Several Petworth businesses push back on DC Council over Shell gas station moratorium

Shell Service Station at 4140 Georgia Avenue

The Shell gas station at the corner of Georgia Avenue, Upshur Street and Kansas Avenue has been the subject of recent press due to the moratorium on the sale of service stations in DC. A group of Petworth business owners have sent a letter to the DC Council in support of the redevelopment to create more housing density in the neighborhood.

WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle published an article about the Shell service station on January 4th, "Once A Gas Station, Always A Gas Station? D.C. Sued Over Law Blocking Redevelopment." In the article, Austermuhle writes:

A lawsuit has been filed over a quirky, decades-old D.C. law that protects full-service gas stations from closing down and becoming something else.

John Formant, a D.C. realtor and developer, is suing the city over the law, which all but prohibits owners of full-service gas stations — those that offer mechanic services and retail, not just gas — from closing and converting them to commercial or residential use.

When Formant bought the building in 2005, the original plan for the location was to remove the service station and put up a large triangular-shaped 54-unit condo building with street-level retail. But that plan was derailed by legislation sponsored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, who sought to preserve service stations in DC, protecting them from over-development. Austermuhle writes:

Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) says the restrictions are necessary, especially as property values in and around the city rise and owners consider uses that could be more profitable.

“Gas stations are an important service to our residents, and as some of the gas station operators are trying to cash out to developers, they are leaving us with fewer and fewer around the District, which is a hardship for many people,” Cheh said.

Petworth businesses disagree
A group of Petworth businesses have responded to the controversy by writing a letter to DC Councilmembers, Mayor Bowser and Attorney General Racine, supporting the redevelopment of the service station.

"I hear people asking for more housing," one Petworth business owner said to Petworth News, "but I haven't heard anyone asking for more places to get gas for their cars."

Their letter is published in full below, and is signed by the owners of Timber Pizza, the (upcoming) Capitol Cider House, Ruta del Vino, Annie’s Ace Hardware, Fia’s Fabulous Finds and Himitsu.

Dear Councilmember:

We write in our personal capacities, and as owners of small businesses affected by the changes made to DC Code §36-.304.01(b) by the “New Columbia Statehood Initiative and Omnibus Boards and Commission Reform Amendment Act of 2014.”

As has been discussed recently in the press, this law is preventing the owner of the gas station at the intersection of Georgia Ave NW, Kansas Ave NW, and Upshur Street NW from pursuing his plans to develop that site into a 57-unit housing development. We want to make three arguments:

First, commercial and residential development are mutually reinforcing--or should be. Our neighbors and regular guests enjoy the variety and quality of the offerings in Petworth, and they know that low residential density makes it more difficult than it needs to be to sustain such commercial density. Stifling residential development, as this legislation does, harms locally-owned small businesses like ours.

Secondly, there is no shortage of gas stations or mechanics in our neighborhood. There is a gas station two blocks to the south at Georgia and Shepherd and another six blocks to the southwest at 3501 14th Street. Similarly, there is a mechanic at the BP station at the corner of Georgia and Park. These are the closest, but there are many other options nearby. If your intention with this law is to fix a shortage elsewhere in the city, there is no reason to micromanage the composition of our neighborhood as part of those efforts. The solution to the very real problem of food deserts in DC isn’t to tweak the landscape of Tenleytown.

Finally, while there is no gas station shortage in Petworth, there is a housing shortage that is so dire, and so long-festering, that it has become a cliche. Everyone complains about the price and availability of housing, but laws like this prevent more housing from being built. Another 57 units would help relieve some of the pressure in the Petworth housing market.

Whatever the broader intentions of this legislation, we respectfully ask you to consider that it harms local small businesses, solves no problem in Petworth, and exacerbates the very real housing crisis that exists here. Whatever happens with the Council’s policy on gas stations more broadly, we ask you to stop preventing this station from becoming new housing units in Petworth.



Andrew Dana     
Timber Pizza

Jared Fackrell
Capitol Cider House

Justin Logan
Ruta del Vino

Annie Strom
Annie’s Ace Hardware

Fia Thomas
Fia’s Fabulous Finds

Kevin Tien