The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment denied an application last week that would have allowed the reopening of a restaurant in an alley near Franklin Square after residents complained that the prospective operator formerly operated a nude dance club a few blocks away on 14th Street NW.
Noting the transformation of the neighborhood that accompanied the construction of several new office buildings there, Edward W. Stimpson, chairman of the Franklin Square Association, told the zoning board that it "wasn't easy" to overcome the neighborhood's reputation as a center of crime and prostitution.
"We don't need another ['Benny's] Home of the Porno Stars,' " said Stimpson, alluding to the establishment that was owned by Roger W. Simkins until it closed in November 1984.
Simkins said in an interview after the zoning board's decision that he had wanted "to open an American restaurant, with fine American food" in the building at 1355 Green Court NW. Noting he did not believe any new nude go-go bars would be opening in Washington, Simkins said that it "certainly wasn't my intention" to operate such a club there and that he had made that clear at the public hearing.
The building in which Simkins had sought to operate a restaurant was previously occupied by Nathan D. Champion's, an eatery that was popular among professionals working in the lower 14th Street-Franklin Square neighborhood.
Champion's, which opened there in 1982 with a three-year special zoning exception allowing it to operate in the alley, closed earlier this year because of financial difficulties, according to owner Geoffrey Serrell. Lunch traffic had been extremely busy, but business was slack at night, he said. The block is bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, 13th, 14th and L streets.
When Serrell filed earlier this year for an extension of the zoning exception, his application noted that Simkins was under contract to operate the facility if the necessary permits were obtained.
Neighborhood groups quickly organized to oppose approval of the application. Testifying against approval of Serrell and Simkin's application at a zoning board hearing on Nov. 20 were members of the Franklin Square Association, Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chairman Clifford Waddy, residents of the D.C. Baptist Home and employes of area businesses.
John Adragna, attorney for the Franklin Square Association, told a reporter that his group believed the building's location near 14th Street and its planned late-night hours would create "a substantial likelihood that it would attract an element counterproductive to development of the neighborhood."
In announcing its 4-to-0 decision against the application on Dec. 4, zoning board members commended neighborhood groups' efforts to clean up the area and mentioned possible problems of noise, traffic and loading.
Zoning board member Charles Norris said he had not been satisfied with Simkins' explanation of what the activity at the restaurant would be after the kitchen closed.
But in turning down the application, board Chairwoman Carrie Thornhill expressed "concern about the future use of that property. I hope something comes, so that it doesn't decay and deteriorate."
But Serrell said after the board's decision that he is now "unsure" if he will be able to find a tenant.
Residents said they would not necessarily oppose the opening of another restaurant at the location.