22 July, 2008

Oasis Liquors Meeting

Oasis Liquors: Please join your neighbors at a meeting on Tuesday, July 22 at 7pm at Two Rivers Public Charter School (1227 4th St NE). Come and share your thoughts on the reopening of this liquor store and help shape the community's next steps. The owners have been invited to attend to share their plans and hear your concerns.


Margie Alma English said...

What was the outcome of this meeting?

BBies said...

Below is the latest from ANC6C04 Commissioner Anne Phelps. This information is the latest I have.

1. ANC 6C meeting update: The ANC voted to protest this liquor license application on all three grounds available to it. I was named the designated representative for all ABRA proceedings. Also, I asked the ANC to approve an expenditure for seeking legal counsel for consultation and possibly representation if/when the protest goes forward. The Commission approved this with a spending cap.

2. Legal Counsel: As to finding an attorney well versed in ABRA regs, I have the names of three. Most of the attorneys in the so-called "beer bar" represent applicants almost exclusively. The first I spoke with was unable to take this case on; I just received the other names this week and I'll follow up Monday. We also may have another resource for free consulting – I'm going to reach out to him Monday as well.

3. Oasis Community Meeting: Two River Public Charter School has offered to host this meeting; I'm working with Jessica Wodatch, the administrator, to come up with a date. I'll let you know as soon as it is scheduled.


The information below is to the best of my knowledge, but on some points I'm relying on conversations had with employees in these agencies, not my own research on regulations.

4. Zoning: The parcel of land Oasis sits upon was once zoned C-M-1, but is now zoned R-4. R-4 is a residential zone that does not allow for off-premise alcohol sales (or other commercial uses). However, Oasis was essentially grandfathered in under a nonconforming use exemption because it was already open when the zoning change occurred. That exemption applied for as long as the store remained open. If an establishment operating under a nonconforming use exemption closes for 3 years (36 months) or more, it can lose the exemption. Without a C-M-1 zoning classification, Oasis would lose its Certificate of Occupancy (COO) for a retail beverage store, and without a valid COO, ABRA won't issue a liquor license.

There's a case to be made to the Zoning Administration that the store has been closed for more than 36 months. A stronger case would require affidavits from neighbors to the ZA stating that, to the best of their knowledge and observation, they have seen no business activity at Oasis and the store appears to have been closed at least three years.

With these supporting affidavits, the ZA would have enough information to invalidate the COO, pending a discontinuance (of business) investigation. The burden of proof then shifts to the owner to show that they were open within the last three years, using supporting documents such as a valid business license, leases, and/or utility bills.

If the owner cannot prove the business was open, the nonconforming use exemption no longer applies and the zoning for the property becomes R-4 Residential. At that point, the property owner could:

- do something with the parcel that meets the R-4 rules;

- petition for rezoning to a commercial use, and if successful, apply for a new liquor license or other business license; or

- appeal the exemption decision to the Board of Zoning Adjustment.

A BZA appeal or rezoning petition would involve the owner making a case as to why that corner should be commercial. There would be a hearing at which the ANC would be a party and interested neighbors could testify. Throughout all of this, the liquor license application would be on hold.

5. Alcoholic Beverage License: As you know, the petition deadline to protest this application is August 4th. If neighbors decide to protest, all those in opposition may sign one petition. There was some confusion regarding how many people who signed would need to attend the roll call hearing on August 18th. I have confirmation from ABRA that only five must attend, though those who don't come need to designate one or more of the five to represent them.

Process: At the roll call hearing, the Board will set a date for a Status Hearing where the Board checks in to see where the parties are at (assuming the parties are interested in resolving the dispute). Typically, the parties engage in negotiation and work towards a cooperative/voluntary agreement regarding the establishment and how it operates. An agreement could prohibit the sales of single servings of alcohol, for example.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the Board may order mediation to work toward and agreement or move directly to a Protest Hearing, which is an administrative hearing with opening statements, witnesses, cross examinations, and so forth. The Board hears all evidence and statements and then makes a determination.

Safekeeping: This license application is listed as "transferring from Safekeeping to New Owner." Safekeeping is where the license is temporarily surrendered to the Board because the business is being closed for a certain period. There are procedures ABRA is required to follow with regard to licenses in safekeeping. Generally, it is easier for an applicant to transfer a license from safekeeping than to apply for a completely new license, although it depends on the circumstances.

There are several issues with regard to whether this license was properly in safekeeping. I am asking ABRA's counsel for additional clarification. If the license was not properly in safekeeping, it's possible (but not guaranteed) that the Board would consider this a new license application rather than a transfer. For a new license application, the Board considers additional factors, such as:

- proximity to schools

- whether issuance would create or contribute to an overconcentration of licensed establishments which is likely to affect the neighborhood adversely

Finally, I know this email may have created more questions than it has answered, but I wanted to give everyone interested the most complete picture I have. It would have been ideal to do this personally in a meeting setting, but given the number of inquiries, I decided not to wait. I apologize for the length and, as always, I am interested in your thoughts and reactions.

I'll let you know as soon as I have a meeting scheduled – I hope to have this nailed down by Monday.