IMA Pizza Backs Away From Barracks Row

IMA Pizza Backs Away From Barracks Row

by Larry Janezich

IMA Pizza will not open its quick casual pizza restaurant at 415 8th Street, SE as planned.  In a letter to the many community entities involved in bringing the new business to Barracks Row, Streetsense – the building owner- says “the combination of the unusually lengthy Special Exception process and the multiple demands and constraints imposed” on the proposed business’ owner, Steve Salis, were responsible for the decision.  Salis is now said to be concentrating his efforts on another market within the city. 

The Special Exception process refers to an exception from the zoning regulations for Barracks Row which bans fast food restaurants.  Getting an exception requires any new fast food restaurant to meet more than a dozen criteria and it appeared that IMA Pizza was well on its way to achieving that, having already gotten the approval of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.  The application for the exception was scheduled to come before ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee on February 7.  In addition, there seemed to be wide spread support for the restaurant in the community. 

All this raises the issue of whether the special exception issue was the determining factor in the decision.  Salis, did not respond to a request for comment.   (Ed. note:  Salis subsequently did comment, as follows:   “It really came down to the timing of everything. I was hoping for a spring launch when this all started, but realizing this was not feasible due to a handful of things that have been out of my control I had to pursue other opportunities in order to meet my spring delivery goals. 

The neighborhood and the community has been fantastic and I have really enjoyed interacting with everybody. If this location or another location becomes a viable opportunity for me to pursue in the future, I would do so in open arms. I will keep you posted with the details behind my store opening early this spring.”)

Obviously unhappy at the turn of events, the Streetsense letter goes on to say their goal is to lease the space to a user that will activate and enhance the 400 block of 8th Street, SE, but notes that  the “process to do so has been extremely challenging.”  The letter closes with an expression of concern that financial pressure on the project – which will be ready to lease by the end of March – “may require us to depart from the original goal.”


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18 responses to “IMA Pizza Backs Away From Barracks Row

  1. Stan Olshefski

    Folks, we wouldn’t be here if the busy buddies didn’t force the rule on all of us.

    The busy buddies have won.

  2. Alex

    And the demand for quality carry-out in this neighborhood is thwarted once again by the idiotic kingmakers who rule it.

  3. jbk

    I too do wonder (as stated in the posting) “whether the special exception issue was the determining factor in the decision “. Key word is “determining” factor. There might be several factors, and when added all together, it became too much.

  4. Too often, those who wish to impose these kinds of regulations do so thinking they do not impose a cost on owners and businesses. This shows that is not the case. The extra regulatory burden is a distinct, if hidden, cost. Just because it’s hidden doesn’t mean it isn’t real, however.

    It’s sad that instead of structuring our regulatory processes so that doing the right thing is the easy path, we make it harder on entrepreneurs who want to do the right thing.

    I’m curious – regardless of the regulations as they stand today – why shouldn’t a business like this be able to open without several rounds of review?

  5. Kathleen

    It says “whether” the special exception was the determining factor.

    I doubt that it was. Sounds like some financing collapsed or a better opportunity opened up and Streetsense is trying to make the best of a bad situation (and Alex is too… go Chamber of Commerce!) by engaging in some public relations.

    If the plan fell apart because of the special exception, then that wasn’t much of a plan.

    • Stan Olshefski

      Kathleen —

      Are you serious? A whole bunch of busybodies stopped a wanted business from opening by significantly increasing their pre-opening costs with arbitrary regulations.

      Of course the junk, anti-business regulations are the reason why.

  6. Steve Sweeney

    “… Salis, did not respond to a request for comment. …”

    So pretty much any view that anyone wants to ascribe to the pizza place’s motivations is as valid as any other.

  7. Kathleen

    Hi Stan,
    Yes I’m serious. Are you serious asking me if I’m serious?

    Or, are you seriously trying to back me off my own community’s blog? If so, then we haven’t met.

    I’m willing to believe that the delay proved costly. But I’d want to hear multiple sides and won’t just jump to that conclusion for the sake of jumping to that conclusion.

    Cheers, and to the Chamber of Commerce crowd lurking on the blog, toast me often. I do you.

