ANC6B Gives & Pizza on Barracks Row a Second Chance
Neighbors Unconvinced by Owner’s Maneuver
by Larry Janezich
Tuesday night, an earnest Steve Salis, owner of &Pizza, breathed new life into his moribund request for a fast food exception to open a pizza place on Barrack Row. Salis appeared before ANC6B with a new proposal calculated to head off what appeared to be certain rejection of the exception. He announced that to allay the primary concerns of his 7th Street residential neighbors across the back fence, he had asked for a one month delay in consideration of his case by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). Salis said he has applied for a variance that would allow him to build an enclosure attached to the proposed restaurant for indoor trash storage, and dispose of stored trash by moving it out to 8th Street. He said he would make the application for the exception contingent on approval of the variance and that the delay would allow parties to look at his new proposed solution through an “unbiased lens”.
If the delay is granted, Salis would come back before the ANC on June 10, to present the case for the variance and the request for the exception – to be considered as a package – with the request for the exception contingent on approval of the variance. Such an offer appeared to some observers to indicate Salis’ confidence that he can get BZA approval of the variance.
Neighbors were having none of it. They say that the new proposal is where Salis should have started at a meeting with them in April – rather than stonewalling them then and coming in with a proposal 24 hours before Tuesday night’s meeting. Neighbor after neighbor arose to ask ANC6B to oppose the application, citing their underlying concerns that an additional fast food restaurant on the 400 block of Barracks Row will increase the rodent, trash, noise and odor issues. For several neighbors, the trustworthiness of the applicant was at issue. Salis allegedly told neighbors that with the exception of a couple of DPW warnings because homeless people were dumpster diving in the alley at the H Street &Pizza, he had no violations from either agency.
In response to the claim, neighbors produced evidence of 23 Department of Health violations at the H Street &Pizza between May 23, 2013 and April 15, 2014. According to InspectionMapper (a website that tracks restaurants and grades them according to number of violations) as of mid-April, H Street &Pizza received an “F” for the accumulation of violations. At that time, InspectionMapper said, 25% of restaurants were rated “A”, 21% “B”, 22% “C”, 16% “D”, and 16% “F”. Neighbors say the infractions show that Salas has not demonstrated the attention to detail necessary to address their concerns.
Apparently reflecting concern of the neighbors and underlining the need for a comprehensive approach to the rodent problem in the immediate area, Commissioner Ivan Frishberg told Salis that he expected a good “chunk” of his product would end up being consumed on 8th Street or in Metro Plaza. Salis agreed and acknowledged a systemic rat problem, but said that he can only control his space and his operation.
Frishberg expressed his concerns regarding the block’s rodent problem in an email to his constituents earlier this week, saying, “If we do not set the highest standard for current and future operators on these densely populated blocks we will only be adding to the problems of rats that are running rampant in backyards, across the metro plaza and all around the restaurants most of us frequent.”
In the end, ANC6B voted 8-0-2, to oppose the application, but added language addressed to the BZA acknowledging that the applicant has requested a delay and encouraging a delay in order to provide an opportunity for the issue to be resolved by negotiation between the restaurateur and neighbors and allowing ANC6B to consider the fast food exception and the variance at the same time.
Those commissioners voting for the delay: Peish, Frishberg, Pate, Campbell, Garrison, Oldenburg, Opkins, and Loveland.
Those commissioners abstaining: Flahaven and Jayaraman
(Flahaven said he abstained because he wanted to see a compromise. Jayaraman said he did not want to say he was opposed to &Pizza on Barracks Row while there was an opportunity to see if the strategy Salis is proposing works better than what other restaurants are doing.)