Safeway reaches compromise with Dupont ANC on alcohol license

Dupont Circle's Safeway is located at 17th and Corcoran streets NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

The “Soviet Safeway” in Dupont Circle has cleared a major hurdle in its effort to sell beer and wine, reaching a settlement agreement that overrules other community protests against the plan.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (Dupont Circle) announced it and three other parties submitted an agreement to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regarding the 1701 Corcoran St. NW supermarket. The board is due to consider the case Wednesday morning, likely capping months of division.

A few neighborhood groups had mounted a passionate opposition, arguing alcoholic beverages would displace food goods on shelves. The settlement agreement creates a compromise. In it, Safeway agrees to sell beer and wine only from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, even as store hours run from 5 a.m. to midnight. Beer and wine displays would be limited to no more than 46 linear feet in the store, and advertisements for alcohol would not be allowed in windows or on the exterior of the store.

In addition, Safeway agreed to configure its self-checkout registers so that they are not in the same section as the beer and wine aisle, and pledged not to sell single servings of beer.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has the final say on the license and has the right to alter the proposed agreement.

ANC 2B member Amy Johnson described the negotiations between Safeway and community groups as encompassing a “huge spectrum of opinions,” from those who fully supported a liquor license and those who did not.

“We were able to come to an agreement with Safeway that addressed the concerns we heard from the communities,” Johnson said.

Its fiercest critics remain unsatisfied, however. They include ANC 2B member Nick DelleDonne — whose strong stance against alcohol sales led to tense arguments with colleagues, culminating in the ANC last month censuring him for “inappropriate behavior.”

“The settlement agreement short-circuits a hearing before the alcohol licensing board,” he said in a statement. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration canceled a Sept. 27 protest hearing on the license application after a settlement agreement was reached, because D.C. law no longer allows individuals to protest a liquor license application when an advisory neighborhood commission has signed a settlement agreement.

The Dupont Circle Citizens Association — which later elected to sign the settlement agreement — and other groups coalesced under the “Food Not Booze” banner over the past few months. These opponents said the market was already saturated with liquor stores and said their local supermarket suffered from a lack of inventory even before space is given over to alcohol sales. ANC 2B had voted 4-3 in August to protest the license in order to reach an agreement.

Since then, a town hall was held on the matter. DelleDonne claims “over 1,000 petition-signers and parents from the nearby Ross Elementary School” oppose the license.

Also along the 17th Street NW corridor, a moratorium on new liquor licenses for eastern Dupont that expired in August won’t be renewed, the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration announced last week. The moratorium went into effect in 1994, capping the number of tavern licenses at two and prohibiting new nightclub licenses. The restrictions had been relaxed in recent years, most notably by easing limitations on new restaurants.

ANC 2B supported the lifting of the moratorium, arguing that commissioners can take on license applications on a case-by-case basis. The alcohol board shares that position.

“The Board also agrees with the ANC that many of the concerns raised by the proponents of a moratorium can be addressed by utilizing the protest process or entering into settlement agreements with terms that benefit the industry and neighborhood alike,” the board wrote in a statement.