Wendy's, the fast-food chain that seems to relish battles with larger rivals, has shied away from fights with citizens' groups in two Washington neighborhoods.
In two instances, Wendy's secured city building permits to construct new restaurants and then bulldozed the sites in recent days, one in the middle of the 7400 block of Georgia Avenue NW in the Shepherd Park community and the other at 4925 South Dakota Ave. NE in the North Michigan Park neighborhood.
But in both cases, before Wendy's could even think of selling a double cheeseburger or a hot stuffed potato, neighborhood residents organized protests against the added traffic, noise, debris and possible crime they believed the fast-food outlet would bring.
Wendy's, as it has turned out, listened to the complaints and blinked.
Now, at least for the moment, Wendy's says it will forgo construction plans at the two sites.
In the Shepherd Park case, Wendy's construction moratorium is contingent on whether or not the District government will carry out an oral pledge by City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) to build a branch library on the site.
At the other location, either the North Michigan Park neighbors or Wendy's must find some other commercial use for the property, such as for an office building, by this fall. In addition, Wendy's has agreed to help finance construction of the alternative project.
Harvey Rothstein, executive vice president of Davco Food Inc., the Crofton firm that operates 110 Wendy's restaurants in the District, Northern Virginia, Maryland and the St. Louis area, said that in both cases the D.C. neighborhoods "had no leverage" since Wendy's had already secured the necessary permits and the properties were zoned for restaurant use.
He said in the South Dakota Avenue case, neighbors "had some valid problems . . . so we voluntarily agreed not to build."
The site, once used as a gas station, is next door to a 7-Eleven, where some neighbors say as many as 100 youths gather at night, and across the street from a McDonald's restaurant and a small shopping center.
"I'm concerned with a drug problem that already exists and would be exacerbated," Leroy Swain, a McKinley High School social studies teacher and one of the nearby residents, said of the Wendy's proposal.
William Torrence, a D.C. Department of Corrections employe and another neighbor, said the youths already "run through our flower beds and we have to pick up wrappers all the time." He contended that the Wendy's would have "devalued our homes and brought in more crime."
Lucille F. Brown, president of the North Michigan Park Civic Association, said, "We were very tenaciousin the neighborhood. We're very proud of our neighborhood." She said there already are "just too many fast-food restaurants in one block."
While Rothstein praised his dealings with the North Michigan Park residents, he said, "I don't have anything positive to say about the community group" dealing with the Georgia Avenue site.
Some residents there accused Wendy's of evicting tenants from the apartment building that occupied the site and failing to notify residents that it planned to build a restaurant, Rothstein said.
John Urciolo, who owns the site, which is now bulldozed reddish-brown dirt, said he decided last year to close the 13-unit building and gave nine remaining tenants six months to move, as required by city law. He said he assisted the tenants in finding other apartments and that three of them moved to other buildings he owns. "Wendy's never entered the picture until the building was vacant," Urciolo said.
Rothstein said that despite his sour dealings with the community, he agreed with neighborhood activist Juanita Thornton's suggestion that a library would make the best use of the property.
"I will grant to anyone that a library is more important to a community than a fast-food restaurant," Rothstein said. "If the city condemns it in order to take over the land for use as a library , fine. Then we'll say goodbye.
"If the city doesn't condemn, I will build a Wendy's."