Chipotle Stumbles on First Hurdle – ANC6B Planning and Zoning Committee
Vote to Oppose Application Sends Issue to Full ANC
by Larry Janezich
ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee voted to oppose a Chipotle Mexican Grill on Barracks Row Tuesday night, but left the door open for further consideration by the full ANC6B next week.
The architect of record appeared before the Committee prepared to discuss architectural plans and historic preservation. But the Committee wanted to hear a rational from corporate officials for their request for a special exception to zoning regulations prohibiting businesses from opening fast food restaurants in the commercial corridor as “a matter of right.”
Since corporate representatives who could speak to the question were not present, the Committee voted 4 – 3 to oppose the request pending receipt of information supporting the rational for granting the exception. Chipotle representatives will have the opportunity to make their case before the full ANC6B at its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 14.
Committee members stressed that they want to hear the same presentation that Chipotle representatives will make to the Board of Zoning Adjustment to justify the exception, and expressed a preference to hear from the franchise operator. It emerged during the discussion that Chipotle’s plan is to establish the restaurant and later place an operator. In lieu of the operator, Committee members said they wanted to hear from corporate representatives and from the building owner, Streetsense.
A secondary but related issue was the question of how good a corporate neighbor Chipotle would be. Commissioner Ivan Frishberg noted his efforts to effect redress regarding community concerns about corporate retailers in the community were too often frustrated by a distant corporate bureaucracy with no understanding or appreciation of neighborhood or community problems.
He said he was not comfortable in hearing from corporate representatives about what the policy of future franchise holders toward participation in community civic efforts would be. He stated flatly, “the track record of corporate chains is abysmal” in this area and “I’m not sure we can trust a corporate regional representative to be a good neighbor.”
Neighborhood activist Yoonmee Chang agreed with Frishberg, and addressed the adverse effects that a fast food restaurant would have on the immediate neighbors of Barrack’s Row, including litter, traffic, contribution to a transient atmosphere, and setting of precedent. Chang asked, “Why not Burger King next year?” Asked if she preferred the current tenant over Chipotle, Chang replied that it was comparing apples and oranges, and she preferred not to think of it as a tradeoff.
Frishberg made the motion to oppose the application for zoning adjustment pending receipt of information supporting the rational for granting an exception. The motion was agreed to by a vote of four to three. Commissioners voting for the motion: Frishberg, Oldenburg, Metzger, and Green. Those opposed: Flahaven, Pate, and Glick.
The building owner, Streetsense, is a brokerage, design and development company specializing in retail and real estate. Their clients include Chipotle, Starbucks, Matchbox, and Le Pain Quotidian. Chipotle has been a client since 2007 when they engaged Streetsense to handle architecture, interior design, brokerage and market analysis. Chipotle has more than 65 restaurants open in the DC metropolitan market.
Streetsense announced their acquisition of the Barracks Row property on May 11, 2011. The two-level, 8,700 square foot building is actually two separate spaces, currently occupied by China Wall and Dollar + Continental.
According to the Streetsense website, Streetsense Architecture has been engaged to reconstruct the two street-front retail spaces (1,399sf and 1,544sf respectively) into ADA compliant, clean shells, with all utilities required by restaurants stubbed to the premises. Streetsense Retail Advisors brokered a deal with Chipotle to occupy the 1,544sf space; the restaurant plans to open in early 2012. The remaining 1,399 square feet will soon be made available for lease.
The full ANC6B will meet at Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, 522 7th Street, SE, Tuesday, June 14, 2011 – 7:00pm.
37 responses to “Chipotle Stumbles on First Hurdle – ANC6B Planning and Zoning Committee – Vote to Oppose Application Sends Issue to Full ANC”
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Those that blocked this. Green you have lost my vote. You consistently vote against business and fail to address problems in your ANC. Time to move on.
Personally I don’t read this article the same way as “voting against.” I don’t know that it will be possible to tell who is actually against Chipotle coming into the neighborhood (maybe no ANC Commissioner is) until the final ANC vote. It just sounds like Chipotle didn’t have the right people or information in front of the subcommittee.
