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American Flatbread Fights For Right to Open Patio

by ARLnow.com June 25, 2010 at 3:22 pm 3,737 62 Comments

American Flatbread, the wood-fired pizza restaurant that opened on North Fillmore Street in Clarendon last year, is fighting county officials and community associations for the right to open an outdoor patio.

In an exasperated email sent to customers this morning, restaurant management claims they were misled by building owners about the ease with which they would be able to obtain an outdoor seating permit. The email bemoans the “mixed signals, confusion and thousands in lost revenue” caused by the year-long, fruitless effort to get a permit.

The homeowner’s association president for the townhouses across the street from the restaurant “has made it his personal goal to use his new position of HOA president to attack all of our seating,” the email says. The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association has also joined the effort to block outdoor seating, despite efforts to find a compromise, according to the email.

“I have gone to meetings of these associations and offered many compromises (close by 9pm, no music, the idea that our patrons aren’t the rowdy ones doing shots and vomiting on the sidewalk on the weekends),” a restaurant representative writes. “But the HOA president and his cohorts don’t want to compromise, they just want to flat out say no and deny you the pleasure and right to enjoy what every other restaurant in the County can offer.”

The Arlington County Board is set to take up the issue at its meeting on July 10. The Planning Commission will discuss the request on Monday. Public hearings may also be held, according to county documents.

American Flatbread has started an online petition to boost its case for outdoor seating. So far, 277 people have signed.

Despite the online support, the restaurant — which specializes in organic and locally-sourced ingredients — seems to think it will lose the fight unless it can mobilize a sufficient number of people to show up in person. From the email:

We have received “off the record” information that the Arlington County Planning Division will recommend that the County Board DISALLOW our application for outdoor seating at their meeting to take place on June 28, 2010 in Room 307, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. at 7:00 P.M.  Why? Because [community association opponents] spent the day last Friday leading key Planning officials around by the nose, parading around our space and characterizing you, our beloved guests and patrons as, “loud, partying, drunkards” that would disrupt their privacy. The only way to defeat these folks is to turn out enmasse on Saturday, July 10 (8:30AM) at the Board Meeting and show your support. Appreciation Party to follow at the restaurant. Thank you for your support!

  • John Goilios

    Did you consider getting the opinion of the HOA? This ‘news’ site is so one-sided that it’s a joke.

    • If you’re a member of the Homeowner’s Association you’re more than welcome to share your thoughts rather than just criticizing the article.

      • LW

        Trust — but verify.
        It would be helpful if Arlnow.com published the factual history —– about the agreements that the developer of this building made with the adjacent neighborhood,the area Civic Associations, and Arlington County about providing a buffer zone in exchange for their support for a change in zoning that would significantly increase the financial worth of the building.
        It would also be helpful if the American Flatbread (AF) owner would publish the section of his lease (and site location map) that stated outdoor seating was allowed in the buffer area between the building and the adjacent residential home and where it says that Arlinging County permits are not required. Maybe the real issue is actually an legal one between the building owner and AF!
        It would be helpful if ARLnow.com published the fact that the Retail Action PLan developed by the building owner did not call for outdoor seating behind the building in the buffer zone that the buider agreed to provide as part of the consideration for being awarded a zoning change to improve the value of the property/building.

  • cj

    This building backs right up to single-family homes. When it was approved, the rear yard was supposed to be a buffer zone, not a patio full of diners, however polite. If the restaurant’s owners think they were misled, their complaints should be aimed at their landlord. They are not helping their cause or reputation by trying to stir up their patrons and quarreling with county staff and their neighbors.

    • Greg

      If the patio will be in the rear of the building, they are a little close to that house there. People will be sitting almost in their backyard (new meaning to NIMBY). Maybe they can extend the wall upwards or make some other concession.

      That’s a really tight space. I’m surprised the business owners didn’t take more care to make sure a patio would be allowed.

  • LP

    Petition now up to 282, with one vote coming from myself.

    As a homeowner around the corner from Flatbread, I have no issues with outdoor seating. It’s hardly a loud restaurant and rarely packed. Clarendon (and Arlington) in general needs more restaurants with outdoor seating that aren’t on the main drag (Clarendon/Wilson Blvds).

