&pizza Back On Track after a Mea Culpa and a Stinging Rebuke by ANC6B
by Larry Janezich
Last Tuesday night, ANC6B voted to support a new plan under which &pizza would implement best operating practices allowing the restaurant to resume construction at its future Barracks Row outlet. The city had issued a stop work order at the site after neighbors complained that work was being done illegally – without a permit – and a Zoning Order requiring best operation practices (reached after months of negotiations with ANC6B and neighbors) was being ignored. The ANC’s support came, however, with a reduction of the restaurant’s fast food exception from 7 years to 5 years, meaning they will have to come back to the ANC in 5 years to request a renewal.
&pizza owner Michal Lassiter blamed the general contractor for starting construction without a permit, telling the ANC’s Planning and Zoning Committee on April 5th: “General contractors always play games with how much work they can do without a permit – they started framing out without a permit. Shame on us – it was our responsibility.”
A positive result of the 6 month delay in construction from the stop work order was that it produced stronger protections for the nearby residential neighbors. A strong organization of neighbors and former ANC Commissioner Francis Campbell exacted new concessions from &pizza regarding odor control, accountability for following the Zoning Order, and the reduction to 5 years for the fast food exemption.
&pizza’s new willingness to make a greater effort at being a good neighbor won over those most affected by the impact of yet another fast food restaurant on the 400 block of 8th Street. Linda Elliot, a resident of 7th Street, SE, who has been active in encouraging best operational practices for Barracks Row restaurants, told the ANC: “Over the past six months, [other neighbors] and I have come to completely trust the current leadership of &pizza – despite the fact that they were in charge during the illegal construction. [We] believe that they have genuinely seen the error of how they operated and can be completely trusted to be real leaders on Barrack Row going forward…it is our view that the faster they can … get on with the permitting process, and get back to construction, the better it will be for 400 block of 8th Street.”
Still, ANC6B was not happy &pizza’s flouting both DC regulations and the signed agreement with ANC6B. Ivan Frishberg, Planning and Zoning Committee resident member and former ANC6B Commissioner, earlier characterized &pizza’s actions as “the most extreme violation I’ve ever seen” and “a complete outrage of the process.”
An excerpt from the ANC’s letter to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) approving the new plan was critical of both &pizza and the building’s landlord (Maurice Kreidler – Capitol Hill Investors, LLC) who owns multiple properties on Barracks Row and the D Street and Pennsylvania Avenue commercial corridors, and reads as follows:
“[&pizza’s] proposed modifications are being supported by the Commission and endorsed by surrounding neighbors despite the fact that &pizza in concert with the owner of 405 8th Street SE – Capitol Hill Investors, LLC – conducted two and a half months of construction without construction permits and pursuant to unapproved plans that contradicted the most fundamental requirements upon which the ANC’s support of the 2014 variance request and fast food exception was premised and which &pizza was ordered to comply with by the BZA in its September 2014 Order. Contrary to the September 2014 Order, the unpermitted plans that &pizza and [Capitol Hill Investors] used for construction:
Placed a large walk-in cooler for food and beer in the extension that &pizza and CHI agreed and the BZA ordered be used exclusively for trash and recycling…;
Substituted a venting hood system (without a Pollution Control Unit) for the ventless system that &pizza agreed and the BZA ordered be used; and
Located the HVAC compressor and other mechanicals on the roof of a one-story extension, as opposed to the higher main roof of the building where &pizza had agreed and the BZA had ordered them to be placed.
The plans also lacked a variety of the rodent proofing measures…that &pizza had agreed to and the BZA had ordered.
The applicant’s illegal construction activities based on plans that contradicted the requirements of [the Zoning Order] were beyond disappointing given the extensive and time consuming negotiations (involving six ANC meetings and numerous meetings between Applicant and neighbors) required to reach agreement on conditions for supporting the 2014 variance and exception requests….
Recognizing their mistake, &pizza has worked diligently and in good faith over the past 6 months with a small group of neighbors, former ANC Commissioners, and engineers and other experts to determine how what they have constructed can be modified to bring the project in line with the spirit of what was required by the September 2014 BZA Order. The result is the proposed modification as documented in the requested conditions and plans… Given the genuine cooperation demonstrated by &pizza (and in light of the support they have garnered from the neighbors over the past six months of interaction), ANC 6B has agreed to support the [new agreement with the neighbors regarding best operating practices] and recommends that the Bureau of Zoning Adjustment approve [as well].”
For previous posts on the &pizza saga, go here: http://bit.ly/1S0XANC