Neighborhood group protests FoBoGro hours

Editor’s note appended

The soon-to-open Foggy Bottom Grocery is facing opposition from community members who allege that its proposed late-night hours are inappropriate, and the store’s planned menu, which includes pizzas and sandwiches, is illegal under D.C. zoning laws.

The West End Citizens Association has filed a letter of protest, saying the store’s proposed hours of operation – from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weeknights and until 3 a.m. on weekends – will negatively affect residents living in the area. The group is further alleging that Kris Hart, a GW graduate and the owner of the store, will be violating D.C. zoning orders by serving prepared foods, which were not served in the store prior to his ownership.

“That’s totally inappropriate in a residential zone, where we have high-rises of elderly people whose quality of life would be severely diminished,” said Barbara Kahlow, a member of the WECA board. “He cannot have a delicatessen, he cannot serve pizza, he cannot have homemade sandwiches.”

Hart, who also owns the on-campus Relaxed Day Spa, said the store had already been licensed to operate as a deli before he purchased it, and he obtained a certificate of occupancy in August which lists the townhouse as a grocery store with a sandwich shop. Hart, who is also a board member of the WECA, said he was surprised by the protest.

“I’ve been a member of that group for a long time, we haven’t had a membership meeting in six months. It’s not a very active group and I’m on the board, so I’d know,” Hart said, while stressing that he wants to work with any community member who expresses concerns about the store. “What’s frustrating is the majority of the members on that board don’t live within five blocks of the business, several of them don’t live in the West End and one of them is my main competitor. I have this group that’s coming at me that’s not representing the interests of the neighborhood.”

Hart will also appear before the Alcoholic Beverage Control board Monday to transfer the existing alcohol license that he inherited with the store, and WECA members said they will protest the hearing.

“We’ll see, it’s not up to me, it’s not up to the West End, it’s up to the city government and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that we can work with them to make this work out,” Hart said.

The issue was brought before the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A last Wednesday, but the meeting ended without a conclusion because of time limitations. Commissioners said they may call a special meeting to discuss the issue, but commissioner Asher Corson, a GW graduate, said the deadline for the ANC to protest the liquor license had passed.

“I think we’re going to bring it back at a later meeting and try to actually negotiate a voluntary agreement with him where we can all agree on his operating hours and procedures, but, truthfully, I’m hopeful because I think Kris means well, and I think he’s willing to do the right things to make sure that the neighborhood is properly taken care of,” Corson said.

Hart said that despite the opposition from WECA, he has received positive feedback from residents who live around the store. He has been on campus gathering signatures and talking to students and community members, receiving what he characterized as “great feedback.” Hart said he obtained signatures of support from residents of townhouses on F Street, South Hall and Guthridge Hall.

“Between the neighbors and the students and the professionals who work in the area, we’ve had very few who have voiced concerns about what we’re doing with Foggy Bottom Grocery,” Hart said. “The overwhelming majority, I mean over 90 percent, are just excited that we’re taking a building that was falling into complete disrepair and putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into making it something that once again we can be proud of.”

Corson, who is also the president of the Foggy Bottom Association, another community group, said he hopes the management and the community can compromise.

“I understand that there are neighbors that are near there and those neighbors need to be protected and taken care of, but the truth is that there’s a real dearth of late-night food options on campus, and that was something that I experienced when I was a student,” Corson said. “It’s incredibly frustrating and part of the problem is that a lot of kids travel throughout the neighborhood, passing through neighborhood streets on their way to other places to get food because there is no food right on campus, and that, in a lot of ways, ends up disturbing the neighborhood even more. So I’m hopeful that we can work something out on Foggy Bottom Grocery so that everyone can be satisfied.”

(Oct. 8, 2009) Editor’s note:

The Hatchet quoted Foggy Bottom Grocery owner Kris Hart as saying the West End Citizens Association has not held a membership meeting in six months. WECA President John Batham said this week that a meeting did occur on May 30, 2009.

In addition, Hart said in the story that a majority of the board did not live within five blocks of his business. Batham said that four of the board’s seven members live in the area, but did not provide names or addresses.

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