The owner of the Burger King franchise at Van Ness is talking again about closing the location.
“Potomac Foods being the last standing Burger King operator in the District, and 40 years of service to your community, it saddens us to have to say goodbye,” wrote Mark James, Potomac’s vice president of operations, in an email to ANC 3F commissioners.
In 2018, the franchise told ANC 3F that it would be closing due to the expenses of a modernization required by Burger King corporate and a parking lot resurfacing required by a March 2018 DC Board of Zoning Adjustment order.
Months went by and the Burger King did not close. In January 2020, Burger King presented plans to ANC 3F for a renovation of the building’s interior and exterior. And in November 2020, four months before the BZA’s repaving deadline, Potomac Foods told the ANC that the permeable paving required by the BZA order would not work, as the ground at the site was too compacted for stormwater infiltration. It was seeking commissioners’ support for a petition to waive the requirement.
ANC 3F told Potomac Foods that it would consider supporting an alternate plan for stormwater retention and to check with the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) for options. Potomac came back with a plan to replace about 1,500 square feet of paving with landscaping but no stormwater mitigation, and commissioners at the February 16th ANC meeting said they couldn’t support it without more information on its effects on stormwater runoff. ANC 3F later suggested, in a letter to Potomac Foods, that the franchisee instead consider purchasing stormwater credits under a program run by DOEE.
Potomac Foods’ response was in answer to that letter.
“[T]he entire watershed in this area is not currently managed,” James wrote. “We feel that asking us to be the ‘Guinea pigs’ to explore other options creates unnecessary strain on an already slim profit margin. None of these extra costs were in our budget.”
He also suggested that the stormwater credits would cost an estimated $100,000 per year. It is not clear how he arrived at that figure.
Gloria Garcia, the executive director for Van Ness Main Street, told Forest Hills Connection that these times have been difficult for all the businesses at Van Ness.
“The lack of foot traffic with UDC, WAMU, other large institutional neighbors studying and working virtually has affected all of our food establishments. The Burger King drive thru accounts for 60% of its business and even that is visibly down,” Garcia said.
In his letter, James also made assertions that puzzled a previous ANC 3F commissioner.
“Burger King was prepared to vacate when [Chick-fil-A] pulled out of their development plans in 2018,” James wrote. “After some review, the ANC asked us to stay.”
Pat Jakopchek, who was the ANC 3F chair in from 2017 through 2018, told Forest Hills Connection that he had no conversations with Potomac Foods, as chair, about keeping the Burger King in that location. and the ANC took no formal action on the subject. He also said the new paving was one of the conditions when the ANC supported a three-year zoning exception for the Burger King parking lot in 2015, so in essence Potomac Foods had six years to comply.
Bill Sittig was the ANC commissioner for the single member district that includes the Burger King from December 2016 through December 2018. He said he was not involved in any promises or requests by the ANC for Burger King to stay at that location. And he testified before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in favor of Potomac Foods’ request for a nine-year zoning exception, which was approved in March 2018. Sittig told Forest Hills Connection that when he was commissioner, he found Mark James responsive in addressing complaints that included litter in the parking lot and a fence that was falling down.
“As a nearby citizen who often uses the Burger King facility I am sorry to see then leave,” he said. “If Burger King sticks to its word to vacate, I hope that the new tenants will be an asset to the neighborhood and be more receptive to the concerns of the present ANC.”
In his email to ANC 3F, James echoed the sentiment. “We hope that you find a good partner on this site that is willing to accommodate all of your requests,” he wrote.
“We thank Burger King for their many years of service to the community,” Van Ness Main Street’s Garcia said. “This is prime location on our main street and a great opportunity for the evolution of our offerings on Connecticut Avenue.”
Barbara Kraft says
I’m sorry to see the Burger King go, but I would like to hear what knowledgeable people think would be the best use for that valuable property. Could mixed use residential and commercial development happen there that would add affordable housing units to our neighborhood?
Roberta Carroll says
I hope the Burger King stays and maybe the DC government can do more creating better drainage in the alley. Burger King’s parking lot is small and could not be causing that great a problem. What are they doing in the alley behind all the businesses. Hopefully the ANC is not part of the problem, although some of the comments in the past indicate some wish this business would close. What is the ANC proposing as a solution?
Peter Jacobs says
It’s not the DC government’s job to fix the problems of a private property owner. Burger King is using land as a parking lot that is not zoned to be one.
They’ve been granted many generous exceptions in order to use it as such, but have failed to meet the terms they voluntarily agreed to, time after time.
It’s not just stormwater drainage – it’s basic stuff like keeping the parking lot clean and appointing a neighborhood liaison to keep the community informed about their plans.
They’ve violated these agreements and abused our trust again and again, it’s beyond time to replace them with a better corporate citizen and neighbor.
Ronald B Kahn says
I think an alley goes across the entire length between streets. It’s used for many purposes, I’ll assume that DC owns the alley. If that’s that case then other questions about responsibility need to be sorted out / asked / I don’t see at this point. The DC alley program also comes to mind. Seems obvious that DC needs to add storm drainage similar to what’s been done in many other far less utilized and far less challenged alleys.
Burger King constantly is violating agreements. They do not keep the parking lot clean, there is noise and occasional loud radio playing in the parking lot at night. Delivers are disruptive to neighbors at 5 am in the Morning. The grounds outside and inside the burger king are in much need of a face lift and or repair which they do not agree to do, as other business have done in the community. I think the space could be used better used for retail other then a fast food restaurant that causes traffic back ups on Connecticut Ave. Let them go.
Roberta Carroll says
I like it occasionally and I like the drive through for rainy and cold days you do not have to get out of the car. I also see a lot of workmen go here for lunch or late in the day. It is the only reasonably priced eating establishment in the neighborhood. This also holds true for those staying at the Days Inn. Not everyone can afford Breadfurst and this is a good option.
Maurice Lester says
I strongly agree!
Michael Chorost says
I would love to see that Burger King go away, to be replaced by an affordable family-style diner or bar. Fast-food places have nothing to offer except cheap, high-fat, high-salt food. We can do better with a restaurant that serves a range of good meals at reasonable prices.
Maurice Lester says
I’d like see a PMI parking lot and a ten cent coke machine with returnable glass bottles in the space after Burger King leaves.
Leslie Cordes says
My experience is that the parking lot is used as much by Zips customers and car wash recipients and blame for trash should not fall wholly on BK’s shoulders. Agree that there are a large number of workers who frequent the place as well as students and young people. Don’t notice the lots being any dirtier than the others in the area