ANC Committee Again Rejects &Pizza for Barracks Row
Over-Saturation and “Near Universal Opposition” of Neighbors Cited
by Larry Janezich
At ANC 6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee meeting last night, Steve Salis of & Pizza made a last ditch effort to appease the ANC and overcome the opposition of nearby neighbors opposed to his plan to open up a mostly carryout pizza place at 405 8th Street, SE. He made his case during a re-consideration of Salis’ request for an exception to the ban on fast food restaurants on Barracks Row.
CHC has reported previously on the Committee’s vote to oppose the exception and on the full ANC’s decision to allow additional time for Salis to negotiate with the neighbors before taking a final vote on the issue. See here: http://bit.ly/1oRbMrK and here: http://bit.ly/Rsr1Mj
Salis came to last night’s meeting armed with legal counsel and an extensive and detailed list of proposed operating conditions which he offered to make part of a Board of Zoning Adjustment order granting a fast food exception. The list included conditions Salis said his proposed restaurant would address regarding trash, rodents, noise, odor and cleanliness. Salis said his list was not exclusive and he remains open to additional conditions. The application for a special exception was accompanied by a request for a zoning variance necessary for construction of an extension of the building to provide interior space for holding trash, regarded by experts as an essential component in fighting the rodent problem. Under DC Code, a variance can be granted if the building site has unique features which impose hardship. A hearing before the Board is scheduled for June 17 on the applications for an exception and a variance.
Nearby neighbors opposed to the exception came with a petition signed by 92 Capitol Hill residents declaring opposition to any more fast food restaurants on 8th Street. The petitioners also demanded that all new restaurants meet best practices standards (indoor trash storage, state-of-the-art sound proofing of mechanicals, odor mitigation, food delivery from 8th Street). Fifty-nine of the 92 signers indicated support for a moratorium on liquor licenses for Barracks Row, an indirect method to effectively put a stop to new restaurants. A spokesperson for the signers expressed how upset the neighbors are “about conditions which have resulted from the Barracks Row Food Court…a destination attracting suburban residents who are followed by criminals.” Another resident said, “Conditions are already objectionable – adding any more fast food restaurants is just crazy.”
A list of the restaurants and food outlets on the block in question includes: Starbucks, Popeye’s, Chipotle, (Kraze Burger – currently not in operation), Pizza Bolis, Tandoor Grill, 7-11, Subway, Old Siam, The Sweet Lobby, and Baskin-Robbins. Arguably, 9 of these 11 spots depend on carryout food for a large portion of their revenue.
Once commissioners started asking questions, it became clear that the application was in trouble. Commissioner Ivan Frishberg expressed concerns about issues which Salis’ proposed conditions did not and could not address – front of the house issues about what happens to food and containers after they leave the restaurant – and the difficulty in getting the city to enforce provisions of agreements such as Salis proposes.
Commissioner Dave Garrison supported Frishberg’s concern that notwithstanding any agreement another fast food restaurant is “an inappropriate use of the space, given everything else that’s going on up there.” Garrison also doubted that the case presented by the applicants demonstrated that the site meets the uniqueness and hardship criteria needed for a variance; instead, Salis’ uniqueness and hardship claim is founded on the proposed use of the building for a fast food outlet, and – “[T]he hardship can’t flow from use.”
Commissioner Phil Peisch, in whose Single Member ANC District the address falls, moved to oppose the application for the exception. He said Salis’ proposal was a good effort but “it has gone as far as it can go,” and leaves too many outstanding issues. Peisch said, “I started out deeply skeptical that the block could support another fast food restaurant and that’s where I end up.” He cited the trash problem and the objections of neighbors, telling Salis, that there was effectively nothing Salis could do to address carelessness and human error or provide any guarantee that a subsequent manager of a franchise operation in that location could be held accountable.
Before the vote on the Peisch’s motion to oppose, Brian Flahaven moved to amend the motion by offering a motion to support the exception with the Salis’ conditions attached. Flahaven said that Salis had “bent over backward” to accommodate neighbors’ concerns, citing the level of detail in the proposed operating conditions. He worried that if the ANC failed to approve the exception, the building’s owner will put a restaurant in there as a matter of right. Flahaven said, “It is in our best interests to support a restaurant who will work with us as opposed to one who is under no obligation to at all.” The vote on Flahaven’s motion to support the exception failed, 3 – 5 – 1.
Peisch’s motion to oppose the exception subsequently passed, 5 – 3 – 1 with Commissioners Campbell, Peisch, Frishberg, Garrrison, and Oldenburg voting to oppose the exception. Commissioners Flahaven and resident commissioners Brynn Barnett (SMD 10 – Campbell) and Nicholas Burger (SMD 6 – Opkins) voted to support the exception. Commissioner Nichole Opkins abstained.
A subsequent Peisch motion to support the variance to extend the building for trash containment passed 6 – 2 – 1. The Committee’s recommendation now goes to the full ANC for consideration at their June meeting next Tuesday, where only the ten elected commissioners will vote.
Gary Peterson, Chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s Zoning Committee told CHC regarding the exception “we are opposed. We will wait to send a letter (to BZA) in case the applicant does something to correct the application. In any event we would want the special exception for only two years to make sure he lives up to his promises.” As readers may know, the CHRS weighs in on all zoning applications that come up in Capitol Hill’s Historic District.
At the root of much of the ongoing tension between the neighbors and the restaurants of Barracks Row is the tendency of some landlords – not all – to squeeze every last dollar out of their properties regardless of the impact on the community. Frishberg spoke to this issue last night, correlating the high rents on Barracks Row with low wage and high volume requirements that make all the problems worse. Flahaven’s admonition about a future restaurant going into 405 8th Street as a matter of right – and the wisdom of working with the devil you know – should not be disregarded, especially in light of DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) willingness to overlook ANC objections and voluntary agreements and grant liquor licenses liberally. On the other hand, moratorium discussions have had traction before and they may well do so again, and it would be wise for Barracks Row landlords to take heed before blunt instruments are applied to resolve the issues of a complicated and evolving commercial corridor.