Last Thoughts on Philly


So, the great pizza affair finally looks like it’s drawing to a close. On Feb. 19, the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs served an illegal use notice to Potomac Street’s Philly Pizza Company, echoing a Board of Zoning Adjustment decision a few days earlier to close the University’s favorite huckster of sauce and cheese on the grounds that it was operating as a fast-food establishment, not as the sit-down restaurant for which it is zoned. It had been a lingering, painfully slow fight — last November, Philly suffered a similar ruling but lucked out with a temporary reprieve until the BZA could reconvene this month. Clocking in at over seven hours, the final hearing was one of near-mythic proportions, a kind of neighborhood armageddon where the issue’s major players could take the field, voice their side and duke it out one last time. Neighbors were finally given the opportunity to speak (in the interest of time, citizen testimony was not heard at the November meeting), and ANC commissioners again submitted their two cents, reinforcing the claims of their unhappy constituents. Of course, Philly owner Mehmet Kocak and his legal team took the floor as well, arguing that the handful of cocktail tables dotting the cramped pizza parlor cemented its status as a proper restaurant.

When the dust had cleared, the neighbors came out on top, and while Philly might have enjoyed a few days’ respite until the city could enforce their decision, the DCRA notice three days later effectively put to an end all the revelry, the good times for students and headaches for everyone else. At that particular corner, at least.

For the record, it’s worth noting that Kocak’s cooperation and diplomacy on this issue had been lukewarm at best. He seemed to hardly notice the clamor over his late-night clientele until the blogs, populace and community boards were all screaming about it. Even then, the solutions he offered were cursory: roll a few trash cans in the street, ask a bored policeman or two to check in every once and a while and hope the situation works itself out. The whole time, his put-upon attitude earned him few friends or allies. Georgetown students, when the ruling was reported on the University blog Vox Populi, seemed to shrug their shoulders and move on. There are other places in town to grab a slice.

To be sure, the BZA’s decision was the right one. Philly had been operating beyond the parameters of its license and indirectly made lives miserable for its neighbors across the street — all of whom have lived on the block for far longer. The community, however — the ANC, neighbors, students — will have to work hard to prove that this wasn’t an isolated lynching. The precedent set by the ruling must be upheld when dealing with similar problems at Tuscany, Domino’s and others, which very likely will inherit the crowds once commanded by Philly. After all, inebriated, early-morning revelers bent on greasy food will gravitate toward the nearest alternative.

Which warrants a word or two about the early-morning revelers: as those directly responsible for the complaints of neighbors, they bear much of the responsibility here, and deserve to be held accountable more than they have been. We urge the neighborhood boards (the ANC and BID especially) to allocate the necessary funding to ensure, if problems continue to arise, that officers are regularly on hand to halt the littering and noise at the source.

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