Also, I think Ivan’s question is a good one. In terms of community support (clean-up activities, etc.), we should be asking this of our chains as soon as possible. They do these things all the time and there is no reason why they can’t do it in our lovely neighborhood.
I always thought it was odd that the block on 8th closest to the metro harbored the shabbiest stores and restaurants. But I guess these were actually among the more successful businesses pre-gentrification and hence the last to turn over their leases.
That said, that block is always going to have a transient atmosphere (read whatever you want into that term) due to the bus stop there, combined with the Community Connections drop in center across the street.
Why should the standard be different for chains vs. non-chains?
The process for opening a business should be clear and straightforward. Unfortunately, it is not – this is a good example of that.
Ironically, the more roadblocks that ANCs throw up to retail establishments opening, the more likely that the retail we do get will be chains. Chains have the resources to slog through endless ‘process’, while smaller proprietors do not.
Popeye’s, Subway, Dunkin Doughnuts, 7-11 are all fast food national chains on the block. It sounds like they should be removed from the block because they must be bad neighbors as national chains. DC3 should be removed since hot dogs must be considered fast food as well. Really people? Is this what you want? Restaurants don’t litter, people do. Just ban anyone who throws trash on the street!
It’s an absurd double standard. “Local” restaurants get carte blanche and chains get treated with suspicion and hostility, even when they ostensibly operate comparable businesses to those currently on the Hill. When Xavier Cervera opens his 65th restaurant on the Hill I hope the local ANC consider his ventures a “chain” too. My biggest issue is the anti-competitiveness of excluding chains but allowing all manner of fastfood-like establishments. How are DC3 or Good Stuff any different on this front than CHipotle? . . . oh right, they have absolutely zero competition and that’s what the ANC wants.
AMEN! Exactly what I was thinking!
Respectfully, that is simply not the situation here. I encourage you to read further down the post, but let me add some additional information.
What mattered to me in reviewing this was the availability of information and the ability to understand what was being proposed. DC3 is the experience I have here and it is the one you mentioned so i will use that as the contrast. DC3 had ownership and management present and be available at two meetings for their recent license approval. They answered all the questions posed to them in some detail.
By comparison, Chipoltle sent an architect who could not answer the most basic questions (as it was not his portfolio) and in at least one instance got it wrong. I asked about who the franchise owner was. He said that the franchise owner would be decided later. It turns out that none of the Chipoltle restaurants are franchise owned and all are company owned. One way or the other it may not matter, but clearly they were not in a postion to provide the committee with the information needed to make a positive recommendation.
It is not a double standards when the two sides behave in totally different ways.
Frankly it seems like some of the commenters here would not want us to apply any standards or evaluation to a new restaurant coming in, and essentially provide by-right approval to any business that the market will support. I think that is unwise and an invitation and would leave the neighborhood with only the market and the city administrators to impact what happens in the neighborhood.
I do think most businesses should be approved by-right. The onus should be on the community to say which ones should not be approved by right.
It goes back to my earlier analogy to our justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately, our land use regulations are structured in the exact opposite way – the onus is on the applicant to prove their innocence.
More fundamentally, I think the kinds of places I hear people advocating for (locally owned, independent shops and restuarants) would be better served by more by-right approvals. All of this case-by-case back and forth adds time and significant cost to starting a business. Chains have the resources to survive those costs, small start ups do not.
I’m with ChrisB and anon. This is SO disappointing! Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, DC-3, all “fast food” and all good corporate neighbors from what I can tell. They certainly put up with a lot to operate here given the anti-business climate and treatment of their staff by some of the locals. Chipotle would be a wonderful addition to Barracks Row. They offer healthy options, good quality meats, and good prices. Better than the crap-on-a-plate served at Banana Cafe. I was so hopeful that this ANC would do things a bit differently, but apparently not. We seemed to leave the liquor license moratorium-types but are entering into complete nonsense. So, let’s just sit by and wait on these hypothetical retail establishments that will never come and watch other neighborhoods throughout the city get the places we want. Thanks a lot.