  • Courthouse Resident

    I’m really surprised if most residents are indeed so against working with what seems to be a very different, local community conscious company. This isn’t just a Subway trying to squeeze another location into the area. If the restaurant is willing to offer certain compromises – the residents, HOA and County Officials should try work with the restaurant to reach an agreement.

    And as for this website – I think for the most part this news blog seems to present pretty unbiased and straight forward stories. A lot of stories I find on here – I don’t read/hear/see anywhere else. If it seems too biased – then leave a more meaningful comment presenting your view instead of calling it a joke. At least it provides a forum for residents and businesses to discuss the stories.

  • st

    i agree with LP! And, I live on Clarendon Blvd.

  • diana

    Actually “CJ”, all the restaurant is doing by telling its story and asking its patrons for assistance in this matter is making the Homeowners Association president and members look like petty snobs. Perhaps Clarendon wasn’t the best choice for a home purchase if they do not enjoy all that comes with an urban lifestyle. The more flourishing businesses we have here, the better off we’ll all be!

    • Thes

      Diana, if you think a homeowner who buys near a commercial lot ought to expect compromise, would you also agree that a restaurant that opens adjacent to a single-family home ought to expect to compromise and be limited as well?

      • diana

        No I don’t expect that. I expect a homeowner to be more cautious and wise about their investment. If they know they won’t enjoy what comes with living near a commercial lot, then DUH, don’t buy a house adjacent to one!

        • Thes

          I’m surprised you expect a homeowner to be more “cautious and wise about their investment” than a business owner. I’d expect a diligent business owner to look up what the law says is allowed on his property, rather than expect the law to change however he pleases and without regard to whether the site is completely surrounded by residential property.

          • diane

            key words you used: “his property”. it’s not the HOA’s property.

          • Thes

            Well, first of all it’s NOT the restaurant’s land, after all, to that extent I mis-spoke. The property’s actual owner previously agreed to give up his right to outdoor seating (and other things) in exchange for extra building size. Now the new owner, in cahoots with the restaurants wants to renege on that deal.

            Zoning laws and these types of agreements help keep the peace among neighbors. Noise and odors don’t obey property lines. After thought, I doubt you would likewise support the homeowners right to use their property next to this patio however they please, too. For example opening up a trash sorting facility or a coal processing plant right next to those diners? Too extreme? How about a beehive? That might actually be allowed.

        • James

          Diana,

          You realize that this homeowner was here long before the building that houses American Flatbread was there? You do realize that 10 years ago that was a pretty quiet off the beaten path section of Clarendon?

    • cj

      Doesn’t this (or any other business) want its neighbors to be customers too? At minimum they will have to coexist. Flatbread will get its patio, if at all, only by showing that it will be quiet, small-scale and non-disruptive. Stirring up hundreds of partisans doesn’t help its cause.

      • diana

        But the HOA, I’m assuming it’s yours, hasn’t even allowed the business to demonstrate that it will be quiet small-scale and non-disruptive. From what is provided here, you’ve just tried to shut them down for the last year. And, there’s nothing wrong with stirring the pot; if your HOA is willing to represent on your behalf, other Clarendon residents and patrons can certainly represent on behalf of the business! You guys are coming to bat as a group, why isn’t the restaurant allowed the same?

        • cj

          I have no connection at all with the HOA and have not seen enough of its position to know whether I agree or not. I do have some familiarity with the terms under which this project was approved in 2004. Those terms included using the rear yards as landscaped buffer space between the tall, half-block-long new building and the much smaller existing homes along Edgewood St. behind it. There was no suggestion by the applicant at the time that the rear space might be used for commercial seating or events. Changing that policy now doesn’t seem warranted.

          On the other hand, I would support outdoor seating along Fillmore St. as long as enough sidewalk is left clear for pedestrians.

  • Neighbor

    Part of the problem is that the residential neighbors get “hit” twice. First, when the developer is building the building and wants to build the largest possible space, pushed out to as close to the curb and adjoining houses as possible. The neighborhood and the association ultimately agreed to the construction of the building, contingent on certain conditions – among them a buffer from the houses and sidewalks of a certain width. It’s not like any of that space is all that vast. Now the tenant, understandably, wants to use some of the space that was designated as buffer/sidewalk and the neighbors want the County to uphold the bargain that was made when the building was constructed.

