DoorDash will close the DashMart at 1323 E St. SE by the end of September 2022, according to documents filed with the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Monday, March 21.
DashMart, a hub for order pick-up by last mile courier services, opened last year in the blue building formerly occupied by Frager’s Hardware.
The document, jointly filed by DoorDash and ANC 6B, requests a delay in the hearing of an ANC zoning appeal to October, 2022. It outlines an agreement between the parties: DoorDash will cease operations on site and surrender all building permits and certificates of occupancy no later than Sept. 30, 2022. After that, the ANC will withdraw the appeal.
Holman said the compromise to close in September was reached with the understanding that DoorDash wanted to continue to operate through the summer. Even if the ANC had won the April 6 hearing, said Commissioner for the area Corey Holman (6B06), DoorDash would have been permitted to operate until an order was written, which could have taken another year.
“At DoorDash, our mission is to grow and empower local economies and support the communities we serve,” a representative said in a statement. “Due to a variety of factors, we have decided to phase out operations at the DashMart at 1323 E Street, SE in Washington DC over the course of the next 6 months. We are in contact with the affected employees and will continue to offer support to them during this period of transition.”
It is the end of a struggle that has lasted since last spring, when DoorDash faced vocal community opposition from residents concerned about increased delivery traffic on the site.
ANC 6B voted to appeal the DoorDash building permit at their June 8, 2021 meeting, arguing that the site did not meet loading and parking requirements related to the use of the building for warehouse storage and distribution, or considering the 45 percent expansion in use of space.
At the time, 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.” Representatives for DoorDash did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Commissioners also 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.
“It’s obviously good news for the block. It was an incompatible use, with all the changes in the last five years,” said Holman. He said the neighbors and the ANC want to continue to have a productive relationship with the property owner, former Frager’s proprietor John Weintraub. “I think it makes a lot of sense for that building to convert to residential and sort of finish the block.”
“Oh my goodness, that’s amazing news,” said Allison Cunningham. Residents like Cunningham who live near the site said the news was a win for traffic safety. Neighbors had noticed that DashMart had been closed for about two weeks. “It’s been very nice,” Cunningham said. While a few trucks continued to make deliveries, occasionally blocking bike lanes, she said they haven’t been blocking sidewalks.
As COVID restrictions were lifted and weather improved, Cunningham added, traffic safety concerns rose proportionately.
“Having everybody out and about is making me keenly aware of the existing traffic safety problems we have around Watkins and the athletic fields,” Cunningham said. “Bringing in the additional challenges of the DoorDash Mart continuing to operate would be a further challenge to safe streets and sidewalks in this neighborhood.”
More than 600 people signed a petition to oppose the Capitol Hill DashMart, raising concerns about safety and increased traffic. Neighbors said that the street lacks the infrastructure to support such a high volume of traffic, raising concerns about safety for children traveling to and from nearby Watkins Elementary School. Some began regularly posting photos to social media of delivery trucks blocking the roadway and sidewalks.
Reached for comment Tuesday morning, property owner John Weintraub said the request to delay the hearing was the first he had heard of the decision by DoorDash to cease operating at the site, adding that he had only received notice of the filing Tuesday morning. DoorDash was less than a year into their 5-year lease, Weintraub said.
“I really don’t know,” he said, asked for his reaction. “I’m quite angry and upset that I might be stuck with something that you can’t sell or rent.” Weintraub said he had struggled for nearly two years to secure a renter for the property after Frager’s vacated the site to move back to the Pennsylvania Avenue location in May 2019.
Plan to Rezone Site
Holman said that he will still ask the ANC to proceed with a proposed zoning change for the site. At their March 9 meeting, ANC 6B supported a motion to file a Notice of Intent to rezone 1323 E St. SE from commercial to residential use.
The reason the site is zoned for commercial use lies in the area history: the National Capital Brewery was built on the site of the Capitol Hill Safeway in 1891, later becoming Meadowgold Dairy (which closed in 1960). When the area was zoned in 1958, it was painted industrial with a broad brush. In 1984, ANC went in and rezoned much of it to residential.
After the devastating Frager’s Hardware Fire of 2013, Frager’s owner John Weintraub relocated Hardware sales to 1323 E St. SE, first leasing and then purchasing the property in 2014. That same year, the rest of industrial land on the block was converted to residential for Watkins Alley and Lockwood and now the site is now surrounded by residential uses. Holman said the property is designated moderate density residential in the future land use map and is also a neighborhood conservation area.
Frager’s returned to their original location in 2019, but Weintraub retained ownership of the E Street SE property. The property is grandfathered in so Holman believes it could be used for retail. Neighbors are supportive of the appeal, as when Frager’s left they had hoped for an interesting use of the site and were disappointed by Door Dash. “We’re just ring to set a vision for the block that matches the comprehensive plan,” said Holman. He added that he hoped Weintraub, who was present at the March 9th meeting, would be part of the discussion.
Weintraub’s attorney could not be reached for comment because of absence for family bereavement.