I agree with SBA and think that we should all show up at the next meeting in SUPPORT of Chipotle and make our voices heard! (And maybe our tummies if they happen to be empty and rumbling because there’s no Chipotle nearby to fill it with good food!)
I’m disappointed in this turn, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the motion wasn’t a all out “NO” to Chipotle rather merely a temporary one until they produce the correct people/evidence to the ANC.
It is ludicrous that DC3 (which serves hotdogs, fries and soda) seems to have been welcomed with open arms yet Chipotle is held to a higher standard simply b/c they are a corporate chain. Perhaps I’m mistaken and DC3 was also made to jump through a bunch of hoops to open.
I voted against the motion to “oppose” because the wording was too strong, bordering on antagonistic.
However, there was merrit to the ANC’s concerns. First, Chipotle’s messenger (an architect from a contracted firm) was completely un-prepared to answer the questions germane to the zoning proceeding. On these grounds alone, it is proper for the ANC to with hold support pending provision of appropriate information. Second, I do think it’s proper to ask questions to gauge the responsiveness of a chain restaruant to the concerns of the local community. Will Chipotle be a contributing member to BRMS, CHAMPS, the BID? Will they talk to, listen to and address the trash, noise and other concerns of local neighbors? This is not a double standard, rather these are questions we should (and do) ask of all Hill businesses seeking regulatory or legal endorsements.
If Chipotle can adequately answer these questions, I think the majority of ANC commissioners will offer them a positive reception.
Yes, those are questions that should be asked of any business, but you also specifically mentioned the word ‘chain.’
Also, shouldn’t there be a much easier and pro-forma way for a potential business to answer those pro-forma questions?
In our justice system, people are innocent until proven guilty. It’s unfortunate that these types of matters take the opposite approach.
I could care less if Chipotle or any other business contributes to BRMS, CHAMPS, the BID. That’s the perrogative of Chipotle’s and every other chain or independent business. There are plenty of CHAMP members who are completely indifferent to the concerns of their neighbors.
I hope you’re right Brian and the intention isn’t to obstruct them from opening rather to be certain they’ll be good stewards of the community.
You’ll have to forgive me if I’m skeptical of the ANC (not you in particular) based on their actions against other establishments that tried to open on 8th. It certainly sounds like you keep an open mind. Let’s hope you can temper any ANC members who may want to simply block Chipotle based on little more than the fact they’re another restaurant or (gasp) a corporate chain.
WHAT NOISE???? IT”S NOT A GO-GO JOINT!!!!! And how active is the Starbucks in the trash I see outside of their place? Or how about that extremely attractive Verizon store? Oh and as opposed to all those liquor serving establishments you have allowed! Whoo! Late night drunk drivers parking in the neighborhood! Maybe Chipotle should offer up to have a BAR/CLUB, then they would be approved in a flash!
I am all for Chipotle coming to 8th Street. It is a very popular restaurant chain and it will save Washingtonians who live near 8th Street from having to trek over to Union Station or Crystal City. It seems like we’d want to keep the dollars coming to 8th Street and not pooling away from it. Go Chipotle!
B Pate, the problem is the ANC has basically opposed every new opening in recent history, at least initially. The cost of these set backs is staggering. Now, Chipotle can weather the storm, but this is why independent business has a very tough time getting a foothold in DC. I personally would love to open a restaurant on 8th. It would be independent, we have the experience, we could swing the note and the buildout. What stops me is the unknown ANC and DCRA slowdowns that makes it take a year of paying out rent etc, unnecessarily while this city puts up road blocks at every step. Look at Hill’s Kitchen. I love the store, can you believe it took over a year to get the permitting done! So you can sell kitchenware! That’s the problem. That’s why you don’t have independents unless they are entrenched multi-business entities ie Matchbox empire, Lola empire etc, where you can weather the storm with other income streams.
Finally, while I am a huge fan of BRMS, CHAMPS, BID etc, businesses pay taxes, businesses always need to cover their start up costs which is why a lot of businesses fail in the first years as they make up for things like a one year delay because of the ANC and DCRA… sending Tony Soprano to go pick up the BRMS, CHAMPS and BID vig from the get-go is just another hurdle. Again, as a business owner, I fully intend to join CHAMPS, I have already done charity events…. but my business would fold in a heart beat if I had to pay all this vig to the ANC goons up front or in the first 6 months of business. Margins are tight, the economy is tough and I doubt anyone on the ANC has actually opened a successful business and understands any of this.