    Personally, I think the County should ASSUME that any building being built that has a restaurant, bar or coffee place in the targeted marketing plan should be required to set aside patio space out of the building footprint or make it clear to tenants that outdoor seating is not available. This would be better than leaving its future tenants to fight it out with the neighbors who have already “given at the office.”

    As best I know, the HOA is not objecting to sidewalk seating on the Fillmore Street side – just the rear buffer and along 11th street, which are residential not commercial.

  • Efrem Hornbostle

    Sign the change-of-government referendum and change Arlington County government structure once and for all.

    If there was a County Supervisor representing the magisterial district where American Flatbread resides, the residents could go directly to him/her to voice the truth about this matter instead of some snot nose liberal HOA president having more power than Pope.

  • JoshS

    Efrem – frequently wrong but never in doubt… again. The potential change in govt would have no effect on the power of the HOA’s. None. It’s probably an indication of how successful the petition drive is that you need to resort to distortions and lies to convince people to support it.

  • Lou

    @Neighbor raises a good point. The County sets up these types of disputes by repeatedly extracting concessions from developers with the reward being bonus density. It’s a trade off, because the concessions are often benefits to the community as a whole, but they result is bigger developments and zero-lot-line construction. Does anything in Arlington get built at “standard density” anymore? The County should revisit their concept of bonus density vs standard density because I don’t think the definitions stand up in practice anymore.

  • Efrem Hornbostle

    The power of the HOA is not being questioned lib, good try at creating a strawman.

    Having a County Supervisor with a district where American Flatbread resides would provide an additional venue for citizens to voice their opinions regarding this matter.

    In lieu of the current at-large structure where County Board members ARE NOT held accountable, a County Supervisor that is held accountable could very well intervene, with the interest of a small business in mind, and try to resolve it accordingly.

    Are you a dumb lib or a smart progressive?

    • Fair Game

      In front of a grocery store last weekend, a change of government proponent said we need districts because “three Board members live in 22201” and no one else gets adequate parochial representation. But in this case, the restaurant and local patrons from 22201 who want the sidewalk cafes don’t have enough political power either?

      • cj

        Remember that the neighbors also live in 22201.

    • JoshS

      Efrem – your words “instead of some snot nose liberal HOA president having more power than Pope.” That’s not questioning the power of the HOA’s?

      Flail on, Effie.

      • Jonathan

        Please don’t feed the trolls.

  • LM

    The rear “patio” area was always meant to be an unactivated buffer and there was much discussion about the importance of such a buffer during the original Proffer hearings in July of 2004. This is true of ALL similar zoned buildings (three built and one approved) in Clarendon. The residential properties bordering these properties existed long before the buildings were constructed and the buffer was meant to protect the adjoining residential properties quality of life. If American Flatbread had read their lease and the attached Proffer they would have known of their potential predicament.

    Changing the rules for this establishment subjects ALL other properties to precedent which we cannot allow. Indeed this affects not just one HOA but four Civic Associations with 1,000’s or residents. Allowing your neighbor to have party in their adjoining backyard on occasion is one thing — certainly not seven nights a week – no matter how well behaved your neighbors might be!

  • diana

    LM, thanks for providing that information. I will say that learning that does help me understand the residents side more. What I don’t understand then is this, is Flatbread trying to construct their outdoor space in the “buffer” zone?

    • LM

      Exactly — trying to construct on a Patio which is directly in the buffer area. This area is directly behind the rear yards of homes on Edgewood Street — there is a four to seven foot wall (non-noise absorbing material) dividing the Patio from the homes rear yards. AFB proposal was for a six(6) foot walk between the outdoor seating and the neighbors rear yard. There is NO objection to seating outdoor on Fillmore Street and for up to 25 feet on 11th Street — but no more than that. So bottom line is that American Flatbread could have outdoor seating — just not as much as they were asking for!

      • diane

        are you sure that’s the case with 25 ft on 11th? because according to flatbreads website, the HOA president opposing this, townhome is located across the street from flatbread, on 11th- and not around the rear of the building on edgewood; so if that’s the case, i don’t see what right the HOA has in objecting to this; its not their backyards!

        • Mike

          How dare you question the right of any citizens or groups to demand that zoning laws are enforced? What nerve.

