Notes from Final Z Burger Community Meeting

Z-Burger, located in the Tivoli Theater, was originally set to open in Summer 2011

Last night, ANC Commissioner Laina Aquiline (1A05) hosted the final community meeting to discuss issues related to Z Burger’s public space application to have a sidewalk cafe. Z Burger’s proposed plan is available here. The outdoor cafe would be along the Park Road frontage of the Tivoli Theater. The DDOT Public Space Committee will hear this application on Thursday.

Public Space Committee meetings are open to the public and citizens are encouraged to attend. Meetings begin at 9 am. Preliminary agendas are available the Thursday before the meeting. The meetings are held at 1100 4th Street, SW, 2nd Floor, unless otherwise notified of change in location. Residents unable to attend may send written statements for consideration to

Approximately 30 members of the community attended last night’s community meeting including the owners of Z Burger and DDOT Public Space Committee Chairman Matthew Marcou. The three main issues in need of consensus were:

  1. The proposed removal/relocation of an existing granite bench;
  2. The proposed fencing around the seating area; and,
  3. The number and arrangement of seats.

The meeting began with Otto Condon describing the design history, process, and intent of the Columbia Heights Public Realm. In short, the goal of the design is that of all of the public space from building facade to building facade around the public fountain and down to the Metro to be treated as a large public plaza. Condon emphasized that sidewalk cafes were always intended to be a part of the plan and would help enliven the streetscape.  He also spoke to the goal of uniform furniture that would unite the space and how fencing off portions of the public space was contrary to the goal of the plan.

Community meeting about Z Burger's public space application

Peter Tabibian and Robert Sockwell, representing Z Burger, briefly presented their proposed design for the use of public space. They explained that they no longer proposed moving or removing the bench. They also explained their logic behind the seating they proposed.

Perhaps what was most interesting in the meeting was that the bench and seating were largely resolved issues between those in attendance. What wasn’t resolved was the proposed fencing. Z Burger steadfastly insists that the fence is needed to maintain the safety of families while eating at Z Burger (i.e. help keep children from running into the street) and to keep non-customers from using their area. Much of the community was opposed to the fence and wanted a much more open and welcoming environment.

During the discussion Mr. Tabibian was noticeably frustrated, dug in his heels, and refused to budge or compromise on the fence. He even stated that he’s considered just walking away from this venture. After much discussion about the fence, Commissioner Bill Brown (1A06) made a statement that he understood the need to have some control or boundary around a sidewalk cafe area. Following up, he posed the question as to if anyone was against some type of barrier other than a fence, such as planters or stanchions. The general mood of the room was that this was acceptable. Tabibian countered that planters required maintenance and he didn’t want those. Brown again followed up that there were other options that were not fences that could accomplish the same thing and asked that Z Burger consider them.

A lot will depend on if Z Burger continues to steadfastly insist that a fence is required for their business or if they are willing to look at alternative solutions that accomplish the same thing. ANC 1A will consider its resolution on the issue at its May 9th meeting.


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11 Comments on “Notes from Final Z Burger Community Meeting”

  1. Paul Jones Says:

    This is just amazing, I have looked at both plans for seating and the zburger plan looks just like alot of the other outdoor cafes in the area which all have railings to keep the homeless and others who are just hanging out. Let the man sell his burgers with a nice patio that is enclosed.

  2. RT Says:

    Yeah Kent, I think you guys are being ridiculous here. Overly meddlesome ANCs obstructing ordinary business yet again in the city.

  3. stevedavis78 Says:

    I’d have to say that I totally understand their desire for a fence or barrier of some kind. To me, it doesn’t damage the aesthetic of the public space in the triangle at all, it makes it clear that it’s seating for that particular restaurant. (And it’s not that deep at all, taking a bare minimum of sidewalk space, still preserving the extremely wide sidewalk there. Reasonable design on the plans I’ve seen.)

    Good urbanity usually dictates that it’s good to create a bit of an outdoor “room” for these kinds of spaces. If I’m eating there, I don’t want people walking through the tables accidentally, and I want to have the feeling that I’m part of the public space but also slightly separate. (Red Rocks patio creates this by virtue of its slight elevation.)

    This doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable request from the owners. Provided the materials used for any sort of railing are compatible with the design and aesthetic of the civic plaza materials and color.

    All that said, it does seem like something less fixed and permanent would work just as well. Like attractive stanchions that are movable with an attractive colored rope/chain between them that can be moved at the end of the business day, along with the chairs and tables (as I assume they will be.) There are lots of options for movable railings and borders that are flexible and attractive.

    I think his comment that planters would “require maintenance” is telling — we want you to have something of a quality that you need to maintain. Good public spaces require maintenance!

    But I do NOT want to see this disagreement result in the total loss of outdoor seating here. We need more outdoor seating and engagement with the public realm, not less.

  4. JS Says:

    It’s ridiculous that this has taken as long as it has. I honestly don’t understand the hangup about a fence – it looks like meddling for meddling’s sake, not any type of constructive effort that will improve the outcome.

    Things like this make the average citizen sour on ANCs in general.

  5. Katie Says:

    Honestly, having more restaurants with outdoor seating will IMPROVE the atmosphere! This section of Columbia heights is an attractive and welcoming place for people to spend time outside in a bustling urban environment. Having a place for people to eat an inexpensive meal outside will help this environment not hurt it. The fence issue is ridiculous–almost every other restaurant with outside seating has a fence. A fence takes up far less sidewalk space than a planter (inches vs. feet) and it’s very easy to find attractive fencing. I am so frustrated about this since it seems that what people want (a pleasant urban outside atmosphere) is the very thing they are fighting against!

  6. JG in DC Says:

    Lost in this discussion is that the addition of a fence completely violates the original plans for the space for the Columbia Heights civic plaza — which was developed with extensive community involvement, and which the Z-Burger crew seems to not really give a crap about. It seems that their general response has been to just come in and demand what they want, and then threaten to leave if they don’t get their way.

    Let’s be clear: Z-Burger KNEW about this design and restriction when they signed the lease for the place, and has since then worked to undermine it, rather than try to find a way to live within the constraints of the plaza’s design. If they wanted to be like “all the other cafes in the area” then they should have never picked a spot that was part of the plaza. It’s not like any of this was unknown to them.

    The notion of a firm coming in and basically saying “the hell with what the community worked to accomplish with the civic plaza — we want it like this instead” doesn’t do much to inspire confidence that they’ll actually be a good member of the community. I’m glad the community and the ANC is standing up and trying to do something about it.

  7. IP Says:

    How about one of those invisible f ences that they advertise for dogs?

  8. […] fight, which was summed up nicely by a local neighborhood blog, essentially revolves around whether or not the restaurant can put a […]

  9. […] be able to use the public space in front of the old Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights. There are lots of particulars to the situation, but the sticking point is over whether Z Burger should be able to erect a fence […]

  10. […] in July 2011, was further addressed at the September and November 2011 meetings, was the subject of community meetings in April 2012, and finally approved by the District’s Public Space Committee in May […]

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