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Historic Diner at Bladensburg Road Given a $5600 bill from Washington Gas

by Prince Of Petworth July 16, 2009 at 11:02 pm 24 Comments

SUC50014, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Remember the historic diner that was relocated to 1050 Bladensburg Rd, NE? Well, sadly they’re having lots of headaches. The owner writes an update:

“Right now, we’re going through the DCRA plan review process and hope to get comments back from the structural and health dept folks, the final two (out of plumbing, fire, electrical, zoning, health, and structural). Once we receive the comments, we’ll modify our plans accordingly, resubmit, and hopefully get building permit approval in a week or so after that.

Once permits are approved, we’ll build out as soon as possible, and hope to be open by September (if all goes well, but that’s a big if).

We heard from Washington Gas today (we submitted an initial inquiry into getting gas service back in April!). Basically, they say that there’s no gas pipe at our location (even though it’s visible and capped off) and want to dig up the street to install a new line from the main.

Here’s the problem: they insist we pay them $5600 to do this, as they claim their projected revenue over the next 2 years from the diner’s operation will not justify them paying for the cost of installation. I’m not sure what calculation was used, but they stated they would send it via e-mail. I would think operating over 100 hours/week (eventually 24/7, if we get open)– more than a lot of other places– and using gas the entire timewould generate enough revenue for them.

This is really shocking and disappointing. If we don’t reach a resolution with them soon, it may come down to us converting to all-electric or not opening at all (we can’t afford to pay rent on the land without being open). Pepco, by the way, has been awesome so far and very responsive, but it would cost us a lot to convert to all electric appliances. Currently, we need gas for: oven, range, warming table, furnace, water heater, and griddle.

We’re just two neighborhood residents trying to do something good. We never imagined it would be so difficult for the little guys.”

Can we do anything to tell Washington Gas they are being unfair? Is Washington Gas being unfair? Should the local Council Member get involved?  How can we help resolve this situation?

  • Anonymous

    Try to get one of the columnists at the Post to write an entry about the little guy getting screwed over by Washington Gas.

  • anonymous

    This could really easily be a case of the pipes being identified with a different address than the diner owners have referenced in their inquiries. I’ve seen it happen before.

    Or it could simply be that the visible pipes in question are no longer in working order (has the site not been vacant for a while?).

    Maybe a councilmember could help get responses from Wash Gas more quickly, but if there really is no gas going to the site, then I think it is fair that the utility ask for the construction costs upfront.

  • crin

    I’m always baffled by people who don’t have their permits in order at the start of a job.

  • Reformed Somali Pirate

    Ahoy !

    Pull an excavation permit and dig it out yourself to the required depth. Pour the gravel and hire your own pipe fitter to lay commercial service grade gas pipe from the new meter Washington Gas will provide. Wash Gas will provide the specs.

    After hook up, test, and final inspection, ask Washington Gas Light for abatement and any usage credit and take whatever they’re willing to give. Work with them and they will work with you. Don’t fight them. They have lawyers you can’t afford. Natural gas service is essential in your business and has to be done right the first time.

    Until then propane tanks are a temporary option. Conversion to electric is not an option !

    Felicitations to you both Matt and Patrick on what you’ve accomplished. You’re almost there.

    Reformed Somali Pirate “Tantum Eruditi Sunt Liberi”

  • park view

    Why is it anyone’s problem but their own that they failed to research the site fully, to determine utility hookups before selecting a location? These guys don’t have any other burdens than the thousands of other businesses in the city. Get your stuff together and stop complaining about it!

  • Propane, propane, propane (sung to the tune of ‘Cocaine’).

  • I don’t think this is a case of the diner folks “not having permits.” As with their construction and foundation problems, they HAD the permits but DCRA came in at the last minute and said they had the WRONG KIND of permits/inspections. Then they find out that the architect they hired was a shady jerk who wasn’t licensed in DC. Every small business in DC has stories like these, dealing with bureacracy and permitting and licensing. Why do you think so many of the managers are surly?

  • Anonymous

    Just out of curiosity….have you paid DCRA their “consulting fee” yet? (cash only in unmarked envelope)

  • Just J

    I would try the office of the people’s council. I used them a few years back when I had a problem with Pepco. Im not sure that they advocate for businesses, but its a free service, and Im sure Washington Gas would rather solve a $5,600 problem through them than using one of their “lawyers you can’t afford”


  • LeeinDC

    I know of a new home in DC that paid about that much for a gas line. Wash Gas said the same thing about taking into account expected appliance usage. The same house I mentioned paid a plumber about 15K to have a water line connected (excavation, etc included). Gas and water are different, but comparing the 15K to 5K the 5k doesn’t seem so bad. This house has two large gas water heaters, a huge gas stove, and two huge gas furnaces.

    So. I think wash gas is not selecting the diner for a special extortion. Also, digging yourself will likely cost more.

    Of course, if there is already a gas line sticking up…

  • An old friend of my family used to have a business on H, and had a similar situation. He was told they’d have to run the new service, yet he could see a gas pipe in the basement. On top of that they said there was a long waiting list. He’s a plumber so he just hooked up everything and got free gas for years. haha… just saying…

  • I definitely don’t know the ins and outs of utilities and whatnot. But a couple things come to mind.