The moratorium talk is dead (RIP) and we’ve been very favorable to recent applications.
I would also put forward that one of our objectives as an ANC is to help businesses and residents overcome hurdles they encounter at DCRA. That said, we are not relieved of the responsibility of due diligence.
BTW-the image of some of my colleagues as mafia goons is, well, laughable.
I honestly think this is a lot of emotion over something that has not even played itself out–as Brian Pate clearly suggests above. There might be greater skepticism among some when it comes to chains, but for others (like myself) a good chain would bring a cheaper eating option that would bring more and different business to 8th. When I note above that questions need to be asked chains when they come in, I failed to note that these questions are asked of all businesses and our local (non-chain) retailers have an amazing record of support for BID and CHAMPS. Comparatively, our chains have fallen short–but maybe they help the community in other ways (?). In any event, since more trash seems to come from them, they should participate in clean-up efforts along with everybody else. Let’s not fantasize a persecution of chains where none exists, because it might invite the very backlash we claim to denounce.
MC Fan raises serious issues, most of which I sort of think are with the city and not the ANC. Still, I don’t know why anything in front of the ANC should come as a secret or a surprise to retailers, or homeowners seeking to remodel for that matter. Can’t the ANC have a download-able document clearly outlining the process, and maybe the filing of an application can trigger receipt of it? I share MC Fan’s sense that sometimes what should be a straight forward process shades into kowtowing to any given Commissioner. I also think the flip-side, which MC Fan does not mention, is always worth recognizing: the goal and purpose of these regulations and approval process is to open a business that is amenable to a neighborhood, and that’s just a part of what it means to open a business in a thriving city well-served by public transportation, etc. If you build a Disney park in Annaheim, you have the right to erect the Magic Castle, and you might even need to in order to attract business. If you build a Chipotle on 8th St., you need to balance your architecture and civic commitments so you don’t adversely effect the commercial corridor and residential property values that are already there and that help furnish you with a market.
I’m sure Chipotle will do that. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.
Yes, the process should aim to get businesses that are amenable to the neighborhood. However, the structure of that process matters a great deal. The neighborhood (i.e. the ANC in this case) should have clearly laid out, objective, and easily verified criteria that any business can meet via some sort of checklist. There needs to be transparency to the process, defined timelines, and not these long, drawn out negotiations on a case by case basis.
The rules ought to be simple, clear, and evenly applied.
The ideal concept should be to make doing the right thing easy. Instead, the process often makes doing the right thing hard.
I agree with you on this point. Rules and expectations should be clear and consistenly applied. Exceptions should be justified based on the merits of the case.
Commissioner Garrison authored and the ANC endorsed checklists for standard Board of Zoning Adjustment and Historic Preservation Review Board cases. We are doing the same for liquor license applications. Overlay exceptions are not as common (one in six-months), but still, objective criteria would be helpful. The actual zoning ordinance language is a little nebulous. Also, I would point out that it is the responsibility of the geographically cognizant Commissioner to contact applicants and ensure that they know what to expect and how to prepare for success, not just for the ANC, but for the actual deciding authority (BZA, ABC, etc.). These agencies are often much more impersonal and demanding.
I can’t say that I agree with a complete Adam Smith, laissez faire, “by-right” approach to zoning, licensing, etc. Have you ever been to Pensacola? No zoning laws and it shows. Industrial parks next to trailer parks next to state parks next to multi-million dollar homes. Rather psychzofrenic and just poor planning. We get to shape the community we live in. You get to have a voice in that, both by establishing standing and testifying at regulatory proceedings and through your vote for various echelons of government lackeys.
We totally agree. Cheers–
So much to respond to, but as someone who has led the effort to kill the moratorium on liquor licences I am quite proud of what the committee did on Tuesday.
