After nine months of hearings, debates and revisions, the D.C. Zoning Commission again has changed the proposed regulations that would curb the spread of fast-food restaurants in neighborhoods.
The commission also has put off a final vote on the new rules until at least Feb. 11.
In the most significant change, fast-food restaurants would be allowed to build new facilities along some thoroughfares in major neighborhood shopping districts such as Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Anacostia.
The eateries also would be allowed to renovate free-standing, existing buildings in these areas, such as former gas stations.
Both new construction and renovations for fast-food outlets in the neighborhoods would need the approval of the Board of Zoning Adjustment. But restaurants would be allowed to locate in the downtown area without BZA approval.
The commissioners made the changes in regulations that had been proposed last summer. In that proposal, fast-food restaurants were allowed to locate only in a row building in major satellite shopping areas. The outlets also were prohibited from renovating gas stations and other free-standing buildings.
Fast-food restaurants currently are treated like any other restaurants and may locate in any commercially zoned district. But citizen groups last year complained to the zoning commission that the proliferation of fast-food restaurants was bringing litter, traffic and loiterers to adjoining residential neighborhoods.
Many community groups said they supported the recent revisions, particularly the requirement of BZA approval for some fast-food locations. "It's exactly what we would want so we can handle them on a case-by-case basis," said William Cochran, chairman of the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission. "The old regulations did nothing to answer the problems in Georgetown."
The BZA must hold hearings on all applications and those hearings give citizens an opportunity to air their grievances and strike compromises with businessmen and developers.
In the new rules, the commission also has changed the definition of a fast-food restaurant to include eating places with waiters and waitresses.
The new proposal will be published for public comment in a January issue of the D.C. Register, the city government's official publication.
Fast-food chains are adamantly opposed to the zoning commission's proposals, said Jerry Moore III, an attorney who represents Church's Fried Chicken, Hardee's and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
"The bottom line is, it's a lot more complicated an issue than the commission originally thought," Moore said. "What is a fast-food restaurant? Is it McDonalds or Wendy's or does it include Ben's Chili Bowl, Morgan's Seafood House and Swenson's Ice Cream? What's important is the impact a business has on a neighborhood. You can't just take a whole category of businesses and call it a rotten use."