When Rats Win: What Recourse Do Residents Have When Restaurants Make Bad Neighbors?
City Is Unable or Unwilling to Regulate Health Concerns Effectively
by Larry Janezich
Pizza-Iole Pizza by the Slice, the B Spot and “il Capo di Capitol Hill” (the re-named Mi Vecindad) all contribute to an ongoing trash, rat, and noise issue distressing residential neighbors near 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.
Neighbors have a long and well-documented history of efforts to resolve issues concerning properties owned by Mahmoud Abd-alla at the above location, including 14 calls to the city between October 2011 to August 2012 concerning the trash issue and six calls since March 2012 complaining about noise or late night construction work. Neighbors have also reached out to ANC 6B and Councilmember Tommy Wells.
The city has responded by dispatching inspectors on a regular basis to address the neighbor’s concerns about food trash which contribute to an infestation of rats in nearby yards. Baiting with poison has ameliorated but not eliminated the problem.
But despite the strenuous efforts of residents, problems continue. Recently the trash dumpsters that are the likely culprits for attracting rats were moved – not to mitigate the rat problem, but to place them out of view from neighbors’ windows so they could no longer take pictures of them. In fact, the dumpsters were moved closer to residents’ homes.
Most frustrating, according to one neighbor, is the failure to get city officials to say what the city has required the venues to do and how the city is following up to ensure compliance. The answer to what the consequences will be for failure to comply appears to be that there are none. Because of off and on temporary compliance, and casual monitoring by Department of Health Code Enforcement, neighbors will bring the issue to ANC6B next Tuesday.
Capitol Hill restaurateur Henri Mendoza has leased former Pacific Café Vietnamese restaurant from Abd-allah – reportedly, a 15 year lease. Initially opened as a Cuban restaurant, the place has recently converted to an Italian menu. The liquor license for the establishment comes up for renewal this spring and will be on the ANC agenda in April or March, which may provide neighbors with some leverage with respect to a voluntary agreement.
Meanwhile, the former proprietor of Pacific Café has re-emerged as a manager Pizza-Iole adjacent to the restaurant. Above the fast food is The B Spot described on their website as “a multi-purpose Art Gallery, Juice Bar and Tea Room located in the cultural corridor of Eastern Market.” The event space is available for catered events, and noise from that space has spilled out onto a rear deck, contributing to the neighbors’ unhappiness with the commercial strip. As readers of local city news know, spaces that are catered do not operate under the same regulatory burden as spaces that are established bars or restaurants serving liquor.
Much of the problem seems to be unwillingness on the part of these establishments to be good neighbors – a problem that is by no means restricted to this particular strip. Recently, neighbors brought the issue of non-compliance with a voluntary agreement by Chipotle on Barracks Row before the ANC. Similarly, residents of 8th Street, SE, point to the differences in food trash existing among three restaurants on 7th Street opposite Eastern Market: Tunnicliff’s being among the worst, and BoxCar and Acqua al Due among the best. As the photos below illustrate, there is a wide disparity between what the city will tolerate and what a good restaurant-neighbor will voluntarily provide, and it is unrealistic to place the entire burden on residents to become de facto regulators, willing to cite each and every infraction, in order to bridge the gap.
Rats continue to be a problem for residents bordering the 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue strip. Neither the ANC nor Councilmember Wells’ office has as of yet stepped in to demand, devise, or mediate a satisfactory and long-term solution.