7-Eleven and an Advisory Neighborhood Commission squabble over the sale of chicken wings in the H Street Corridor.
The chicken bone saga is officially over. Oh thank heaven, but not for 7-Eleven, which is at the center of the tale.
The issue revolves around a 7-Eleven at 957 H Street NE in Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood struggling with gentrification. The controversy has been brewing since the store opened in August, when the community began expressing its concerns about the 7-Eleven’s 24-hour operation in the H Street Connection, including late night hours, added litter, loitering, sales of tobacco products, and sales of fast food items.
For the last four months, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6A and community residents have been trying to get 7-Eleven reclassified as a fast food establishment in an effort to subject the store to additional controls and ultimately keep trash off the streets.
Chicken wings—the discarded bones are a choking hazard for dogs and attract vermin according to ANC 6A—were the one point of contention that kept 7-Eleven and ANC 6A from reaching a voluntary agreement about operations.
7-Eleven tried to throw ANC 6A a bone by saying that it would switch to selling boneless wings as soon as they became available, but ANC 6A insisted that the community did not want boned chicken wings to be sold for any period of time.
And thus, the chicken bone narrative was born.
7-Eleven, chicken bones and zoning
At a hearing on Dec. 7, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) decided to reclassify the 7-Eleven, store #34488, in the H Street Connection as a grocery store not as a fast food establishment stating that the sale fast food was “clearly subordinate” to the convenience store’s identity as a grocer.
Despite admitting that 7-Eleven’s original C of O for a market was inaccurate, the BZA refused to hear testimony from local residents at the hearing. Only the method by which the zoning administrator, Matt LeGrant, arrived at his decision to grant 7-Eleven a certificate of occupancy could serve as evidence for the appeal. Without having asked to review the materials that LeGrant used to make his original decision, ANC 6A’s appeal—and its hopes to mitigate trash from grab-and-go offerings—was denied three to two by the BZA.
SCLinDC tweeted from the hearing:
“Ouch! Board took an ugly swipe at the case. ANC requests 60 day continuance. #HSt”
“Continuance denied. ANC proceeds with 7-11 case w/o ability to discuss ops since opening.”
After negotiations between ANC 6A, 7-Eleven franchisee Bob Martz and 7-Eleven Corporate broke down in mid-November, ANC 6A asked the BZA in an appeal filed on Nov. 19 to force 7-Eleven to reapply for a fast food establishment license citing that the store derives more than 15 percent of its sales from fast food items.
Fast food establishments are permitted only by special exception of the BZA according to Rule: 11-1320 of the H Street Northeast Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District, a plan that designates use and development requirements for lots fronting H Street NE.
Without a signed agreement not to sell boned chicken wings, ANC 6A chose to throw around its “great weight” and challenge 7-Eleven’s operations with zoning regulations.
“Whatever idea you have about a 7-Eleven, that’s not what this 7-Eleven is,” said ANC 6A02 commissioner and chair of the Economic Development and Zoning Committee Drew Ronneberg, who wrote and led the appeal.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions consider a wide range of policies and programs affecting their neighborhoods and are the body of government with the closest official ties to the people in a neighborhood.
Margaret Chablis, a spokesperson for 7-Eleven said in an e-mail: “We maintain that we are not a quick-serve restaurant, but a convenience store. There are no tables and chairs in our establishment, and most of the space is devoted to convenience products.”
If the appeal to have 7-Eleven reclassified as a fast food establishment had been successful, 7-Eleven would have been given a grace period to either stop selling fast food items or appeal the BZA’s reclassification.
“7-Eleven is expanding into fast food and being reclassified would have hurt their business,” Ronneberg said. “But, there would have been less trash in the neighborhood.”
Ronneberg said on Dec. 9 at an ANC 6A public meeting that no further action will be taken by ANC 6A regarding 7-Eleven’s C of O or its operations.
TBD TV captures community opinions in a video: Northeast residents upset over trash, chicken bones.
“7-Eleven is going to be a part of the H Street Connection,” said Sharee Lawler, commissioner-elect for ANC 6A05 and an owner of the blog, The Hill is Home. “Now we just have to hope that they are going to be a good neighbor.”
The chicken or the bone?
To combat the sale of chicken wings, ANC 6A voted 5-0-0 to appeal the administrative decision of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to grant 7-Eleven C of O #CO1002994 for a “market.” While ANC 6A agrees that one aspect of 7-Eleven’s operations is a grocery store, the commission believes it has a secondary operation as a fast food establishment.
The District of Columbia Business Resource Center defines a C of O as a document that certifies that the use of a building complies with zoning regulations and building codes.
“You can always run in and get what you need on the go,” Holwill said. “7-Eleven serves a purpose. If there are enough people that will patronize the store then it should be allowed to survive.”
In an effort to prove that the 7-Eleven was functioning as a fast food establishment, ANC 6A community members sat outside the store over a number of days at various times and recorded how many customers went into the store and how many of those customers came out with fast food, such as pizza slices, hot dogs and nachos. Their findings were the basis of the appeal.
“It contrasts starkly with two other new businesses within a block of it—Liberty Tree and the Atlas Room which are two fantastic, neighborhood-serving restaurants,” said Phil Toomajian, a resident of the H Street community in an e-mail. “7-Eleven has been frank that they are more interested in serving commuter traffic than local residents.”
A tweet from the Nov. 11, ANC 6A public meeting elucidates the controversy: “We’re back to the 7-11, fast food, trash. Nobody has mentioned chicken bones. Yet.”
“I believe that 7-Eleven is a good tenant for the space,” said Gary Rappaport, President and CEO of Rappaport Companies, the owner and developer of the H Street Connection. “Not only does 7-Eleven offer a service, they are professional operators and know what they are doing.”
The H Street Connection
Aside from the issue of chicken bones, many local residents argue that 7-Eleven doesn’t fit into the vision of H Street that was approved by the DC Zoning Commission on Nov. 8.
This vision includes “a high-end architecturally designed building that will help stimulate other growth in the corridor and serve as an anchor for future growth,” said Rappaport. High-density, mixed-use space will define the new H Street Connection and set an example for further redevelopment.
Rappaport likened the coming changes to the recent transformation of P Street NW.
Rappaport Companies owns 87,000 square feet of land on the south side of H Street between 8th Street and 10th Street NE where the existing H Street Connection is situated. The land offers a tremendous amount of frontage relative to depth, frontage that will likely include 7-Eleven.
“We will try to negotiate a lease with 7-Eleven over the next year that will allow them to move back into the space after construction,” said Rappaport.
Construction to replace the existing one-story strip mall will begin in 2014. The new H Street Connection will have 52,000 square feet of retail space below 384 residential units. The structure will be eight stories tall and fill two city blocks.
“We’ve gone through the ins and outs and ups and downs to ensure that the new H Street Connection is compatible with the community’s vision for H Street,” said Rappaport.
“It will add to an already growing cadre of business along H Street’s eastern end, and will provide attractive new spaces for additional businesses to open and provide neighborhood-serving retail,” said Toomajian. “I believe it will be as important as any development along H Street in furthering its rebirth.”
H Street Main Street, a nonprofit created in 2002 to implement comprehensive revitalization in the H Street Corridor, said on its website that the redevelopment underway is “a powerful indicator of the desirability of H Street.”
“We’re all rooting for each other,” said Sandra Basanti, an owner and manager of Dangerously Delicious Pies on H Street. “We all want the street to do well and we all want each other to succeed.”