Politics Magazine

02.18.19 Prohibitionism Comes to Takoma Park

Posted on the 18 February 2019 by Keith Berner @leftyview

In the past few years, Takoma Park (and neighboring Takoma DC) have seen a burst of vibrancy, particularly in the form of new restaurants, such as Busboys and Poets, Cielo Rojo, Mansa Kunda, Republic, Seoul Food, and Takoma Beverage Company. (I’ve left off the list some older restaurants and a couple of spots I think are lousy.)

It seems that a quiet backwater, originally settled by sober Seventh-Day Adventists, is suddenly becoming a destination for the region. It’s exciting to be able to grab a bite of good food nearby and to see people on the streets enjoying themselves. And (gasp!) it’s also nice to be able to have a beer or glass of wine without leaving my zip code.

Last week came the announcement of a new restaurant and bar, The Girl and the Vine (TG&TV), planned for an empty building where previous cafes and confectioneries have been.

NIMBYism is hardly new to Takoma Park, a town where progressives dig in hard against over-development (this is admirable) and against almost anything under the rubric “change” (this is ultra-conservative). So it was no surprise that immediate neighbors of the planned establishment filed their opposition to its liquor-license application in order to prevent the restaurant from opening. This was simply de rigeur, for a community seemingly allergic to change. (The good news is that a petition supporting the license application has garnered nearly 500 signatures in a few days.)

What has amazed me is the anti-alcohol zealotry the NIMBYs have latched onto this time. Here are some choice quotes from the “official” opposition to TG&TV:

  • “If this alcohol license is approved, that will bring to ten the number of alcohol outlets in Old Town Takoma Park ” [gasp!]
  • “A number of us have experienced the down-side of these bar-restaurants. . . anecdotal observances of intoxicated patrons being served more alcohol at some bars; and at least one bad traffic accident when a drunk Republic patron failed to negotiate the curve on Carroll Ave at Columbia. . .” [emphasis added]
  • “Republic’s success seems to have spurred on additional alcohol outlets opening in close proximity. . .”
  • “This high density of alcohol outlets never has a positive effect on neighborhoods.”

So far, so NIMBY. But a post on a neighborhood listserv today crosses a disturbing line:

  • “I wonder if the Takoma Park AlAnon community might want to weigh in from the perspective of the alcohol culture that seems to be consuming the Takoma Park commercial scene, especially given TP’s large population of young folks who are so vulnerable to that culture.” [So, if Takoma Park had fewer young people, this restaurant would be fine?]

Here we move from “don’t build it near me” to a call for theocracy by Al-Anon. (I have nothing against Al-Anon — I am close with people who have benefited greatly from their services.)

So, were these people ideologically opposed to alcohol before a restaurant was planned to be near them? Or did they trot this moral rectitude out in service to their general anti-progress agenda? Is it possible these are remnants of the former Adventist control of Takoma Park?

I don’t really care. But, just as I believe that theocrats shouldn’t get to make laws about gay rights and abortion, so do I believe that just ’cause you don’t drink, you get to stop new restaurants from opening. Moral zealotry has no part in public decision-making.

Now, I will grant that whoever lives next door to anything will experience downsides that those farther away won’t. The question is how one balances the legitimate concerns of a small number of opponents against the broader interests of a wider community. There is no magic formula for adjudicating these kinds of conflicts. I would just call on development opponents to be honest about their legitimate concerns, rather than using an anything-goes, kitchen-sink barrage of irrelevancy in their efforts (as was the case with the war over Takoma Junction development last year).

I, for one, stand with the person across the street from the proposed new restaurant: “Takoma Park is finally becoming what I thought it could be when I moved here 13 years ago.” Hooray for that!

©2019 Keith Berner


Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog