Brookland’s Finest – Dissecting The Protests, Support And Liquor License Hearings

View from the inside of the proposed Brookland's Finest location.
View from the inside of the proposed Brookland’s Finest location.

It seems like you can’t get too far into a conversation around the neighborhood without the topic of Brookland’s Finest, a new restaurant hoping to open at 12th and Jackson Streets NE, coming up. Now that the deadline to submit a protest of the restaurant’s liquor license application has come and gone, we decided to lay out where the restaurant stands in the process.

Many were surprised to hear at the most recent ANC 5B meeting that in addition to the ANC protest, and protests that were filed in May, there were a number of new protests submitted to DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) in June.  There was also a Settlement Agreement submitted to ABRA that was negotiated by Brookland resident Jose “Joe” Barrios and the restaurant’s management, that we covered here. For those interested, the protests and the settlement agreement are public documents, and are easily obtained by contacting ABRA’s Sarah Fashbaugh at Sarah(dot)Fashbaugh(at)dc(dot)gov. So, first off, who can protest a liquor license? From ABRA:
  • Abutting property owner
  • Group of five or more property owners sharing common ground or a group of three or more in a moratorium zone
  • Incorporated citizens association
  • Affected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC)
  • DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)

We took a look at the protests and the settlement agreement. First, here is our analysis of the protests. At first glance, you can’t help but notice that all the protests bear almost identical language throughout, suggesting a single source responsible for initiating and/or collecting the various petitions. Here is a breakdown:

 1) In May, a combined 31 signatures from three different documents were collected and submitted that all appear to be from the local Brookland community. The farthest appears to be at 13th and Monroe. On May 19th (based on fax time stamp) 20 signatures were sent to ABRA, on May 20th there were 11 more.
 
2) On June 23rd, 22 additional signatures were submitted that are also  from Brookland neighbors. One was a signature in the name of a church, so as far as we know, that one signature would be invalid.
 
3) On June 24th, the day of the ABRA protest deadline, two protest petitions were filed from two local churches with a combined total of 63 signatures. Among these, only one signature is from Brookland; the remainder are from all other parts of DC and suburban Maryland. Several signatures used the church address, making it impossible to determine where they’re from unless the protestants do in deed live at the church itself. There were approximately 27 signatures from Maryland on these two church petitions, from as far away as Largo and Clinton. As far as we know, signatures from non DC residents do not carry any standing with ABRA.
 
Putting all this in consideration there are about 53 combined valid protest signatures.
 
On to the settlement agreement.
 
On June 24th Joe Barrios submitted a settlement agreement to ABRA. The framework for the settlement agreement came about as the result of a meeting that was advertised with flyers to every residence within a one block radius of the proposed restaurant. The residents (full disclosure – I was one of them) in attendance were generally supportive of the establishment but had concerns with regards to operation of the summer garden/patio, noise, garbage, and the like. The result was a series of proposals that ultimately served as the basis for the Agreement and led to the restaurant amending their application to limit the summer garden (outdoor) seating area hours to 10 pm weekdays and 11 pm weekends at the request of the residents. Looking at the signatures in support of the settlement agreement, there were 149, all which appear valid and within roughly a three block radius from the proposed restaurant (Monroe to Girard Street and the Railroad tracks to 13th Street, NE).  We therefore believe this puts Brookland’s Finest in a strong position going into any subsequent negotiations or the final hearing. Notably, the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association (BNCA) has also passed a motion supporting Brookland’s Finest in light of the Settlement.
 
So what is next? There will be a series of ABRA hearings as follows:
 
On July 8th there will be “Roll Call” Hearing at 10:00 am. The people (or a designated representative) who are protesting must show up to the hearing or their protests will be dismissed. Assuming the protestants show up,  a settlement conference/mediation is scheduled in which the protestants and the restaurant management will attempt to reach a compromise with the help of an ABRA mediator. If a compromise cannot be met at mediation, a Protest Hearing will take place where both sides will present their evidence in support of their positions.
 
