The Papa John's Perplex

There’s a struggle under way between residents of western Georgetown and the proprietors of a pizza-restaurant chain that wants to locate at 35th Street and Reservoir Road NW. But there’s another conflict as well: Between Papa John’s and Papa John’s, which has established two different identities in its statements and official filings.

The site where the Papa John’s chain intends to open a pizzeria, 1659 35th St. NW, is zoned residential but is “grandfathered’’ as a restaurant. The site was a restaurant when the zoning was established in the ’50s, and has remained one since. Most recently the site has housed the Orient Express eatery, which closed about six months ago.

Under D.C. regulations, a restaurant is not the same thing as a fast-food eatery or a carryout, neither of which is permitted at the site. Orient Express was cited by the city for illegally operating a carryout, but that charge was dismissed by an administrative-law judge.

Mark McKnechie, a Maryland architect who has been representing Papa John’s, has stated that the proposed establishment will be “a dine-in restaurant.’’ In a March 25 letter to D.C. Office of Zoning Chief Pat Montgomery, McKnechie wrote that “nationally a typical Papa John’s restaurant would be primarily take-out, although there are Papa John’s restaurants that are primarily dine-in. Originally this location was thought to be mostly take-out, but as the concept progressed, it was realized a take-out restaurant would not work well in Georgetown and the concept was revised to be dine-in.’’

Last November, however, McKnechie applied for a construction permit for the site that specified that the number of seats would be reduced to 26 from 49. In addition, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans recently met with Papa John’s representatives who told him the establishment would primarily deal in delivered and carried-out pizza: “70 percent delivery’’ and “30 percent both carry-out and dine-in, with the majority being carry-out,’’ Evans noted in a May 28 letter to Corporation Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. Evans notes that he was told that pizza would be available only by the box, and no plates or silverware would be available.

That might suit the pizza place’s clientele, which would be drawn from nearby Georgetown University and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which is directly across the street. (Ellington principal Carolyn R. Wilson opposes the eatery, fearing that it would encourage students to leave the campus during the school day, which they’re not supposed to do.) No plates and silverware, however, doesn’t sound much like a “dine-in concept.’’ Rep. Tom Davis’ (R-Va.) office has passed on a complaint to D.C. Inspector General Angela Avant questioning why the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued permits to Papa John’s in spite of the inconsistencies in its application.

Ruff is scheduled to rule on the proposed eatery’s legality after a June 17 meeting with Papa John’s representatives. Even if he stops the Georgetown location, however, Papa John’s will probably not fold its tents. The chain has announced its intention to open two more locations, near Tenley and Washington Circles, to serve American and George Washington Universities. —Mark Jenkins & Bill Rice

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