Philly P granted stay, still in danger of closing

November 18, 2009

Philly Pizza & Grille was granted a “stay of enforcement” at a hearing yesterday, and will be allowing the restaurant to stay open until a January 12 hearing with the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment. Philly Pizza will also close at midnight, beginning this weekend.

On January 12, Philly Pizza will appeal the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’s October 19 revocation of its certificate of occupancy that was based on the contention that Philly Pizza is zoned to be a dine-in restaurant but actually functions as a carry out establishment. Starting this weekend and lasting at least until the January 12 hearing, Philly Pizza will close at midnight every day, including weekends.

The decision to grant a stay and allow Philly Pizza to remain open was based on four factors: the likelihood of the success of the revocation, the extent of “irreparable injury” to its business if Philly Pizza were forced to close, the extent of harm to opposing parties if the Philly Pizza remained open, and the public interest. The board voted 4-0 to issue a stay.

At the hearing, John Patrick Brown Jr., Philly Pizza’s legal representative from Greenstein DeLorme & Luchs, P.C., presented a breakdown of sales between dine-in, carryout and delivery. Board of Zoning Adjustment Chair Marc Loud said the numbers made it likely enough that Philly Pizza could win its appeal that closing down the business until the January 12 hearing would be inappropriate.
The board also concluded that if Philly Pizza were required to close until the hearing, it would not be able to recover from the loss of revenue.

Brown said at the hearing that if the business closed, it would probably never reopen.

Neighbors forcefully disagreed with the ruling.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bill Starrel’s letter to the BZA states in bold, underlined type, “Irreparable harm would be done to the community if enforcement were stayed of the Zoning Administrator’s decision.”

The Citizens Association of Georgetown’s letter to the BZA references neighbor complaints about “late-night crowds, noise, parking and garbage generated at this store.”

CAG President Jennifer Altemus (COL ’88) said that CAG supports DCRA’s revocation of Philly Pizza’s license, since primarily acting as a carryout restaurant goes against the residential neighborhood zoning regulations.

In August, an undercover investigator spent four or five days determining whether Philly Pizza was a carryout restaurant. When considering the public interest, Loud questioned the quality of the summer investigations of Philly Pizza. He said it was important that people who go through the zoning process “have confidence that [their certificate of occupancy] will not be yanked out from under them.”

BZA board member Michael Turnbull requested that Philly Pizza provide more hard numbers about dine-in, carryout and delivery business at different hours of the day for the January 12 meeting.
However, Starrels was concerned about the “veracity of the numbers,” and asked if the city could appoint someone to be at the establishment to fact-check Philly Pizza’s report.

Mehmet Kocak, the owner of Philly Pizza, said that the ANC and the neighbors on Potomac St. have been putting a lot of pressure on him. He says he is doing everything he can, but a lot of the noise and drunken people come from the M Street bars, not just Philly Pizza.

“I’m gonna fight for reduced hours so they can sleep nice,” Kocak said. “We just want to make sure that Philly P’s door is open for everyone, lunch, dinner and midnight. But not 2-4 a.m. … Nobody wants to lose Philly P’s.”

He said he has been trying to show that his restaurant is not only a late night spot, but also a place to eat during the day.

“We are pushing to act as a restaurant,” Kocak said. “We’re not just a late-night serving food. We do lunch and dinner. We use the plates and silverware.”

Additional reporting by Cole Stangler.

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