The Protest Hearing date has already been scheduled for August 14, at 4:0o pm.
From what we understand, the only people allowed to testify at the Protest Hearing are a limited number of people who are selected ahead of time by either the protestants and the restaurant. However, we also understand that a strong showing of either support or protest by those in attendance can hold some sway with ABRA, and we have also been told that there will be a way for those in attendance to indicate their support or opposition at the Hearing. All ABRA hearings are open to the public and will take place at 2000 14th Street, NW on the 4th floor. We will let you know of any new developments as we hear of them.

15 thoughts on “Brookland’s Finest – Dissecting The Protests, Support And Liquor License Hearings”

  1. I’m not quite sure I understand why Brookland’s Finest, which promises to be a FAMILY dining option, has generated so much controversy, while Optimism, only a short distance away–and which is a BAR with limited dining options–did not. Am I missing something here??? Something seems very unfair to me.

      1. ANC Cmr. Steptoe, who is said to be a patron of the lounge, facilitated Optimism’s license and ran interference with the abutting neighbors who I don’t think were pleased when Optimism sought a license to have live music.

  2. Guys, can we please refrain from criticizing another neigborhood restaurant as we voice support for Brookland’s Finest. There is plenty of room for both, and more! We need to support all Brookland establishments, from Menomale’s to Optimism to Ashkale and on down.

    1. Chaz,

      Please note that Optimism is not a restaurant. It is a lounge that wants to have live music next door to private citizens. I’m not sure the other restaurants in you cite in the neighborhood come with those circumstances. I wish Optimism had stayed within its agreements with nearby property owners, but it didn’t.

    2. I agree that we should not criticize Optimism itself in this discussion. However, I believe a comparison of the ANC process between Optimism and Brookland’s finest is highly relevant to this discussion. In the case of Optimism, a group of approximately 30 nearby neighbors protested a renewal of/change t0 (don’t remember which) Optimism’s liquor license. Shortly before the ABRA hearing, without a public meeting or on-the-record vote, Carolyn Steptoe requested and received a letter of support for Optimism from the ANC chairperson (on behalf of the entire ANC). I personally find it interesting that, with Optimism, Ms. Steptoe went against the wishes of approximately 30 nearby neighbors and actively supported Optimism. By contrast, with Brookland’s finest, Ms. Steptoe sought-out 30 nearby neighbors who opposed the establishment and used their opposition to obtain a protest from the ANC. Why do such similar facts yield such different results? What should we infer about Ms. Steptoe based on this apparent contradiction?

  3. Chaz,

    Please re-read my original post an understand that is was not meant as a criticism to Optimism–in any way, shape or form.

    But I do think we need to ask the question as to why there is so much opposition to Brookland’s Finest, which I also wholeheartedly support. (Indeed you will not find a more steadfast supporter of local business and restaurants…I have sent support letters to both my ANC and the Board, testified at Zoning hearings, etc., etc.)

    My question is one of EQUITY, and I think the answer lies with Cmr. Steptoe’s behavior and opinion toward anyone who she views as “new” to the neighborhood. It makes NO sense that she would adamantly oppose one liquor serving establishment and support the other, when they are located one short block from each other. I’m sorry, but I’m going to call a spade a spade. It’s favoritism, plain and simple, and that is not behavior that should be exhibited by an elected official.

  4. Honestly, it seems to suggest that problems exist in the system for obtaining licenses. I think we need a healthy mix of vibrant businesses and restaurants on 12th, with different ethnic foods represented, different services provided, etc. Brookland’s Finest may or may not help that; we can’t tell till we see the menu, the ambience, the cultured or uncouth clientele, etc. But objecting to it’s proposal to serve alcohol, while supporting that of nearby Optimism, sure seems to be suggestive of foul play and illegal preferential treatment. I guess journalists and elected representatives should be alerted that some people, as business owners, seem to gaining the preference of certain parties, perhaps for factors on the basis of which it is currently illegal to discriminate.

    I hope another reason to go eat in Brookland arrives and thrives–but I also hope it is not filled with drunken college students!

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