  8. Stan Olshefski

    Kathleen —

    We have some of the highest tax rates in the country because busybodies want to be central planners for everything — instead of letting the free market be, you know, free.

    We’re not talking about an explosives factory, or a true nuisance, we’re talking about a business that would fit in with the character of a well established business district.

    “I’m willing to believe that the delay proved costly.”

    You’re “willing to belive”, really? How could a bunch of busybodies not be anything buy costly to a potential business? How would you like it if real estate was like our neighborhood business district — if you had to apply to your neighbors and spending hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars to move into your home/condo/apartment?

    That’s what you and your busybody cohorts are doing here.

  9. Jamey Arcara

    I for one am sad. I’m like that Indian guy from the 70’s that hates pollution.

  10. Too much jumping to conclusions IMHO. Who knows Steve’s full motivations and business rationale??? Not you, not me, not even Street Sense. Only Steve knows.

    But in defense of the “Busy Buddies”, whomever these not so buddy-like buddies may be, I am curious what the perceived “delay” was. Steve was scheduled for a hearing before the Zoning Commission (to seek the exception) in March. He knew the timing in Nov/Dec of last year, as he is the person responsible for scheduling the hearing. We put him on our ANC docket in February…which is in-line with the normal timing of business–no delays. FYI–Steve first expressed an interest in the location in the Summer of last year.

    Throughout this time, many of us met with Steve to hear his pitch, discuss his plans, and work with him to bring the establishment to the Row, either actively or behind the scenes. My colleague, Ivan Frishberg, worked very closely with near neighbors to bridge their legitimate concerns (rat abatement and trash pick up, primarily) and Steve’s innovative ambitions. In relatively short order, the two parties had a solid understanding and appreciation for how IMA Pizza would work in this space. The near neighbors welcomed his presence. Further, I’m almost 100% confident that Steve had the votes on the Commission to gain an approval for his special exception request. So, yes, I admit that maybe there were lots of busy buddies, trying to make things work, but only a few busy bodies.

    If you (Alex and Stan) want to rail against the City’s antiquated zoning ordinances, which appear to have been written in the early 1980’s and are clearly focussed on establishments like McDonalds, Taco Smells and Bugger King, I would gladly stand with you. There is no doubt in my mind that the zoning ordinances need to be rewritten to accommodate the rise of the “fast-casual” food segment. I would even go so far as to challenge you to use your local organ of government to seek the change that you desire. Just please don’t paint the neighbors as the harbingers of the pizza apocalypse. It doesn’t jive with my experience on this particular issue.

    For empirical evidence, I would offer the example of Chipotle, also a Street Sense tenant. Sure, there was some sturm and drang when Chipotle first approached the community, but essentially they went from flash to bang in a little over 4-months–much less time than Steve’s initiative. Did we grease their skids and not Steve’s? Nope. If anything, they had a rougher go of it as the “first movers” on the block, but by the end of it everyone was singing kumbaya and salivating for some good salsa verde.

    I love my neighbors and my neighborhood, but if I allowed myself one critical observation, it would be that we are just too damn quick to make assumptions about people and their motives, regardless of how we break on the issues. Please, let’s stop making donkeys of one another and deal in the realm of nuance, reason and civility.

    IMA disappointed too,


    • Stan Olshefski

      Brian —

      Why should a “special exception” be required to open a business that fits the character of an established commercial district in the first place?

      Busybodies — like yourself — fought to create an arbitrary system so that they could be the neighborhood’s central planners. One that adds months of delays, and causes hundreds of hours of works and tens of thousands of dollars to please a few people want their own fiefdom.

    • Brian,

      I fully support revisiting any (all?) of our misguided zoning regulations that far too often have some serious unintended consequences. I have to echo Stan’s question: why should this prospective business have to apply for an exception in the first place?

      I’ll go further – what’s wrong with a McDonalds? I don’t care for the business either, but so long as they’re operating an urban store (i.e. no drive thru, etc – think of the McDs at 14th and U instead of the one on South Cap and Eye SE), then what’s the problem?

