Philly Pizza & Grill has officially lost a four month-long battle with D.C. authorities and Georgetown residents. Pending a published final order from the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, the late-night haunt will be forced to shut its doors, saying goodbye to a loyal student clientele.
On Tuesday, in a seven-hour continuation of a meeting held on Jan. 12, the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment rejected Philly Pizza’s appeal in a 5-0 vote.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs revoked Philly Pizza’s certificate of occupancy for a restaurant on Oct. 14, on the grounds that Philly Pizza operates as a fast food operation, not a restaurant. Philly Pizza appealed the DCRA’s decision to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the highest zoning authority in the District. The four zoning adjustment board members and Chairman Marc Loud all voted to reject the appeal.
“The [DCRA] had absolute reason to revoke [the certificate of occupancy],” Loud said. “I join my colleagues in saying that this is a fast food operation.”
Martin Sullivan, the attorney for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, which has strongly criticized Philly Pizza’s operations on behalf of Georgetown residents for months, and ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels cited a lack of dishwasher, the use of disposable dishware, public trashcans, security for crowds, and the overall carry-out numbers as proof that Philly Pizza operates as a fast food joint.
“Philly P’s is just not a restaurant. All credible, verifiable and consistent evidence suggests that instead of the 45 to 55 percent breakdown of on and off premises consumption, the breakdown is more like 95 to 5 percent,” Starrels said.
John Patrick Brown Jr., Philly Pizza’s attorney, argued that zoning investigator Terrell Hill did not spend enough time investigating Philly’s before making the recommendation for the DCRA to revoke the certificate of occupancy. He cited Hill’s lack of photos and the DCRA’s inability to produce a report on the status of Philly Pizza’s business operations.
“[Philly Pizza] is getting the death penalty without any documentation and with a shoddy investigation,” Brown said. “The [absence] of DCRA’s report really handicaps all of us.”
Mehmet Kocak, owner of Philly Pizza, denied ever meeting Hill, who allegedly spoke with him and provided incriminating evidence bolstering the zoning adjustment board’s decision. Kocak claimed he was overseas getting married and celebrating his honeymoon at the time Hill allegedly visited Philly Pizza.
It is not clear when Philly Pizza will be forced to close its doors following the vote.
“Philly’s will clear out whenever the city chooses to enforce the option. It could be as early as tomorrow,” Aaron Golds (COL ’11), the secretary and student representative of the ANC, said on Tuesday. “I honestly don’t know.”
Mike Rupert, the communications manager for DCRA, said, “DCRA cannot take enforcement action until the Board of Zoning Adjustment issues a published final order. As soon as we receive the official order, we can take action.”
Philly Pizza moved from its former 34th Street location to Potomac Street in October 2008, a move that angered neighboring Georgetown residents, many of whom were present at the meeting. The residents testified to excessive noise, rowdiness and the amount of carry-out as opposed to dine-in customers at the establishment. Starrels said that before Philly Pizza had moved from its 34th Street location to its current residence on Potomac Street, it went before a commission that posed several questions and concerns about the type of business the Philly Pizza owners would run. Starrels said that Philly Pizza presented itself as catering to a new crowd following the move, that it would not maintain the same business practices and would become more of a sit-down restaurant.
“[It’s a case of] a businessman that didn’t heed the obvious … There were other locations they could have moved to . The proceedings took a long time but in the end the right decision was done.”
While residents and the ANC commissioners seemed pleased by the outcome, many students lamented the loss of a favorite weekend dining option.
Carlos DelaTorre (COL ’13) said, “The prospect of Philly’s shutting down is just too much to bear . I frequent Philly P’s every Friday night and the scene in itself represents Georgetown.”
Students are now looking for new options.
“I’m sad Philly’s is closed, but I’m going to go to Tuscany’s, it’s just as good of an option,” said Nikhil Lakhanpal (MSB ’13).
Nour Kaei, the manager of Tuscany Café, which also serves pizza and is located around the corner from Philly Pizza on Prospect Street, provided little comment on the recent revocation of Philly’s certificate of occupancy, saying he had only recently been informed of the decision. “It’s too early to say [anything about the impact] . I don’t know.”