  • diana

    and I ask that because this article states the HOA townhomes are located “across the street”, so how can a sidewalk across the street be the “buffer” zone?

  • Laima

    I am all for patio dining but not facing a residents back yard. I agree with the HOA regarding the space considered a buffer. The value of their property would be decreased considerably if the restaurant is allowed to put in a back patio. Hopefully the County will listen to the homeowners who pay plenty in real estate taxes.

  • I’m sure all those people who bought townhouses two blocks off the main drag in Clarendon are shocked – SHOCKED – to find there might be noise near their homes.

    • Thes

      Miles, I think you hit it on the head when you said “two blocks off.” How many blocks off should you have to go in order to expect your back yard to be another Whitlows? Three? Seven?

      And what about the restaurant? They are also “two blocks off” the main drag. As in “not on the main drag.” Should that mean anything for them? If you scope out a restaurant site and see someone’s home in your back yard (say, a home that has been there for 70 years or so) should you have any lower expectations than someone who opens up on Wilson Boulevard?

    • LW

      Interesting perspective Miles —- however,

      Have you considered the agreement that the property developer made with the adjacent neighbors, the area civic associations, and the county to maintain a “buffer zone” in exchange for upgrading the zoning to allow for a more valuable development?

      Have you considered that the retail plan for this building — submitted by the developer — and approved by the County — does not call for seating in the area between the building and the adjacent residential property?

  • MB

    I think the houses affected are ones that were there before all that development, right? Not the block of townhomes behind Barnes & Noble, but original construction. So while it doesn’t give free reign for NIMBYism, I can understand being annoyed if they’d worked hard to secure assurances of a legit “buffer zone” only to find a new arrival trying to encroach on it. As stated above, I suspect American Flatbread’s real complaint should be with the building owner. All that said, I’d still like to sit outside and enjoy a good pizza there.

    • Thes

      MB, it’s some of each. Directly behind the patio is a single-family home, and 40 feet away across the street are townhomes built as part of Market Common. All of them bought their homes when a “buffer zone” in this location was explicitly planned for and/or eventually built at the Flatbread patio location.

      • diane

        but the dining area that would be across from the townhomes, isn’t affecting the buffer zone on that side, correct?

        • LW

          The majority of the outside seating would actually be in the “buffer area” between the building and the adjacent residential neighborhood —- the area promised by the building developer to be a landscaped and secured as a buffer area. This is a radical change from what was promised by the building developer when the area residents, the local civic association, and the County Board initially approved this building. The building has gotten the financial benefit of the zoning change —- so why should the buffer agreement not stay in place?

          • Greg

            But to clarify, Thes seems to be implying that the townhomes derive some benefit from a buffer zone. I don’t see how that can be the case.

            When you look at the area and see how close the patio is to the single family home behind it, I see how that homeowner would have a valid objection.

            The townhomes are across the street. I don’t see why they are involved in this at all. Maybe the answer is to allow a narrow strip of outdoor seating on the sidewalk, similar to what Whitlow’s has.

  • John

    The county, the developers and the hoa a made an agrreement. Everyone sahlud abide by it. Sure the current tenant is goign toge well behaved, but in 3-5 years maybe ownership changes, or the tenant changes and then youve got 2 am beer pong in your back yard. The restaraunt owner sholud have done their due dilligance. A change over govern net would actually be more of and advantage to the restarqnt, since one at large rep and the other 4 ward reps outside the location provably want to sit outside and will gladly take the businesses owners contributions. There only thing cog will bring is a bunch of right wing lawsuits against every ordinance on the books as they try to use the dill on rule to undo what they can’t do through elections. I’ve asked some very basic questions on the Better Arlington facebook group about this, and I’m still waiting for a denial or a challenge to these inquiries.

  • Mike

    Organic and locally sourced. Don’t we have enough hipster d-bags around here already?

    If they opened a patio up behind my property I’d be blasting music and leaving cat poop out to add to the ambience.

    • cj

      You do keep adding to your reputation here for tasteful and constructive remarks.

  • LW

    Trust — but verify.

    It would be helpful if Arlnow.com published the factual history —– about the agreements that the developer of this building made with the adjacent neighborhood,the area Civic Associations, and Arlington County about providing a buffer zone in exchange for their support for a change in zoning that would significantly increase the financial worth of the building.

