Five Guys withdraws zoning application for Tenleytown location

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Five Guys had applied for approval to open at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

An application was withdrawn last month for the Five Guys restaurant expected open in early 2018 in an American University-owned shopfront at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment rescinded the case on May 3, the same day the restaurant’s attorney, Zachary Williams, withdrew the application for a special zoning exception to open the new fast-food establishment. Williams declined to comment, and neither Five Guys nor American University responded to The Current’s inquiries.

For some in the neighborhood, the Five Guys was an unattractive and superfluous prospect. Many argued that multiple similar counter-service restaurants nearby on Wisconsin Avenue — McDonald’s, Z Burger and Burger Tap & Shake — already offer residents more than enough options for similar fare.

Jon Bender, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Friendship Heights, Tenleytown), acknowledged he felt conflicted about the Five Guys joining the already “burger-saturated” avenue. “Most constituents were not thrilled about another burger place, and in general, most would prefer some kind of full-service restaurant,” he said. “On the flip side, we don’t want vacant storefronts.”

Neither Bender nor Leigh Catherine Miles, executive director of the Tenleytown Main Street group, had details on Five Guys’ withdrawal.

The ANC’s capacity to influence the Five Guys application in the past was limited by a lack of definitive reasons to oppose it, Bender said. And when commissioners approached the landlord, American University, with their reservations, Bender said the institution reasoned that the space needed a tenant. The storefront has been empty for some time, after playing brief host to several sit-down eateries like Firelake Grill and Ruby Tuesday.

On April 18, ANC 3E sent a letter to the D.C. Office of Zoning supporting the Five Guys proposal, saying the application met review standards.

Going forward, Bender suggested ideas for attracting more dine-in establishments to Tenleytown might include encouraging landlords to reduce rents and to avoid chain stores. However, he conceded that the kinds of businesses coming to the area hinge upon the rent they’re willing to pay.

While Bender admires the expanding dining strip at the Cathedral Heights portion of Wisconsin Avenue, with popular offerings like the Barcelona tapas bar and restaurant and the Japanese-style Raku, he noted that Tenleytown’s residential density is comparatively low. In addition, few non-residents browse the area — making sit-down establishments difficult to sustain.

As for the new uncertainty over Five Guys, Bender expressed concern that the location might remain vacant for some time now. “I really don’t know when it will be filled again,” he said.