The construction of two fast-food restaurants side by side in the Penn-Branch community in Southeast Washington has started a battle that is being fought in the courts as well as in the streets.
Ground has already been broken for the restaurants -- Burger King and Church's Chicken -- at Pennsylvania Avenue and Carpenter Street SE.
The restaurants have already been targets of an unsuccessful January court suit to block construction, a neighborhood petition drive, community meetings and picketing.
Barbara Morgan, who lives around the corner from the restaurants, said she is angry because the restaurants, which are part of two different fast-food chains, are to be built next to each other.
"It is just terrible. The fast-food restaurants will bring congestion to our streets and will create trash and litter problems and invite dope peddlers," Morgan said.
Another resident, retired D.C. police officer Acford Voit, said he was upset about the Church's Chicken restaurant.
"Outsiders will drive through, pick up chicken and throw the bones all over Southeast," he said.
More than 450 people already support the petition drive, including nearby resident Mayor Marion Barry. The integrated group of longtime community residents and young professionals is ready to take its fight to stop construction of the restaurants to a Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing scheduled next Wednesday at the District Building.
The citizens will appeal an earlier ruling by a zoning regulation administrator who approved construction of the two fast-food facilities without consulting the community.
The community, which is just south of Fort Dupont Park and not far from the Maryland State line, has focused its attention on the fast-food restaurants, although there is a liquor store and a 7-Eleven convenience store nearby.
"We only learned that they were planning to build the restaurants last December," said David Lit, chairman of the recently created Church's -- Burger committee.
Maryland Kemp, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) representative for the area, said he and others were not able to determine prior to December what construction plans for the restaurants were because "we were deliberately misinformed by the restaurant developers.
"They didn't inform us about their plans and I think they were required to by law. We knew something was about to happen with the land through rumors, but we received a lot of false leads before we began digging through the city records and found the licenses for construction," said Kemp.
James J. Fahey, the zoning regulation administrator who ruled in favor of the restaurants, however, said the ANCs are not required to be told of new construction plans unless the developer requests a change in local zoning laws.
Lit, who lives across the street from the restaurant construction site, said residents made no attempt to change the commercial zoning requirements of the property while it was vacant for nearly two years, because the community was not opposed to "a restaurant" at that location. Residents became concerned after they discovered the Burger King restaurant had leased a portion of its land to the Church's Chicken franchise.
The owner of the Church's Chicken restaurant franchise, Andrew Stasio, who owns eight others in the Washington area said that if residents wanted to change the zoning before he spent money to use the land, they could have done so.
"These are the rules we have always played by. If the land is zoned commercial, we use it," said Stasio.
Stasio, who met with neighborhood residents last month in a meeting that one resident said only vented community anger, said this is the first time he has run into community conflict in the Washington area over opening a fast-food restaurant. Merritt Brown, who owns the Burger King franchise, also met with residents last month.
While the controversy continues, construction also continues on the Burger King restaurant. Stasio said he will wait until the zoning hearing next Wednesday before beginning construction.
Stasio also said the two restaurants, which will together employ between 75 and 80 people, take between 90 to 120 days to complete.
"We try to keep a nice clean family place. It is good for business. We also hire local residents and provide additional income for the local tax base," Stasio said. He said he has promised to meet with community residents anytime there is a litter problem.
Residents, however, say despite the promises, they fear customers will linger in the neighborhood eating chicken and hamburgers and spreading litter in their wake.
Lit said if residents cannot block construction of the two restaurants, they hope to stop them from adding drive-thru facilities. Residents also want to prevent the restaurants from having the drivewasy open onto O street SE, which Lit said would cause traffic congestion in the neighborhood.
Stasio, who said he is planning to request a zoning change in order to add a drive-thru facility, said he feels drive-thru facilities help the community because "mothers and sick children" do not have to stand out in the rain to buy food.
Some residents belivee the fight to stop the restaurants has already been lost. "We're not going to stop them," said John Grays, a retired general inspector for the Navy.