ANC Committee Opposes “& Pizza” Move to Barracks Row
Neighbors Call Out Owner on Trustworthiness
by Larry Janezich
ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee voted (9-3) last night to oppose a special exception to the ban on fast food that would allow & Pizza to open up on Barracks Row. The appeals of a dozen neighbors, some of whose backyards are divided from the commercial corridor on the west side of the 400 block of Barracks Row by only a fence clearly swayed the committee. Restaurant chain owner Steve Salis is seeking to open a fourth pizza outlet in the space now occupied by OXXO Cleaners; several residents and commissioners feel that the block is already overpopulated with restaurants. And while a restaurant could go into the space as a matter of right, city regulations prohibit fast food restaurants on Barracks Row (and in other designated areas of the city) without the special exception.
& Pizza owner Steve Salis delivered a professional and collegial presentation to the ANC (referring to commissioners as “you guys”), asserting that he was different from the other restaurants on the block because of training and discipline regarding dealing with issues concerning neighbors, including trash, rodents, noise and odors. He assured the committee he could deal with them in this case to neighbors’ satisfaction.
The neighbors, who say they had begun negotiations regarding the restaurant operations predisposed to lending their support to Salis, became soured on his project after he refused to address some of their primary concerns (especially trash) in writing and became ”not belligerent, [but] close to it,” in the words of a neighbor who attended a group meeting with Salis.
Salis is a former NYC entrepreneur who romanced Barracks Row in 2011/2012 with an earnest and accommodating approach, promising to bring new blood to the 400 block in the space formerly occupied by The Dollar Store. He backed away from that deal after failing to reach an agreement with building owner Street Sense, and opened up on H Street, NE, instead.
The subsequent successful suitor for the Dollar Store space was Chiptole, who offered assurances of their intentions to be good neighbors. Those assurances were met with open mindedness on the part of 7th Street residents and a belief that Chipotle – with a reputation for quality fast food and with corporate resources – would be a good neighbor. But, as Commissioner Phil Peisch remarked last night, “Although Chipotle made a serious effort to work with neighbors, implementation fell flat and Chipotle ended up contributing to the (rat and trash) problem.” According the Peisch, the serious rodent issue in the area is centered on that side of the block. “I’m not sure that block can handle another fast food restaurant.’ (See CHC post on last month’s rat summit here: http://bit.ly/Qi20my)
In his presentation to the ANC Committee last night, Salis stressed the concessions he had made to neighbors on noise and odors and offered two solutions to the trash and attendant rat problem. His first suggestion was a state- of-the-art trash compactor such as used by Cava restaurant in the next block. His second was an offer to construct a trash storage shed similar to one used by Chipotle. The latter would require a BZA variance (ANC6B had opposed a similar request from building owner Maurice Kreindler earlier this year).
7th Street resident Linda Elliott, representing some dozen nearby homeowners, gave a Power Point presentation illustrating how Cava’s trash compactor and Chipotle’s trash storage shed had failed to solve the trash and rodent problems plaguing the neighborhood. The flaw, she said, was human failure in a situation where success depended on people who are either too busy to provide the extra care necessary to properly dispose of trash, or are concerned about standing in the dark in a rat infested alley to compact trash a few bags at a time. The resulting “trash dribble” and open trash compactors and receptacles provide an environment in which rats and other vermin thrive.
Elliott said that Salis said, “You can trust me,” and when asked if he had trash violations at any of his other locations replied, according to Elliott, “No.” Elliott said investigation revealed that & Pizza on H Street – a restaurant whose building most closely resembles the Barrack’s Row location – has had 12 violations. Elliott’s Power Point presentation included recent photos of trash conditions behind & Pizza on H Street, Cava on Barracks Row, and behind Maurice Kreindler’s properties on Barracks Row that can only be described as deplorable. “We have a clear problem accepting assertions Mr. Salis has made,” Elliott told the committee .
Salis responded that a restaurant of some kindwas likely to go into the OXXO space “because restaurants are the only ones that can pay rents on 8th Street right now.” He noted that as a matter of right, any non-fast food restaurant can go into the space without seeking an exception and allowed the committee to infer that he might seek an exception without an ANC endorsement.
He also said that he had acceded to all the requests the neighbors had made except for trash. Addressing the committee members, he said, “You guys will make a decision on what is best for the community … I think we will definitely contribute to the community.”
Elliott noted that another fast food exception is in the pipeline for Potbelly which hopes to locate where Tandoor Grill currently is. She noted that regardless of whether the exception is granted or not, the long-time building owner Tariq Hussein has pledged that for any restaurant going into that space he will provide indoor trash storage, state of the art sound proofing and odor control.
Commissioner Phil Peish moved the committee take no position on the request for an exception, but accepted Commissioner Dave Garrison’s amendment that the committee recommend that the ANC oppose it.
The final vote was 9 – 3 to oppose, with Commissioner Brian Flahaven and resident members Jennifer Rosen (ANC610) and Brynn Barnett (ANC603) voting in favor of the restaurant. When the matter goes to the full ANC next week, only duly elected commissioners can vote. Since seven commissioners on the 10 member commission opposed the exception last night, opposition by the full ANC seems assured. The one caveat, however, is that new information by the applicant could be presented to the ANC at their May meeting next Tuesday in an effort to change their collective mind.