First, on the charge of endless delays the kill the opportunity to do business, all we have said is that they should actually send someone who can answer the questions to make the presentation. There is absolutely NO delay here. The commission is the only decision maker and and the date for that decision is and always has been the 14th of June.
Second, on Alex’s point of clarity, there probably is some work to be done here as we are doing on the liquor license front. At next week’s meeting we will adopt (I hope) guidelines on liquor license and open space applications so that there is total clarity and transparency for any business looking to our part of the Hill. Maybe we could do that for fast food too, but the committee was extremely clear about the information it needed to be presented next Tuesday and spent a lot of time making sure that the architect representing the firm representing the company was clear on what our questions were.
Three, I really don’t understand the comparisons to DC3 or how they create a contradiction. I believe that actually prove the point. DC3 was approved both as a business and for a liquor license with absolutely no problems because they had the owner and manager at every meeting to present the plans and answer questions. DC3 also has a verifiable track record in the immediate area through its ownership and that helps too. None of this was true in this instance. In fact, my point is that the track record of similarly established efforts (national chains with regional management) is not a very good track record. That point is not just my experience trying to resolve neighborhood problems with those types of business it was plain for all to see when the company was engaging as a neighbor but not presenting anyone who was actually in charge or could speak to the issues of concern.
Fourth, this community has been bogged down in an endless debate about how to connect the 7th and 8th street retail areas. I honestly don’t think that we are doing ourselves any favors for retail or any other kind of business by the way the top of that street presents itself at PA Ave. It is a block dominated by convenience oriented businesses that do not speak at all to the rest of the block or what makes the entire area a destination and a feature for residents and guests alike. Chipoltle could be a significant upgrade on that block, but they have to actually show up and make that case. The blockbuster space could be too, but the standards we set and the approach of the owners and management of these spaces matter a whole lot.
Finally, please do come to the meeting next Tuesday, both to speak your mind about all of this, the liquor moratorium, the ABC guidelines and more. But I also encourage some listening too. I went in to the Chipoltle hearing with concerns but open to support. I asked questions, I listened and came away quite convinced that the applicants needed to up their game significantly before we could grant them a special exception to the zoning law.
Great answers Ivan. If indeed Chipotle came unprepared, then the committee’s actions were justified. My only concern is some of the “old guard” on the ANC will oppose them regardless of their answers, commitment or track record.
Regarding DC3. I mentioned them b/c of the restrictions brought up since Chipotle is being labeled “fast food.” I think DC3 is as fast food as Chipotle. If DC3 was put through the same process Chipotle (including the restrictions to fast food restaurants) is currently then I have no issues at all.
That, of course, goes to the larger question of whether those zoning restrictions actually make any sense. I would argue that they do not. Again, in attempting to set the rules so that doing the right thing is easy, those kinds of restrictions have severe unintended consequences.
I’m agnostic on Chipotle or the vast majority of mediocrity along that stretch. I would argue that Chipotle, despite it’s heroic portion sizes/calories and enough sodium to pickle your innards for winter, even they would probably beat Good Stuff and DC3 on health value. They also do a pretty decent job of ingredient sourcing, especially for “fast food”
You overlook the obvious — chains are built on consistency. I can’t imagine a Cap Hill Chipotle to be significantly differnt than any of the other dozens of locations throughout the city, including other historic districts. In fact, I’d be even more confident that they will not seek late operating hours or public space allowance as they don’t do so already in other comparable locations. Most would-be local independent proprieters enlist in CHAMPS, shows up to every required meeting with a smile, and generally expect to get whatever they ask for. Guess Chipotle needs to kiss some more ass (that’s they’re fault for not playing along).
From where I sit this just seems like a pissing content.
I strongly support having Chipotle in the neighborhood. I wish we had one on 8th street and one on the 200 to 400 block of Penn SE as well. Chipotle is a great restaurant and it beats the crap out of anything else on that block. I’m sure any issues that arise with them being a good neighbor can be easily remedied with the manager or owner when the restaurant opens. ANC, please vote favorably on their zoning request at your June 14 meeting. You don’t want the blame for their not coming here on your shoulders.
