Sometimes I wonder why do I even bother attending community meetings. I say that because I go with the hopes of getting useful information that will help me improve conditions in my neighborhood but often I find the reasons why the tomfoolery is there in the first place. I don't fear the "gentrification" of Ward 8 (which is not happening by the way) but I am terrified of the "ghettofication" that occurs on a daily basis.
Last night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A help their community meeting focused on liquor store regulations. Guests included Councilmember David Grosso, Councilmember Marion Barry, and the director of ABRA, Fred Moosally.
Let me tell you, that meeting was an eye opener. Specifically what we learned from the director of ABRA, the agency that processes liquor license applications. To be clear, I am not against liquor stores in general, the complaint from most of us is that there are entirely too many liquor stores and stores that sell liquor and beer and wine in Ward 8. To put this in perspective there are only TWO places in all of Ward 8 right now where you can buy a beer and a burger at the same place. That's right, in a ward of over 73,000 people we only have two restaurants with liquor licenses -- Georgina's in Congress Heights and Uniontown in Anacostia. In Congress Heights within 2 blocks of the Friendship Charter School there are 2 liquor stores and three corner stores that sell beer and wine.
Like I said, "tomfoolery."
Now back to last night's meeting. I'm going to just hit you with the highlights of what I learned from the Director of ABRA and see if you too can point out the tomfoolery.
Tomfoolery #1 : LIQUOR STORES NEAR SCHOOLS
Sounds like a no-brainer right? Liquor stores should not be close to schools. Well, ABRA does have a rule on the books restricting liquor stores from being within 400 feet of a school. However, there is an exception to that rule. You can open a liquor store near a school if there is already a liquor store within 400 feet of a school. Yes, I really did just say that. So the exception to the rule doesn't discourage liquor stores near schools, it actually encourages it.
I have often wondered why it seemed like schools in Ward 8 seemed to be surrounded by liquor stores and now I have my answer -- they are. So if your child's school is unfortunate enough to have a liquor store within 400 feet (and all the public drinking and loitering that comes with) it is likely there is another liquor store within 400 feet -- or at least will be soon.
Perhaps the answer is just opening schools in liquor stores because lord knows that loophole is big enough to drive a Bud Light tractor trailer through. To be fair, these regulations apply to the entire city but certain wards, like Ward 4 have a moratorium on liquor licenses for liquor stores. No such moratorium exists in Ward 8.
Tomfoolery #2: WHEN A SCHOOL ISN'T REALLY A SCHOOL
So let's say the loophole listed above isn't big enough. Don't worry! Zoning has you covered! Right now the residents of Anacostia are trying to protest a liquor store opening next door to Ketchum Elementary. As luck would have it there is another liquor store within 400 feet so Tomfoolery #1 does apply but the residents also have another little gem to deal with. Their school really isn't a school - it's zoned commercial.
I am going to let the sink in for a minute.
Last year these same residents tried to stop Calvary Women's Services from opening a homeless shelter down the street, in the middle of the commercial district but they were thwarted because despite being an office building the property wasn't really zoned commercial -- it was zoned as a matter of right. So the same zoning regulations that allowed a transitional housing facility to open in the middle of a business district are also allowing another liquor store to open next to a school (well not a school according to zoning.)
If the children are our future then we are doomed.
Tomfoolery #3: LIQUOR STORES NEAR PARKS
Sounds like another no-brainer. It's probably a bad idea to open a liquor store in close proximity to a place where children should be playing. In Ward 8 we see this all too often, liquor store + park = public drinking. At the corner of MLK & Malcolm X Avenues in Congress Heights there is a park that I would love to see burned to the ground or paved over because it is such a nuisance and blight.
Well, ABRA does have a regulation on the books prohibiting liquor stores near parks ---- but only parks regulated by the DC Department of Parks and Recreation.
If a park is operated by another entity -- like the National Park Service (as many parks in DC are) you are SOL.
This park, managed by the National Park Service is directly across the street from a liquor store
which is within 400 feet of two schools and a daycare.
So my dear Congress Heights family, that little park/public drinking plaza on the corner of Malcolm X Avenue and MLK Avenue is here to stay. It doesn't matter that the park is only 40 feet away from the liquor store and that liquor store (one of 5 in the immediate area) are within 400 feet of TWO SCHOOLS the current rules and regulations from ABRA allow it.
So next time you drive by "the ghetto" be sure to thank your law makers for creating such stringent laws and guidelines and your local city agencies for enforcing it.
Maybe I would have a better chance of getting Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and Malcolm X Avenue SE renamed because clearly no one in a position of power gives a flying donkey kick about this area.
I invite Mayor Gray and all the members of the DC Council and directors of city agencies to join me on the corner of Malcolm X Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE and explain to me and my neighbors why it is okay to have a manufactured "ghetto" as a monument our two most important civil rights leaders.
I knew there was a reason why I opted to skip the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and decided instead to go look at housing west of the river.
I was disillusioned.
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