      Zoning is a rather blunt tool. It does well to shape the basic characteristics of a space (i.e. retail store fronts on retail streets), but does very poorly at determining specific uses (the spatial needs of a Chipotle compared to a clothing store compared to a gluten-free pizza joint).

      I’m not trying to determine anyone’s motivations (not sure if your comment was directed at me or the other Alex posting in this thread), but my point is that even the best alliances with ANCs and other groups still require a lot of red tape – and that red tape represents a real cost for opening a business. Higher costs end up pushing out smaller entrepreneurs in favor of larger ones with more resources to wait it out.

  11. anon

    Ivan Frishberg, worked very closely with near neighbors to bridge their legitimate concerns (rat abatement and trash pick up, primarily)

    It would be nice to see other ANC commissioner work closely with near neighbors on similar issues in 6B. Not that any of this would surprise anyone on the ANC to hear, but you can start with the 1100 block on the south side of Penn.

  12. thomas790

    I’ve lived in the neighborhood for decades and am satisfied with the regulations that have helped it grown beyond anyone’s dreams. Smart planning may in fact have helped make 8th Street a desirable place for many investors and draws a huge number of customers that didn’t exist ten years ago. Communities pass regs governing commercial development and while not everyone may like them many of us do.
    The fact that this particular out of town businessman has had difficulties doesn’t overshadow all of the good that has and is taking place. If you don’t want any rules you are entitled to your opinion but while they are in place if you don’t want to follow them there is a process to seek exemption. You want to get rid of the rules there is a democratic process for that too.
    Calling someone names who doesn’t share your opinion instead of making your case won’t advance your cause.

    • Stan Olshefski

      Western democracies have a long tradition of posting the laws, and for those laws to not be arbitrary.

      The problem here, and with “smart growth” in general is that there is no clear standard for the application and execution of the laws.

      Citizens cannot know what the law is when it is made at will and contains wildly variable standards. Furthermore, when the legal and administrative system contains rules without standards, it creates opportunities for corruptions through bribery, anti-competitive rent seeking, etc.

      Look at our city government. Our mayor’s campaign committed campaign finance fraud to get elected. And, the city council is constantly under investigation:

      * One member is a convicted criminal
      * One member had to resign for embezzling city funds
      * Another member is under FBI investigation for campaign finance fraud
      * Another member’s chief of staff plead guilt to “accepting an illegal gratuity”

      This is the result of a broken governing system that had arbitrary rules, and requires you to be “in the know” to get anything done.

  13. Ivan Frishberg

    The neighbors did not oppose this proposed restaurant. The ANC had not opposed, delayed or even heard this case. Moreover, I think Commissioner Pate is correct in predicting that it would have won our approval.

    Had the case gone forward as scheduled and the Zoning Commission heard it as scheduled, my understanding is that Steve would have had full approval many months before the building was to be ready.

    In fact, Chipotle won approval last summer and the building only began construction relatively recently.

    No doubt that regulations have some cost to them, but this case is not one where those costs were the issue.

    I talked to Steve this morning and along with the neighbors have offered our sympathy. We all spent a lot of time on this and it is a shame that it ended this way. A business deal that fell through because of a disagreement between two business people over the economic terms of the deal.

    Its unfortunate, but in now way justifies Mr. Olshefski’s name-calling, wild speculation and total unfamiliarity with the facts of the situation which seem fully motivated by an ideological zeal that has boxed out actual fact.

    Let’s keep working this stuff out as a neighborhood and leave the ideological clutter to the western end of Capitol Hill.


    • Ivan,

      The very requirement that a business owner needs a special exception in order to open a place like this is a delay. You might be correct that there wasn’t a longer delay than the process allows, but the process itself is a major source of delay. Delays had costs. To assert that the deal fell through simply because of economics without accounting for the cost of the process (and the risk that the process represents to an entrepreneur) misses the reality.

      The fact that Chipotle only recently began buildout despite getting approval earlier isn’t evidence in favor of your position. Instead, it shows that for work to move forward, the business must reduce all risk, and that risk is the length and uncertainty of the process itself. The process is an integral part of the economic terms of the deal.

      I don’t expect the owner to come out and burn his bridges on this, but I wouldn’t call this a mere ideological discussion. It’s a pragmatic one.