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Petition Opposes DashMart at Former Frager’s Site

More than 350 people have signed a petition to oppose a  planned Capitol Hill DashMart, raising concerns about safety and increased traffic. DashMart, a hub for order pick-up by last mile courier services, (including by bike or foot, as well as by customers. DoorDash already has permits to renovate the blue building that served as the temporary location for Frager’s Hardware after the 2013 fire to house the distribution hub.

But neighbors say that the street lacks the infrastructure to support such a high volume of traffic, raising concerns about safety for children travelling to and from nearby Watkins Elementary School. On June 8th, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B voted to appeal the building permit, arguing that the building does not meet required zoning conditions.

Neighbors say the zoning for the building is now inappropriate for what exists around the building since Frager’s came to the block in 2014. Allison Cunningham lives down the block from the proposed location. She said that more than 500 residential units have been added to that block alone. “My concerns are with safety. There’s clearly not enough parking there, and a distribution warehouse like the one they are proposing would have dozens, even hundreds of contract drivers coming in and out.”

Appearing at the June 8th meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B, Josh Neergaard, who will be General Manager for the proposed DashMart, said the site expects to fill 300 orders per day in the first six months, with 100 to 150 couriers coming to the site a day, some on bike or foot. Initial ordering hours for the site are 8 a.m. to midnight, but demand could expand hours from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. Deliveries are proposed to take place between 6 a.m. and noon.

Appeal of Building Permit

At the meeting, Commissioners unanimously voted to appeal the building permit issued to DoorDash for interior construction. The ANC is appealing the permit based on what it says are unmet loading and parking requirements related to the use of the building for warehouse storage and distribution and the 45 percent expansion in use of space. The ANC also argues there are no legal parking spaces, pointing out that the three spaces on the site are likely outside the property line. Other issues include the loading berth, which Commissioner Corey Holman (6B06) said is required to be on the alley.

On June 16, a spokesperson from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) said the DoorDash permit is under review. “The applicant was asked to submit a revision to the issued building permit to address the parking and loading issues and has agreed to do so,” said a representative. “DCRA will review the revision and make a determination as to whether the parking and loading issues have been sufficiently addressed.”

“DoorDash’s admission that the permit needs to be revised proves the point that the ANC was right to step in and appeal the issuance of the building permit,” said Holman. “I look forward to an apology from Mr. Freeman who told the community that ANC 6B is abusing the zoning appeal process.”

Attorney for DoorDash Kyrus Freeman argued that exceptions to these requirements had been grandfathered in, citing a zoning clause that allowed “an existing conformity to remain.” Freedman said there is no legal basis to file an appeal and that the company would view an appeal as abuse of procedure.

Holman said that commissioners look forward to seeing the revisions. However, “we still believe zoning-compliant loading is required on this site, as it has been since the building was built in 1960, and there is no indication that DoorDash will provide this through their permit revision.” He said the ANC would continue to pursue an appeal, although he was hopeful DCRA will step in and enforce regulations.

“I want to stress that I personally continue to believe there is a viable use for DoorDash at this building,” Holman said. However, the commissioner added, that requires a special exception to modify parking and loading requirements. Such a process would set legally enforceable rules on parking, loading, hours, and other aspects of operations to mitigate the impacts on the communit, Holman added. “This is what a business who wants to be a long-term good neighbor would do. Instead, we are here.”

Potential Impacts 

At the June meeting, the ANC showed photos of what they said were 40- to 48-foot trucks loading into the building without respect to public space, bike lanes and sidewalks. Holman said the trucks were “a real insight as to the potential impacts of this use.”

Neeargaard said that the delivery of store shelving via large truck came unexpectedly, and that the company was working with distributers to use small box trucks. “My role is to ensure the success of this business, and I feel very, very strongly that our long-term success is dependent on operating appropriately within the space and being a responsible member of the community,” he said.

However, commissioners pointed to what they said was a “vaguely” phrased permit application, arguing that not only did DoorDash not reach out to the community about the proposed DashMart, the lack of detail on the permit compelled neighbors to wait to see what was going into the site.

Attorney (and former ANC 6B03 Commissioner) James Loots spoke on behalf of property owner John Weintraub. Weintraub bought the property in 2014 to house Frager’s, which he then owned. Loots said during that 2014 acquisition, four legal parking spots and a loading dock in front were included in the permits. Loots argued that it was inappropriate to use the permit appeals process to control tenancy. He asked the ANC to consider the position of Weintraub as a reluctant landlord, who, Loots said, would never intentionally take any action to the detriment of the community.

The former Frager’s building is pictured on June 5, 2021. Photo: CCN

Nick Burger, a former commissioner who served at the same time as Loots, argued that the best way to address concerns with a new business is to confront potential issues with whatever means are available, including via the permit appeals process. He said the Zoning Administration should formally state whether DoorDash has met the zoning requirements.

“This isn’t about the property owner,” said Holman in concluding the discussion, recognizing Weintraub’s dedication to Capitol Hill. Holman, who is commissioner for the area, argued that a 60-day period for appeal of permits was in fact part of the process.

In calling the motion, Holman pointed out that DoorDash had not reached out to the community to discuss the impacts of the building use, adding that claims that a DashMart at the site “wouldn’t be a detriment to the community are simply an insult to us as neighbors, us as commissioners and us as a community.”

After the meeting, neighbor Cunningham said she was not satisfied by the company’s response to community concerns. “It was kind of laughable how offensive it was, if I’m frank,” she said. “DoorDash spins a good story about how they want to come in and be good neighbors, but they haven’t done anything to demonstrate that this is their actual intent.”

You can view and sign the neighborhood petition at www.change.org/p/d-c-city-council-stop-dashmart-in-capitol-hill

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