Georgetown students might not be celebrating the end of the semester at the annual Spring Charity Block Party as planned on Friday, April 28. The Alcohol Beverage Commission denied the organizers’ request for a one-day alcohol permit last Wednesday, a month after the Advisory Neighborhood Commission approved the event, according to Block Party Organizer ike Owens (MSB ’00).

“We think we’ve been unjustifiably, unfairly denied,” Owens said. “We’ve run this event flawlessly for at least the last two Block Parties and have always been granted a license by the ABC. What is the difference now?”

Ellen Opper-Weiner, a member of the ABC board that made the decision, said that the ANC was concerned with underage drinking. “Our policy since September has been not to issue ABC licenses to events on college campuses that have people under 21 attending,” she said.

At a fact-finding meeting tomorrow requested by the organizers, they will present their arguments in support of the Block Party. Opper-Weiner said the board will listen to all involved parties.

ANC Commissioner Matt Payne (COL ’01) said he does not understand this policy. “The Block Party is a very well-run event, very responsible and it should be an exception to whatever rule they have decided,” he said.

Owens said that, while the organizers hope to win the appeal, “we will look to other ways to possibly still have an event that brings the community together.”

The Block Party, run by a nonprofit organization independent of Georgetown, was scheduled to take place on the 1200 block of 37th Street, between N and Prospect Streets. All of the Block Party’s proceeds go to charity. Last fall’s Block Party raised over $18,000 in profits that went to groups such as Sursum Corda, It’s For the Kids, Hyde Elementary PTA and Habitat for Humanity.

This denial follows a heated battle at a Feb. 29 ANC meeting over whether or not to approve the Block Party. Dean of Students James A. Donahue refused to write his traditional letter of support for the party after the alcohol related death of Georgetown junior David Shick, among other reasons. A 4-3 vote in favor of supporting the Block Party came after a vocal debate among residents, students and commissioners over the Block Party itself, the university’s alcohol policy and what ANC Commissioner Peter Pulsifer called a “culture of drinking” at Georgetown. Commissioners and residents opposed to the event claimed that supporting the Block Party would send a bad message in the wake of Shick’s death.

A D.C. grand jury currently is investigating the Feb. 22 death, which the medical examiner’s office has ruled a homicide. Police have said that alcohol played a factor in the altercation in the Lauinger Library parking lot, leaving Shick with head trauma.

According to Owens, besides the permit application, a letter from the Burleith Citizens’ Association, signed by President Patricia Scolaro, appeared in the application’s public file at the ABC. The letter opposed the Block Party, protested the ANC decision and accompanied a copy of the letter Donahue sent to the ANC refusing university support of the Block Party. Assistant Dean of Students Jeanne Lord read Donahue’s letter at the Feb. 29 ANC meeting.

Scolaro said that the Burleith Citizens’ Association asked the ABC not to approve the one-day liquor license because the community feels the aftereffects of the Block Party. She said that when 2,500 people are drinking beer and the Block Party lets out, groups of students roam the neighborhood looking for parties and committing acts of vandalism. Though, she added that many of these problems are not specific to the Block Party.

“We do feel the impact of student drinking,” she said.

According to Scolaro, the Burleith Citizens’ Association also opposed the Block Party in light of Shick’s death and because the university did not sanction the event. “It is in poor taste for the students to consider [having the Block Party] after what had happened,” she said. “It would have been a gracious tribute to his memory and to his family if they had canceled the party.”

Owens said the organizers have acquired the required 90 percent of signatures of those who live within a 500-foot radius of the block needed to hold the Block Party, including permanent residents.

Traditionally, Donahue has pledged the university’s support for the Block Party to the ANC. However, in the letter from Donahue read to the commissioners at the meeting, he said that, he could not support the alcohol-focused Block Party at a time when the university is mourning Shick’s death. He offered his office’s support to plan an alcohol-free charity event.

Donahue and Lord were out of town Monday and unavailable for comment, according to Ellen McHugh, executive assistant to the dean of students.

Owens said he and the other Block Party organizers plan to appeal the ABC’s decision at the fact finding meeting tomorrow. ANC Commissioners Payne and Art Schultz plan to attend to support the Block Party. “I am going to argue [for the Block Party] on the basis that all necessary precautions are being taken to prevent overconsumption of alcohol and underage drinking,” Schultz said.

“The ABC didn’t have information to make a good decision,” said Schultz. He added that he believed the ABC didn’t know the Block Party was a fundraiser and that Metropolitan Police Department officers and ABC officials would be on hand to regulate the Block Party, particularly to guard against underage drinking.

Owens said that five MPD officers and Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service will be on hand and there will be midday trash clean up. “It seems to me that [the ABC hasn’t] clearly evaluated those things,” he said.

In addition, Owens said Block Party volunteers will undergo Training for Intervention Procedures, to better identify and address underage drinking and general alcohol abuse. TIPS’ training teaches volunteers how to spot fake identification and tell if someone has had too much to drink.

Owens said the organizers have all the other needed permits. “We were commended by the Mayor’s Special Events Task Group, which is responsible for granting the street closing permit. They asked us to make several changes and we made those,” he said. These changes included adding an MPD officer and portable toilets as well as ending the event at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

If the ANC stipulates that a liquor license will not be granted unless only those 21 and over are allowed to attend the Block Party, Owens said the organizers will consider this course of action. “While that would not be the optimal case, we would make that concession in order to have the event and have a way to donate to these charities.”

Related Links

ANC Approves Block Party (3/15) University Withdraws Support for Block Party (2/29)

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