    It would also be helpful if the American Flatbread (AF) owner would publish the section of his lease (and site location map) that stated outdoor seating was allowed in the buffer area between the building and the adjacent residential home and where it says that Arlinging County permits are not required. Maybe the real issue is actually an legal one between the building owner and AF!

    It would be helpful if ARLnow.com published the fact that the Retail Action PLan developed by the building owner did not call for outdoor seating behind the building in the buffer zone that the buider agreed to provide as part of the consideration for being awarded a zoning change to improve the value of the property/building.

    LW

    • diane

      the problem i see here now LW, is that the homeowner’s of the one residential home in the rear on edgewood should be objecting to this; why is the HOA of the townhomes objecting when the outside dining on their side would not be intruding on the established buffer zone?

      • LW

        Good questions Diane.

        1. I suspect that the homeowner of the residential home directly behind the building has filed an objection with the county.

        2. The majority of the new outdoor dining (the patio area behind the building) would in fact be located in the “buffer zone” that the building developer agreed would remain undeveloped —- as part of the agreement to change the zoning and significantly increase the redevelopment worth of the property. This is well documented in County records. Adjacent neighbors, the local civic association and others supported the developer with the understanding that there would be a buffer zone behind (east side) the building. The County Board meeting on this matter is available on video at the Arlington County library in the Courthouse sector.

        Perhaps the AF manager has a legal issue to resolve with the building owner with the representations made in his lease?

        Thanks for asking Diane.

        P.S. Personally, I’ve been a happy customer of American Flatbread and have promoted them with my friends since they first opened —- and I am an unapologetic small business booster!

        BTY, I hope you have tried out the other excellent food places in the Zoso! We need to support all of them!

      • Josh S

        Yes, it may be odd for that HOA to get involved since it’s hard to see how their lives will be significantly impacted, but clearly the civic association has every right to get involved since property owners within their boundaries WOULD clearly be impacted.

        If the history as presented here is correct, then the Flatbread folks should concede. They’ve got their outdoor seating and the backyard seating would clearly violate the agreement made before construction started. Not to mention it’s not very neighborly to trample on the peace and quiet of your neighbors. Yes, I agree that those neighbors have diminishing expectations of peace and quiet, given their location. But, again, there is an agreement that is only a few years old. Abide by it and stop acting as if you deserve to be freed from it. It’s petulant.

  • Tom

    If arlnow wants to do some investigation, you should dig up the videos of the board meeting where this building was approved. There are links on the County website but they are not working for the videos (Item 57).

    http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CountyBoard/meetings/2004/jul/0710/index.htm

    The staff report is there too, but it doesn’t resolve what was discussed as far as outdoor seating. The videos I think may be available in the Virginia Room at library.

  • Jonathan

    I don’t see why the business is trying to stir up righteous indignation against its immediate neighbors here. This doesn’t sound like a case of well-behaved patrons being denied their God-given right to eat fancy pizza outside, as the business paints it. Sounds more like the county is being asked to honor the promises it made to the neighborhood years ago when the building went up. I’m sympathetic to the plight of the business, but it should really be going after whoever sold it a bill of goods on its lease.

  • dave

    too many over-educated, smarmy know-it-alls here. get over yourselves and stop wasting your days on back and forth message boards. ya’ll love arguing too much. go do something constructive.
    PS: fireworks pizza in court house is going to have a KILLER patio with amazing beers. in your face, over-priced flatbread.

  • diane

    lol @ dave; complaining about ppl contributing here, yet he contributes- and does so very maturely. *sarcasm*

  • diane

    @greg, that’s exactly what i’m trying to understand.

  • charlie

    The homeowner behind this property got shafted by the civic association, the neighboring HOA and the County Board when this project was approved. The homeowner behind this house, at the time, was living in a home that the family had lived in for 80+ years. They had requested that the building not be so high and not be so close and that the brick wall be done differently. But that wasn’t the view of the civic association or the neighboring HOA. They were so desperate to have a play power politics with the developer that they trampled the rights of 3-4 individual homeowners so that they could be powerful. If anyone thinks for a second that the “homeowner behind the house” has a vote, they are wrong. Things haven’t changed in the 6 years since that building was approved.
    I continue to be astonished at people who want the convenience of Clarendon but not next to their house, and, oh by the way, take METRO so our cars don’t clog their streets. Clarendon does not survive on the cheapskates who live there.
    Flatbread Company is also pushing the envelope with their proposal. CJ is correct that the area was intended to be a buffer. They should be willing to offer up a one year approval — allowing them to prove that they are good business people but that the sainted residents of Clarendon aren’t going to curl up and die because of their proposal. Well, that may still do that, but it won’t be their fault.

