ANC6B Votes to Appeal DoorDash’s Building Permit for Capitol Hill DashMart
by Larry Janezich
Posted June 10, 2021
Last Tuesday night, ANC6B voted unanimously to appeal DoorDash’s building permit to renovate the old Frager’s building on E Street, based on their assertion that the site’s parking spaces and loading provisions are illegal.
Prior to the vote, ANC6B Planning and Zoning Chair Brian Holman told his colleagues that there are currently no legal parking spaces for the site and no legal loading platform. The practical effect is that DoorDash’s proposed business will interfere with the use of public space, specifically the sidewalk and E Street bike lane. He said he had received 46 emails supporting an appeal. If the appeal moves forward it goes to the Board of Zoning Adjudication for a hearing, possibly in January. In the interim, the permit could be withdrawn and revised and resubmitted.
(The Board of Adjudication could revoke the permit, or find that the use of non-conforming parking spaces and loading dock are ok owing to prior use.)
Neighbors say that DoorDash (according to their building permit) would bring a “storage of goods and delivery by drivers” business to the middle of an otherwise residential block. Such a business is not appropriate, they say; because some 100 vehicles will pick up orders every day, there are no legal parking spaces and no legal loading platform and that will interfere with the use of public space in front of the building.
DoorDash says there are no grounds for appealing the permit. DoorDash’s attorney, Kyrus Freeman, partner in the real estate section in the Washington office of Holland & Knight, says that DoorDash’s by-right project has non-conforming parking and loading space which is grandfathered in by Zoning Regulations.
Building owner John Weintraub’s attorney, James Loots, said that appealing a building permit to determine which tenant occupies the space is not an appropriate use of the law.
The open discussion revealed new details on the operation:
- Hours of loading and pickup initially will be from 8:00am until midnight.
- Deliveries will occur between the hours of 8:00am and midnight with 100 to 150 couriers (pedestrian, bike, and auto) over the course of a day.
- If demand justifies it DoorMart could operate from 6:00am to 3:00am.
- DoorDash has a five year lease on the space.
- DoorDash is talking to DC Murals to add value to the building.
Josh Neergaard, DoorDash’s project manager, said that there is no legal basis for the appeal and that DoorDash views it as an abuse of the process. He said DoorDash could continue to operate while the building permit is under appeal. Cars will use parking in front of the building. Employees will use public transportation or park elsewhere. Vendors will be limited to use of small box trucks for deliveries. He said, “We are committed to operating responsibly and safely and will work with neighbors collaboratively on an operating plan. Whether the appeal goes through or not we will work in the building.”
During discussion of the motion to appeal, members of the Commission and nearby neighbors made the following points:
- Commissioner Oldenburg: The bottom line is can loading be done legally? She said she would vote in favor of the appeal as the only way we may get an answer to the question.
- Former Commissioner and nearby resident Nick Burger: An appeal triggers a Zoning process with the potential for neighbors to work out issues. Enforcing parking on public space and bike lanes is difficult.
- Former Commissioner Chander Jayaraman: DoorDash has no control over their contract drivers – they can fall back on saying “We told them to do this – they didn’t do it….We should err on the side of caution”.
- Neighbor: DoorDash drivers are contract employees and DoorDash has less responsibility for their actions.
- Neighbor: What DoorDash sees as an abuse of the process is viewed by neighbors as their only opportunity to resolve problems if DoorDash makes promises they don’t keep.
- Neighbor: Parking is inadequate for delivery drivers and employees.
- Neighbor: The space is too small for the business DoorDash is trying to put there. How will DoorDash coordinate 100 drivers a day using those four spots?
- Neighbor: The impact of the proposed use is counter to ongoing residential use of the block. Load is the real issue and we need to hold them legally accountable.
Winding up the debate, Holman asserted that any reading of the regulations requires a loading platform. He expressed disappointment that DoorDash did not reach out to the community prior to applying for building permit. He said that DoorDash’s claim that their operation will not be a detriment to the community is “an insult to us in the community” and he expressed gratitude to Frager’s for relocating in the neighborhood during their period of recovery.
Afterward, the motion to appeal the permit passed 9 – 0 (Commissioner Krepp was absent but had previously announced her support for the motion to appeal.)