LOVE Chipotle and would LOVE to see it on 8th Street. It would be a huge upgrade from what is there now, in my opinion. I have literally been wishing for a Chiptole on the Hill since we moved to the Hill 8 years ago. ANC, please vote favorably on the zoning request. It would be wonderful to have more delicious, affordable, quick, family-friendly and progressive food options in our neighborhood.
I have to believe that Chipotle will be a step up compared to the businesses currently occupying that space. Unfortunately, that block is already littered and not well tended to. Why not bring in a restaurant that has incentive to keep its storefront clean? An establishment that people want to frequent is better for the neighborhood and better for the economy. This is one household that will happily support Chipotle moving in three blocks away. I hope the ANC will take community support under advisement, and that Chipotle comes to the next meeting prepared.
I too hope they come prepared and absolutely the ANC will take community support under advisement.
Rather than seeing this as debate about Chipoltle or no-chipoltle, or some how an indicator on whether any of us is pro or anti-burrito I have two key questions I would like to hear folks respond to.
1. Should we be asking questions about operations and good neighbor policies of these kinds of applicants? I believe we should, and that we have some ability to shape the neighborhood in a positive way by doing that.
2. Does it matter how a business operates as a civic actor in the community and how their management is structured, or is that not our business? Again, I believe it does and I further believe that the national chains in our neighborhood have a weaker record on this front. (Having being repeatedly punted to regional managers who oversee dozens of facilities and are rarely on site)
I think the answers to these questions are most instructive in how we handle applications like this whether it is Chipoltle or maybe McDonalds coming in to the Blockbuster location etc. (I am making up the McDonalds example, but it is not too far fetched and I would hate to be in a position of being asked to oppose them just because people don’t like their burgers as much as they like the Chipoltle Burritos.)
Good Stuff was actually cited by ABC for violating liquor laws (I believe minor(s) being served) and served a brief suspension of alcoholic beverage sales. Didn’t seem to make a difference when they sought renewal. What exactly makes one business a “good civic actor” and another a bad one?
Let’s not look at all Hill businesses with such rose colored glasses (there are plenty of examples of egregious behavior), or reductive arguments about chains. It’s going to be a franchise, like most of the outlets in their business model. The concerns raised seem more germane to the franchisee than the broader corporate entity. Fair enough, but I take a WYSIWYG when it comes to Chipotle – it is what it is. The parent company will know to this location as little more than a number, just like Starbucks and Le Pan Quotidian around the corner. No franchisee is going to turn this into anything other than the same old ubiquitous overblown burrito joint.
Didn’t McDonalds already leave the Hill in the not so distant past? If they have a change of heart, they won’t be any worse than the Popeyes or Subway with which they’ll share the block.
1 – Yes, so long as each applicant is viewed impartially and without bias.
2 – Yes and No. Obviously we want good civic partners in our neighborhood businesses, but just because you have bad experiences with other corporate chains doesn’t not indicate that all corporate chains should be held to a higher standard (over locally managed businesses.) That boarders on discrimination. If a business has a clean record of operating they shouldn’t be blocked merely b/c they don’t want to contribute to the community other than by fulfilling their primary objective (in this case selling burritos.) I think ideally we’d love to see businesses that get involved in neighborhood functions, fund raiser, whatever. I don’t think however we can expect to demand that every business on 8th operate in that fashion.
Your McDonalds example is ironic b/c they own Chipotle.
Thanks Eric. I think the way you lay this out makes sense. One small correction though – as I was under the same impression until I checked it out this am – Mickey D divested itself of Chipoltle in 2006. I don;t know if this is related, but under the current leadership they do have a solid sustainability and real food record.
As to Anon, I can’t speak to that example as I was not a commissioner at that time and don’t have that experience to judge by, but certainly the point is right. Without commenting on Good Stuff at all, if someone is a bad actor they are a bad actor, doesn’t matter who owns them. True in the opposite too.
Absolutely correct and sometimes being a good neighbor is a qualitative assessment. I’m sure there are more than a few Georgetown residents fed up with the cupcake frenzy literally on their doorsteps, whatever the owners’ backstory, publicity for their neighborhood, or spillover commercial foot traffic.