    1) Is this the first time you discussed the gas hookup with Wash Gas at a location that did not contain a structure with gas service previously? I would think that’s part of your due diligence. Putting a new structure on an empty lot is not exactly a typical kind of operation.

    2) In the big picture, an unexpected $5K to open up a business doesn’t seem like a lot of money. I get surprise expenses like that every once in a while just keeping my house in one piece.

    It takes a lot of money to start a business. If you are so close to the edge that it’s “not open at all” if you have to pay this, then I’d be really, really worried. What if you don’t make a profit for the first six months or a year which is very typical for a new business? Don’t you have any margin for error?

    I am not trying to be critical but just realistic. Of course everyone wants to see small businesses open and succeed, but it’s still business, and it takes money and patience. Most food service businesses can’t open with less than $100K or more once you’re talking about equipment, build-out and contingencies. Going into this with so little margin for error seems extraordinarily risky.

  • Anonymous

    Good luck with wash gas. My residential service got cut off a month after moving in due to their mislabeling and it finally took a call to their PR department to get it turned back on. I’m guessing you got to work with their downtown office and not the POS Accenture outsourced call center.

  • Sunny Florida Avenue

    Go to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and request help (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, suite 317)

  • RD

    Sounds like the leaders of this venture were woefully unprepared for this kind of undertaking. Why should it be up to the local community to try and fix what one would think would be routine expected problems with something of this magnitude.?

  • not telling

    ‘crin’ doesn’t even know what a permit is clearly. comments like that should just be deleted.

    I’m with most of the other comments. Wouldn’t information about available utilities have been provided when the diner owners bought the land? If they didn’t buy the land, shouldn’t they have investigated the utility situation first? As the property used to be a used car lot, it would seem lazy to simply assume that all the necessary utilities for a restaurant are available. And like someone else said–do the owners not have a contigency fund for things like this? It is pretty essential for any business owner.

  • Hurleybird

    I second the idea of contacting the Office of People’s Counsel. Private companies like Washington Gas that are granted a monopoly by the government are generally required to provide universal service even if they will lose money on a given location (that’s the point), though I don’t know if this applies to business locations to the same extent as to residences. OPC’s primary (sole?) purpose is to make sure monopolies live up to their obligations to the public. They helpful and straightforward. It’s worth a shot. Good luck!

  • Neener

    I don’t want to be a jerk here, but back in the day this kind of behavior- DCRA permit crackdown- was to be expected if you didn’t bribe someone.

  • Neener

    Jamie at 8:55 is right. This story doesn’t sound good. This reminds me of the Vegan Diner mailing list I was once on- those people didn’t have the first clue how to run a real world business but were able to do the online part just fine.

  • Odentex

    Vegan Diner? Blech. That’s like a Mormon Stripclub.

  • pinto

    that stinks. It sounds like typical DC bureaucracy to me- that is so frustrating- especially since they took so long to get back to you. If it were me, i would ask the plumber if he could test to see if there is gas in that pipe. And if there is and they say there is not, then, well.. what the heck.

  • Reformed Somali Pirate

    Interesting how support and empathy from our community just trickles for the doers and risk takers that make something of their lives, something that produces exponentially, that provides work for others to produce something of value for themselves and a community specifically in need, something that cleans up a street, churns the economy, and all the related tax revenues derived therefrom.

    And then how that same community’s support and empathy pours without end for the unproductive, the sloth still healthy, walking and able, with housing, food, utilitities and all manner of assistance and handouts, again without end.

    Where are our priorities as a community ?

    This country was built by risk takers in a sadly diminishing private sector.

  • Neener

    I can say Somali pirate that you didn’t understand half of what was being written above.

    By definition risk taker are risk takers. Prove it that they aren’t? Then show how your comment tries to redefine the meaning of the word.

  • Reformed Somali Pirate

    Thank you kindly for your reply, Neener.

    Your’re probably right, I don’t understand much of what’s written here.

    What I am trying to illuminate, or perhaps as you write redefine, is our blurring perspective of things, the mistaken perception of the private and public sectors nowadays so starkly evident here in Washington.

    How quickly we pass judgement on individuals that bring prosperity to a street in urban blight. How the District of Columia has since home rule become so unwelcome to business and private investment mistakenly thinking that the public sector will make things better when history proves that it just can’t in a sustainable manner resulting in our current conditions.

    We have sadly a diminishing private sector currently. Soon there will be nobody left to tax and consequently nobody left producing, building, and making things of sustainable value.

    Those in the real world private sector whose future livelihood is uncertain can better understand this than those whose livelihood comes from perpetual tax revenues.

    Governments, local, state, and federal cannot tax each other. Consequently, the public sector and its payrolls’ only source of revenue is its myriad of taxes upon the private sector that struggles to survive on regular basis. There is no chicken and egg debate there.

    While others wouldn’t dare, here we have two men willing to set up shop on a vacant lot in a neighbor in need and blight. Their sustainable efforts should be welcome.

    Diners serve up daily meals three times a day, not contraband.

    Private sector efforts are progress and sustainable prosperity, but here in D.C. they have become increasingly unwelcome by the social engineers without license and our elected spread the misery central planners that govern by ration.

    Enough said on this sunny Summer afternoon in our nation’s capital.

    May you have a good one, Neener.

    Reformed Somali Pirate “Tantum Eruditi Sunt Liberi”


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