Just saying, “The MVSNA must go” or “its too bad Triangle residents bought there” is a mistake. Each side needs to do a better job listening to and understanding the other here to acheive a common goal rather than bickering with and resenting each other. -TJM

  14. 14

    MVTResident says

    Both the DNA and MVSNA expanded their boundaries to include the Triangle about the same time. At the end of the day, although the MVSNA led the charge on the closure of Fun Fair, they haven’t been effective on the other issues the Triangle has faced because their perspective is so much different. The Triangle is a condominium area built on an open air drug and prostitution market. The DNA has demonstrated a fundamentally better understanding of the issues that condos face under these conditions. And the fact is that Triangle residents spend their time in PQ and Chinatown and not north of New York. Our neighborhood is the downtown. So I think that two neighborhood associations claiming this territory is simply too much. Our building in the Triangle has joined the DNA and considers them to be our voice. This is even more clearly demonstrated in this discussion about single serves. I know other buildings in the Triangle have joined the DNA and I would urge the rest to do so as well. We will need to negotiate Voluntary Agreements in the future for new businesses along 5th, K and I. We need the DNA to be our voice because they are the voice of reason.

  15. 15

    fourthandeye says

    @Anon/TJM – I agree with some of the ideas you’ve shared if not the conclusion on Good Libations.

    This post and another few I have planned may prompt some bickering and ranting. But I think it’s discussion worth having. Get people talking. Get people to realize decisions they don’t agree with are being made without them. Maybe that will prompt more participation.

    But I do want this to be civil and I will do my best to steer discussion towards being critical of ideas and actions rather than people.

  16. 16

    MVTResident says

    I was at the ANC6C meeting where an MVSNA BOD member who lived north of New York voiced opposition to them (the ANC) protesting the Louie’s Rogue alcohol license renewal in order to get a voluntary agreement. Now I know that he was probably acting on his own, but it does raise a huge concern with me about the representation that the MVSNA will give Triangle residents on voluntary agreements next to our condos. These comments are not meant to be disrespectful of the MVSNA but to highlight the gap in viewpoints. It feels like a shotgun marriage to me.

  17. 17

    Chris says

    I fail to see how being a good neighbor means they must be afforded the exemption to sell singles. We can still say no to a good business. If Good Libations has been the best store that sells singles then in the new level playing field of a wide ban they have the opportunity to be the best business that doesn’t sell singles.

  18. 18

    Anonymous says

    How about this?

    1) Liquor stores can be clasified as either being a nuisance to their neighbors or not, typically based on what they sell and their involvement in the community. The definition of “nuisance” is not fixed but rather it’s in the opinion of the neighbors based on what they know of the store. Maybe this is a subjective though also useful and fair definition. Please read on before deciding whether you agree.

    2) If neighbors take no action at all OR after community notice, a majority vote that a particular liquor store IS a nuisance, then it is legitimate and reasonable for the community organization(s) to deny an exemption to that store. The reasons given by neighbors, if they choose to give reasons at all, would go to explain why they feel the store is a nuisance. Each of which, though possibly subjective, is valid.

    3) If a majority of neighbors believe that a store is NOT a nuisance, as determined through community notice and a vote, then it is legitimate and reasonable to support an exemption for that one store. To accept this, we must agree that just as those who oppose an exemption have thoughtful reasons, so do those who support an exemption. Just in case none come to mind, one thoughtful reason to support an exemption is that the store owner both hosts and contributes to community events, behavior that should be commended through further responsible cooperation.

    4) Any exemption that the community votes to allow should be contingent on a voluntary agreement that expires after at most 1 year so that the trustworthiness of the store owner can be tested. At the end of that period the community can reevaluate whether a nuisance has cropped up where none existed before (eg public drunks start migrating from one area of the community to another to get exempted singles). The community can then vote not to renew the agreement.

    I don’t see much risk of a slippery slope here. While voluntary agreements can’t specify brands or price, there are no restrictions on the reasons neighbors can give for DENYING an exemption, right? In other words, exempting one store for both subjective and objective reasons does not mean that another store can’t legitimately be refused an exemption for subjective and objective reasons because reasons for rejection don’t have to be formalized in any voluntary agreement and therefore have no restrictions. It’s true that the owner can use the falacious form of the slippery slope argument ( in trying to persuade their neighbors to support an exemption. That would be failing to mention the differences between their store that the community knows to be a nuisance and an exempted store that the community knows NOT to be a nuisance. We have to recognize this type of argument and discount it.

    Certainly this would mean that the community would spend time trying to help store owners who are responsible and deciding not to help those who aren’t but, recognizing that, where does this approach break down? I don’t ask that rhetorically. I honestly would like to know in hopes that talking about some compromise might bring the community back together. If point 4 has holes then please don’t immediately discount the whole approach. Is there no creative hole filler?

  19. 19

    fourthandeye says

    @Anon 15:19 – Thank you for your response.

    At the moment I have a series of 3-5 posts planned out relating a variety of issues around banning singles. My aim is to work through those and get reader feedback. I don't want to skip ahead to trying find a way to become comfortable with the path MVSNA has chosen which is kind of what you are suggesting.

