A bureaucratic decision made at about 9:15 this evening may well be the end the Philly Pizza on Potomac Street. The District Board of Zoning Adjustment has just upheld the decision made by the D.C. Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs to revoke its certificate of occupancy because it was operating as a fast food restaurant but was not zoned to do so.
“Basically, they will have to close that location as soon as the City decides to enforce the decision,” Student Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Aaron Golds (COL ’11) said. Golds said it is unclear when the City will do so, but, “it could be as soon as tomorrow.”
Matt Kocak, the owner of Philly Pizza, said that he was not sure if he would appeal the BZA’s decision.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “The door is open.”
The final vote by the board was unanimous, with all five members voting to reject Philly Pizza’s request to repeal the decision of Matthew LeGrant, the District Zoning Administrator, to revoke their certificate of occupancy. Although residents who lived near Philly Pizza gave testimony about the crowds and noise the establishment drew, the board members said that the question that had to be resolved was whether Philly Pizza was acting as a fast-food establishment or a restaurant.
Today’s hearing was the second session of Philly Pizza’s appeal of the DCRA’s decision, which the DCRA made on October 19. An over-seven-hours affair, groups who were opposed to Philly Pizza’s continued operation used today to make their case against reversing DCRA’s decision. (At the first hearing, Philly Pizza’s owners and legal representation argued that they were operating as a sit-down restaurant, not a carry-out establishment.)
Terrell Hill, an investigator with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs who visited Philly Pizza three times undercover early this school year, testified that on his first visit he only observed one person besides himself actually sitting and eating in the restaurant. Everyone else who came into Philly Pizza ordered food, paid for it, and left, he said. When he was shown around the establishment by the owner on a fourth visit where he announced himself as an inspector, it became clear that Philly Pizza was not using non-disposable table ware, a requirement for a restaurant.
Residents who live near Philly Pizza also gave testimony. Several of them said that they are often woken between 1 and 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays by the sounds of the crowd around Philly Pizza. One of the residents displayed photos a crowd of 15 to 20 people eating pizza out of boxes she had taken with her BlackBerry one Saturday morning in September. Another testified that she felt her safety was threatened after a young man threw an empty six pack of beer at her one night.
ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels also testified. He stated that one night when he observed Philly Pizza from a neighboring house, he counted 139 take-out customers and only 9 dine-in patrons.
Philly Pizza had to prove it fulfilled several criterion in order to show it was not a fast-food restaurant. Any establishment that had a drive through, had customers pay for food before it was consumed, or made use of disposable table ware could be considered a fast-food restaurant by the board.
Board member Meredith Moldenhauer, who gave a lengthy explanation of her view on the case said that based on the testimony she had heard, including that of Terrell Hill and the ANC Commissioner Starrells, that “the establishment does not fall within the restaurant definition.”
Chairman of the board Marc Loud echoed her sentiments.
“I found investigator Hill to be very compelling,” he said. “It was so clear to me from the testimony of Investigator Hill that this was a fast-food establishment.”
Reporting by Galen Weber.