Less than a month before a DC-ordered deadline for stormwater mitigation, ANC 3F sent the Van Ness Burger King franchise back to the drawing board.
In exchange for a nine-year zoning variance that allows the continued use of the parking lot beyond the drive-thru, Potomac Foods Group agreed in 2018 to repave it with permeable pavement. The Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) order set a March 12th, 2021 deadline.
Late last year, Potomac Foods representatives asked ANC 3F to support its petition to the BZA to waive the permeable paving condition.
They told commissioners that permeable paving wouldn’t work because the soil beneath the parking lot was too compacted to absorb stormwater. Other methods of capturing the runoff wouldn’t work either, they said, because the water would still need to go somewhere, and the closest storm drain is 300 feet away. At the February 16th ANC 3F meeting, an engineer hired by Potomac Foods said reaching the drain would require digging up Connecticut Avenue or the alley.
In November, the ANC said it would support the waiver request if Potomac Foods and the engineer, Ken Griffin, presented alternatives they found acceptable. Potomac Foods Vice President Mark James and engineer Ken Griffin then proposed adding about 1,500 square feet of landscaped green space to the parking area. (Here’s the PDF.) However, at the February ANC meeting (video), Griffin said any stormwater mitigation would be minimal.
“It probably isn’t intended to soak up a ton of water,” Griffin said. “It’s going to beautify the area. It is going to help environmentally because it is a grassy area and not an asphalt area.”
Commissioners Stan Wall and Dipa Mehta were critical of the plan.
“Yes, it will be a nicer looking lot, with the planted areas, but it’s not a lot that will really make a dent with regard to stormwater retention and mitigating runoff,” Wall said.
Both Wall and Mehta asked Griffin if Potomac Foods had considered doing some stormwater mitigation in another part of the Soapstone Creek watershed.
“If now, the answer is three years later, that the commitment can’t be kept, and that scientific evidence backs that up… what we’re really asking is that you and your colleagues come forward with an alternative that achieves the same goal,” Mehta said.
“The ultimate goal is trying to reduce runoff from everywhere,” Wall said. He mentioned a downpour last July that severely eroded the Soapstone streambed. “The idea is that if we chip away at these types of parking lots, bit by bit we begin to reduce the impact of that kind of runoff.”
Griffin said he had not studied other parts of the Soapstone watershed for stormwater mitigation and said he would confer with Mark James, the Potomac Foods vice president. James was not at the February 16th meeting.
As for the March 12th deadline, an audience member suggested that Potomac Foods could apply to the Board of Zoning Adjustment for a six month extension. And in the end, the ANC did not vote on a resolution that Commissioner Monika Nemeth had drafted accepting Potomac Foods’ alternative.
An alternative that commissioners are now considering did not come up at the meeting. The District in 2013 was the first U.S. city to introduce a cap-and-trade program for stormwater runoff, and its then-director wrote about it for Forest Hills Connection.
The Stormwater Retention Credit Trading Program is administered by the DC Department of Energy and the Environment. Businesses and property owners that pay into the program provide financial incentives to others to install green infrastructure. For example, an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue might install a green roof and apply for a credit on its water bill, paid for by a Potomac Foods stormwater retention credit.
“If Burger King agrees to purchasing and retiring a certain number of High Impact [Stormwater Retention Credits, or SRCs], we can accommodate and track them and send reminders as necessary over the years so that they continue to comply,” DOEE told Forest Hills Connection in an email. “We would need clarity on the number of SRCs (i.e. amount of volume) that Burger King is responsible for and whether this a permanent obligation or limited to some number of years.”
“This could made as an arrangement between the ANC and the Burger King location. We could set up an automated notification to let the ANC (or whomever else is monitoring) know if the Burger King lapses in its compliance.”
And if it works in the Burger King case, the ANC could in the future explore using stormwater retention credits to the benefit of the Rock Creek watershed.