  • charlie

    The project was approved in July 2004. The Planning Commission recommended deferral. The community over rode the Planning Commission and lobbied the board to get the project approved. The Board seldom approves a project that the Planning Commission recommends for a deferral. Read what you want into that.

    At this location you can:
    1. read the staff report on the project;
    The staff reports says “MOST”
    Most of the open space would be used as a buffer between the proposed building and the one-family residential neighborhood located to the east of the site.
    and let us remember it says a “buffer” and it should be landscaped — what is that and don’t all nicely landscaped places have outdoor “patios”?
    2. see the public speakers; oh wait, the public speakers video has been removed. Definitely part of the conspiracy!!

    http://www.arlingtonva.us/Departments/CountyBoard/meetings/2004/jul/0710/index.htm

    • LW

      The video of the complete County Board meeting and discussion — with all the public speakers — and discussion with the applicant and the Board is available at the Arlington County Central Library and the Library office at Courthouse Metro. The applicant starts their presentation with recognition of the area residents and the landscaped buffer — applicant agreed with the buffer. No one —- the applicant, public, county staff or County Board talked about retail or outdoor cafes on 11th street —- all the retail discussion was focused on Fillmore Street. Good video to watch! Takes about one hour and fifteen minutes.

      The landscaping plans shown to the Board for the buffer are public record through the zoning office. No outdoor seating or patio area. All landscaping and walkways.

  • Bob

    When I walked by the restaurant tonight I made a point to look at the space in the back. As much as I enjoy outdoor dining, I have to admit I would not be very happy right now if I lived in either the single family homes in the back or in the townhouses directly across the street. I can now understand why the townhouses might be objecting. The patio – which we now know is a part of the buffer -is in direct eye and ear shot of the townhouses – too close in my opinion. I would not want to live where people were basically eating outside my front door – or in my backyard. The county can’t just take away what was promised to the residents because some people prefer to eat their pizza outside.

  • andy

    Seems to me that Flatbread’s issues should be more with the building owner for misrepresenting the possibility of outside seating, rather than the with the county and the surrounding neighbors who are only acting according to long-standing agreement. Seems very short-sighted and selfish of them to blaming this on the HOA – especially making it appear to be petty and personal. I have plenty of dining options in No Arlington/Clarendon – I for sure won’t be patronizing this place.

  • charlie

    Every siteplan in Arlington is a negotiated agreement between the developer and the County with excessive input from the community.
    Every siteplan is always up for renegotiation. An agreement was made but it can be changed. It is reasonable for a business to make this request and go thru the public process to see if it is acceptable. The Board of Supervisors will need to weigh the original agreement, the need to promote small businesses and job creation and tax revenue, the 250,000 people who live in Arlington and might go to this business and the needs to the 4 immediate homeowners.

  • Maggie

    I originally supported Flatbread but I only thought that this involved sidewalk seating, not a patio that backs on to people’s homes. As someone who works at an architect’s office, I am familiar with the process of siteplan approvals at the County. All this would have been discussed before the developer even broke ground.

    It sounds like there was a miscommunication between AF and the developer/or their representative who signed them up. AF should really take this up with the developer, legally, esp if they feel the information given to them before the lease was misleading. If there was a plan provided to AF showing what they were leasing, then there should be no question about what can or cannot be done with the premises.

    Unfortunately, it does look like residents and patrons are caught in the middle of their fight and it doesn’t bode well for the community. If AF feels they’ve been misled, take it up in court with developer.

  • SR

    Agreed. I’ve been to this place, and the owner doesn’t seem to treat his customers very well either. Now to hear all this, this guy sounds like an entitled jack*ass. There are plenty of good restaurants in Clarendon, not overpriced/limited menu/jerky like this one.

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