Photo by Bill Petros/The Current
Inspectors did not find overflowing trash when they visited during the day. Neighbors say the problems occurred at night.
Inspectors did not find overflowing trash when they visited during the day. Neighbors say the problems occurred at night.

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

Georgetown’s Marvelous Market is installing upgraded trash facilities — including a compactor and secure, lockable containers — after weeks of neighbors’ complaints about a rat problem originating there.

Neighbors blamed the market, located at Wisconsin Avenue and P Street, for creating a rodent problem in a previously rat-free section of the neighborhood by leaving its outdoor trash containers standing open and overflowing. Residents say the rats settled in adjacent backyards in the 1500 block of 32nd Street.

But with Marvelous Market eliminating the unsecured trash that residents said attracted and sustained the rat population — and the D.C. Department of Health working to clear rats from yards — neighbors said they’re cautiously optimistic the issue will be resolved.

“All these steps have not been completed yet so I don’t think we can say it is a ‘mission accomplished’ yet,” 32nd Street resident Joseph Olchefske wrote in an email Monday. “I am hopeful that these steps can be completed in the next few days, but until they are done we are going to need to stay on top of the issue.”

Theodore Boone, a former 32nd Street resident who now owns a rental house there, said he and other residents reached out earlier this month to Thompson Hospitality, the Virginia-based firm that owns the Marvelous Market chain. Boone heard back recently from Dan Mesches, chief operating officer of Thompson’s restaurant and retail arm.

“They seem to be taking it seriously at this point, so hopefully that’s good news,” Boone said in an interview.

In an email to The Current, Mesches said the company is experimenting with different trash disposal methods at the Georgetown Marvelous Market, such as the compactor — which has just been installed — and the locking trash bins, which he said are on order.

“Our relationship with our neighbors is extremely important to us and this issue is being dealt with in a proactive and aggressive manner,” he wrote yesterday. “I assure you we will persevere in rectifying this situation.”

In response to neighbors’ complaints, inspectors from the Department of Public Works and the Health Department visited the site, but did not find violations of city sanitation policies, according to spokespeople for those agencies.

However, the Health Department has been working to eliminate the rats that dug tunnels in the backyards of the 32nd Street homes, according to Gerard Brown, program manager for the agency’s rodent control division. Workers have already been to the site at least once, and will check back every two to three weeks to ensure the problem is solved.

The city’s policies aren’t so strict as to require that trash containers keep out all rats, Brown said, but food-serving establishments are encouraged to take whatever steps they can. “It was clean around the Dumpster any time we did the inspection,” Brown said, adding, “There’s been compliance, but the rats still have access to the Dumpster.”

When a reporter visited at midnight earlier this month, bags were stacked high and numerous rats were visible. (Photo by: Brady Holt/Current File Photo) When a reporter visited at midnight earlier this month, bags were stacked high and numerous rats were visible.
Public works spokesperson Linda Grant also said the trash containers were closed when her agency’s inspectors visited during the day; neighbors said the problems have always occurred overnight. A reporter from The Current visited the market at midnight earlier this month and saw bags stacked high above the lids of the half-closed containers, and numerous rats.

Part of the problem, said Mesches, has been people unassociated with Marvelous Market adding their own trash to the containers after the market closes; the locking bins, he said, will resolve that.

The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission is scheduled to discuss the status of the issue at its Sept. 4 meeting.

Commissioner Tom Birch, who represents the affected area, thanked Marvelous Market and the city for helping to address the rat issue, and he praised residents’ actions as a model for civic involvement.

“I think what the community needs to recognize is that anybody who might have a role to play should be engaged, and it is just as important to alert the offender as it is to alert the authorities,” said Birch.

This article appears in the Aug. 29 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.