District residents voice concern over proposed extended bar hours

Mayor Vincent Gray’s proposal to extend hours for alcohol sales at bars is facing resistance from local residents and D.C. Council members who say the policy would heighten noise and safety risks.

To help mitigate a $171.2 million shortfall, the fiscal year 2013 budget would allow bars and nightclubs across D.C. to remain open and sell alcohol until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends. Liquor stores would also be able to open an hour earlier, at 7 a.m., creating a projected $5.3 million in new revenue.

During a meeting Wednesday, the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission – a local government body that considers the impact of community issues like safety and traffic on residential life – commissioner Asher Corson proposed a resolution to oppose all extensions of liquor sale hours. The resolution was unanimously approved.

Corson will present the resolution April 30 to the D.C. Council.

At a town hall meeting Tuesday held by Ward 1 D.C. Council member Jim Graham, about three dozen local residents raised concerns over the proposed extension of liquor sales.

Graham said the town hall served as a forum to gauge public opinion on the alcohol portion of the mayor’s budget. He emphasized that he was against extended bar hours but said he wanted to hear constituents’ reactions.

“I usually don’t like to say this at hearings, but I have serious concerns about what the impact would be on neighborhoods and residents. I am concerned about the safety issues that will be heightened given that the Metro and Circulator won’t be open as late as the bars will close.”

District residents and members of five ANCs said later hours may entice individuals to drive while intoxicated, as public transportation options would stop running prior to bars’ closure.

“If you would like to come by my apartment at 2:59 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, you can listen to the latest Beyoncé song playing from the club next door,” Ward 2 resident Martin Smith said.

Smith, a 2003 GW graduate, said he filed a noise complaint in October against Mood Lounge, at 9th and O streets, located near his home, and the city is just now reviewing his complaint. He said extended bar hours would only worsen the situation.

“I’d rather have every citizen of D.C. pay an extra $10,000 a year in taxes to fill the budget hole than have this plan,” Smith said.

Twenty-three of the 37 locals who testified shared Smith’s sentiments, including residents who live in areas with a larger nightlife scene, like Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.

But the proposal also saw about a dozen supporters – mainly restaurant, bar and nightclub owners who pointed out that businesses could choose whether or not to remain open for the extra hours. They also said the nightlife industry makes D.C. a destination.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, whose constituency includes GW, said in a statement that many establishments with liquor licenses sit close to residential neighborhoods and extending liquor sale hours would “have a definite affect [sic] on the peace and quiet of the residents.”

Doxie McCoy, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said Gray stands by the budget released March 23 and looks forward to addressing the issues that have been raised. Gray has been holding town halls across D.C.’s eight wards to field public feedback and support for the proposal.

“By the same token, he listens to residents’ concerns on both sides of the issue and knows that Councilmember Evans will do the same and vote accordingly,” she said when asked about the council member’s negative reaction.

The budget proposal will be revised during the D.C. Council’s mark-up phase in May and proceed to Congress for approval in June.

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