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Wisey's Leaves BZA with 'Lots of Questions'

Wisey's owner Nabeel Audeh is trying to expand his Wisconsine Ave. cafe. Despite lack of support from the ANC at the Aug. 30 meeting, the case went before the Board of Zoning Adjustment Tuesday, Sept. 21 without much success.

Updated Sept. 21, 3:58 p.m.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment decided to continue its hearing on Wisey's request to expand the restaurant to the second floor until Oct. 19. BZA Chairperson Meredith Moldenhauer said the testimony from the architect, the Office of Planning and several neighbors without input from the ANC or directly from the owner  left her with "lots of questions."

Moldenhauer, despite the protestation of the architect, ordered the hearing continued and for the record to remain open. Between now and Oct. 19 the BZA requested that the architect:

 

  • obtain a resolution from the ANC;
  • work on plans and options to manage the trash and waste situation;
  • provide contracts on the pest control efforts on site;
  • submit a formal document with business hours;
  • work on an agreement to sound proof the second and possibly third floors;
  • have the owner prepare to answer questions about his carry-out procedures. 

 

Three neighbors testified in opposition to the project based on safety concerns, noise concerns and rodent problems related to trash management.

The ANC had been under the impression that the proceedings would not occur for the case. When officials learned of the impending case they submitted a letter to the BZA asking for a postponement; the ANC had not prepared a formal statement, based on the assumption that the Wisey's case would be postponed. The ANC will certainly take up the case at the Oct. 4 meeting.

Posted Sept. 21, 1 p.m. as "Wisey's Heads to Zoning Sans ANC Support"

Wisey's, a cafe at 1440 Wisconsin Ave., is a small space, like many others along that part of the street. With growing pains comes the desire to expand and offer more space to customers. But that change requires an exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) and before that, input from immediate neighbors and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). Tuesday's BZA calendar has a hearing scheduled to review Wisey's plans to expand to the upper floors of the building. However, on Aug. 30 the ANC ruled against supporting the application because concerns from a neighbor and what was ruled a lack of communication. It would seem Wisey's is tempting the fates.

The small building that holds the cafe is a mere 14 feet in width, leaving space for little more than a food prep area and a few tables. Owner Nabeel Audeh requests an exception from the floor area ratio and nonconforming structure requirements in order to expand to the second floor of his building. Currently the second and third floors are used as a residential space. By converting the second floor to seating, Audeh will go beyond the allocated mix of residential and commercial that the building is zoned for; hence the BZA application.

At the August meeting, the ANC expressed concern over the owner's plans. Though Audeh only seeks an exception to change the second floor from residential to commercial, the space is lofted with an open staircase between the second and third floors, prohibiting the third floor from being used as residential space. The ANC argued, that Audeh was essentially re-zoning the entire building, not just one floor.

The cafe owner might have gotten by with just that concern, but neighbors attended the ANC meeting to object to the changes. However, Peter Colasante, whose L'Enfant Galerie sits next door at 1442 Wisconsin Ave., and another neighbor raised concerns about extra noise from the new use on the second floor. Colasante complained that Audeh had not consulted him about the project. A heated back and fourth among neighbors prompted ANC Chair Ron Lewis to use his gavel several times and to scold Audeh for his outbursts.

The ANC determined that additional meetings were necessary to find a compromise between the neighbors and the business owner. The request was deferred until the Oct. 4 meeting.

So why is Audeh headed to the BZA today? Property owners can go before the BZA without ANC support, though the BZA generally pays deference to the input of the ANC and neighbors.

On Tuesday morning around 11 a.m. Peter Colasante was not at his gallery, staff member Maureen Taylor said he had already headed downtown to the BZA for the hearing. Despite the ANC scolding, Audeh did not come by Colasante's store to speak about him plans. According to Taylor, Colasante sent his architect and the store manager. Taylor said the two stopped in briefly during a very busy business day and that there was no real discussion on the future plans for Wisey's. Taylor said the plan to expand was just one in a series of problems including an increase in rats in the alley way. Certainly a side of Georgetown visitors do not consider.

The BZA hearing will give both Audeh and Colasante an opportunity to make a case. Check back for an update this afternoon.

William September 21, 2010 at 07:30 PM
That entire block on the west side between O and P, like its sister block on the east side between Dumbarton and O, is predominantly populated by blight-ridden shops which I am sure most residents of the village would be very glad to see finally expelled from Wisconsin Avenue. This at the very least so that the crumbling buildings which house them can be restored, and businesses where one would actually want to shop can take their place. Both Wisey's and L'Enfant are good eggs in this regard, and we need more businesses like theirs. It would be wonderful if these two gentlemen could come to terms on their differences, as we need more of their sort of establishments to get rid of their unsavory commercial neighbors and spruce up this part of the commercial district.
Allison September 21, 2010 at 08:52 PM
I had no idea that this zoning issue existed, but I wholeheartedly echo William's comment.
Shaun Courtney September 21, 2010 at 11:15 PM
William: Great insight. With a little time, patience and compromise, I'm sure the businesses will work this out. Part of the problem was the rush to expand, hence the BZA hearing even without ANC support. Oct 19 could prove to be a much less adversarial hearing. Allison: It's amazing the role that zoning plays in businesses, especially in historic areas. Thanks for your comment and interest!
Dave Roffman September 22, 2010 at 04:23 PM
I think a new sandwich is in order: the BZA MADNESS (crispy bacon, zucchini and artichoke on a croissant....$6.95). I like Wisey's!
Shaun Courtney September 22, 2010 at 04:25 PM
Next time I go in, I'll have to ask for one. I'll let you know if they carry it!

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