Twilight for Philly Pizza?

ANC 2E05 Bill Starrels shows Mayor Adrian Fenty the ventilation system above Philly Pizza Company.
Garrett Faulkner
ANC 2E05 Bill Starrels shows Mayor Adrian Fenty the ventilation system above Philly Pizza Company.

Like something from a bad horror flick, it was the neighborhood pariah-turned-villain that just kept coming back from the dead.

But on March 10, it looked — lest we jinx ourselves — as if Philly Pizza, or at least the ranch-drizzled pizza slinger as we knew it, may finally have been laid to rest for good. Dust was settling. Neighbors gathered around the restaurant’s drawn shutters to offer up contented smiles, ANC commissioners shook hands, a few students skulked at the crowd’s fringes. Even the mayor made an appearance, opting for a chance to commend the efficacy of the neighborhood constituency. And to take a little credit himself, of course.

“We always do our best work hand in hand with the community,” Fenty said in triumph from his portable lectern, erected before the dark, curtained windows of the pizza parlor that was. At his side were District Attorney General Peter Nickles and DCRA Director Linda Argo, both of whom led their own rah-rah sessions. Nickles said the administration worked closely with District regulation agencies throughout the ordeal to ensure Philly was held strictly to tenets of its operating license.

“This administration is both sensitive to the community and we are persistent,” he said. Argo was a little more hard-nosed.

“If you think the neighbors are going to back down, you’re probably going to end up on the wrong end of the deal,” she said, clearly aiming her comments at Philly owner Mehmet Kocak, who was not present at the gathering.

Philly P’s had vexed residents of Potomac Street for almost a year since it moved in next to Georgetown Cupcake’s former store. Neighbors said patrons, out for a late-night (or early-morning) snack after a night out, routinely thronged around the pizza joint well into the morning hours on weekends, violating noise ordinances and littering on residents’ property. They allege that Kocak was less than cooperative when they voiced their concerns. Georgetown BID operations director John Wiebenson agreed.

“We encourage all business owners to follow all rules and regulations,” he said, adding that the BID attempted several times to reach out to Kocak, with little success. “It was disappointing when [Philly] wouldn’t use us as a resource.”

Fenty took the time to recognize ANC Commissioners Bill Starrels and Ed Solomon, Martin Sullivan, the attorney representing the license revocation effort, and a handful of neighbors who led the charge against what Fenty called “a nuisance business.” After all, it had been a long road uphill.

The day before, a District superior court upheld a Board of Zoning Adjustment decision made last month to close the Potomac Street pizza joint permanently, on the grounds that it was operating chiefly as a carry-out vendor, a violation of its sit-in restaurant license. That BZA ruling was itself an upholding of a similar order by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs made in November. At the time, Philly received a stay on the cessation order until a BZA ruling could be made. From then on, the issue would undergo a roller coaster ride of appeals and postponements, and when the BZA handed down its final decision, Kocak simply ignored it and kept his restaurant open under reduced hours. Increasingly panicked neighbors and ANC commissioners appealed to the superior court system, but even that route was fraught with pitfalls — on the day of the hearing, the judge recused himself from the case, citing a personal bias. That was just days before the court finally managed to rule that Kocak’s defiance of a District order could render him in contempt of court. The Philly owner quickly capitulated and closed his doors.

Kocak reportedly is applying for a new license from DCRA. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Starrels, who represents the single-member district where the showdown occurred, was pleased with the mayor’s personal interest and intervention in the case. The pair shook hands amid a swarm of shutter clicks.

“This is an example that the city works,” he said. “We have rules, regulations.” The commissioner led Fenty around the side of the Philly building to show him a jury-rigged ventilation system on the roof, another point of contention with neighbors now under scrutiny by the Old Georgetown Board.

“On a scale of five, this was a five, on the bad side,” Starrels said.

Neighbors who came to watch the public dressing-down were satisfied the outcome. Wolf Wittke, who, with his wife, was one of the most vocal neighbors on the issue, said the DCRA voted unanimously in favor of revocation, a clear indication the issue was cut and dried.

“It’s good to see the city and Georgetown community come together to defy a property and nuisance to the neighborhood,” he said.

Another neighbor simply was glad it was over, that justice had been served.

“You always have to be able to integrate into the community, even if it’s a hassle,” she said.

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Thu, 24 Apr 2014 20:32:57 -0400

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