    Please don't take this as being dismissive. But to work on compromise before I've presented more evidence feels premature to me. After I've posted on Modern Liquors, Mt Pleasant, etc.. I may be ready for that discussion.

    In the meantime, merely as an exercise how would you respond to the comments about the B&M scenario and what Chris had to say using your paradigm.

  20. 20

    Anonymous says

    WHY have single sales AT ALL? What is the advantage to the neighborhood in selling a singlet hat is so compelling as to outweigh all the proven disadvantages?

  21. 21

    Anonymous says

    @anon 16:06

    That’s one way of approaching the issue. Another is to ask: what’s so compelling about banning singles of a variety and from a store that don’t contribute to all the proven disadvantes to which you refer?

    My point is not that your question is invalid only that there is more than one reasonable way to think about this issue so we shouldn’t write off other perspectives as illogical. There’s a way to approach these issues without gettting upset at differing views but, please, let’s drop our gaurds a bit and listen with an assumption of respect so that we can get to that point. Forthandeye should be commended for leading us in that direction. Thank you.

  22. 22

    Anonymous says

    @fourthandeye 16:00

    With respect to the B&M scenario, perhaps one would choose another option:

    4) "We are not obligated to support an exemption because despite meeting the same written criteria as Good Libations and despite having no MPD record, you do not meet the same non-written criteria such as not selling types of beer known to be a problem and being an involved, positive member of the community.” As I understand, voluntary agreements can not specify types of beer in this way but does ABRA preclude using that as a factor in deciding not to support an exemption?

    Regarding Chris’s post:

    Fair points.

    1) Being a good neighbor does not mean a liquor store must be afforded an exemption. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used as criteria for a personal decision either.

    2) A city-wide ban would be a level playing field, agreed. This is a strong argument. This scenario may be the best compromise for all involved and I think it makes sense for everyone to strongly consider it. However, until the council can be convinced to remove the exemptions part of the law, how do you respectfully convince someone who sees no problem with evaluating exemptions on a case-by-case basis? Someone who has reasoned arguments for why it would be both good to support exemptions to good neighbors and bad to oppose exemptions to those good neighbors. Someone who has reasoned arguments to address a slippery slope for those who say they’ll be adversely affected.

  23. 23

    fourthandeye says

    @Anon 19:09

    Re: B&M – That's an idea, but I don't think the majority of the 17 people who voted for Good Libations will necessarily agree with that. More importantly, I think the ANC6C SM02 Commissioner that B&M lies in will find that fair.

    Non-written subjective criteria may sound fine in a room of like minded people. They are going to fall apart as the audience gets larger.

    This is why myself and the one MVSNA BOD member that voted against Good Libations are uncomfortable. Subjectiveness won't hold up. The objective part of precedents can hold up while the subjective parts will be deemed unfair and tossed out. Then the bar gets lowered and the hobo brews can continue to be sold.

  24. 24

    fourthandeye says

    Wow, sorry, typo on my last comment… should say:

    More importantly, I think the ANC6C SMD02 Commissioner that B&M lies in will find that **unfair**.

  25. 25

    Lee says

    Hi folks,

    I’m the FORMER member of the MVSNA BoD mentioned by MVTResident. I did indeed stand up at an ANC 6C meeting and express my opinion that the renewal for Louis’ the Rogue should not be protested by the ANC. I stated that I was concerned that a protest would be motivated more by the type of business (strip club) than anything else. No one advocating a protest of their license could point to a single incident inside the club, or anything other than speculation, as to why the license should be protested. My opinion is that opposing a license merely to force an establishment to enter into a voluntary agreement is akin to extortion. (i.e. you agree to do this and we agree to not shut you down). This is absolutely a personal opinion and NOT one that is held by Cary Silverman the president of the MVSNA or other board members. It is absolutely unfair to judge them by my individual statements at a public meeting. I made it clear at the time that I was asserting my own opinion and not that of the MVSNA.

  26. 26

    Anonymous says

    I think I rather see the spotlight attention be spent on B&M. Here is a store that does not have regular hours and always seems to have a cop car (or 2) parked directly out front. I live on the 5th and 400 block of N Street and that corner seems to be the worst hangout of animals whenever B&M is open.

  27. 27

    RobA says

    Anon 09:47,

    I think you are jumping to conclusions regarding the MPD traffic outside of the B&M store. Along that same block are several other stores including a carryout (that also has a license to sell singles currently) and a laundromat. The traffic is concentrated outside of the carry-out and laundromat – and many times standing at the door of the laundromat talking to the employee(s) of the store. I make a point to walk by that area in the evenings and drive by every afternoon on the way home from work. I do not see the MPD traffic in front of the store that you state is "always there". Could they (MPD) be there for any of the other four businesses along that block? That area also has a drug-market just a half-block away and several homeless shelters and halfway houses in close proximity as well. The residents of the "Chimney Area" have been working hard with MPD 1D for extra patrols in the area and we are glad for any extra presence along the 200 block of New York Avenue and the Morgan/Kirby area.

    As the topic of single-sales is discussed, everyone needs to do so factually and objectively and without conjecture and supposition.