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.”