When the city leveled two D.C. office buildings near Chinatown last fall to make way for the downtown arena, it relocated workers to a building in the hinterlands of Southwest. Complaining that the area lacked affordable lunch spots, city workers asked the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to allow a hot dog vendor to park on the sidewalk in front of their building. The seemingly innocuous request has set off a bureaucratic chain reaction that would make Al Gore apoplectic. An emergency zoning rule change allowing two food carts at the new site went into effect Dec. 13, but the rule is only good until April 8. After that, city workers may have to start dieting. Last week, DCRA held a hearing to decide whether the temporary hot dog stands could become permanent ones. But that request was only one of dozens presented to a lone administrative law judge who is reviewing all city sidewalk zoning regulations. In the past three months, the judge has heard from everyone from vendors petitioning for additional venues to merchants trying to evict the T-shirt sellers outside their shops. She will have to make a decision on many of those cases before she rules on the Southwest site, but the D.C. workers should get a decision sometime before the millennium. DCRA spokeswoman Janet McCormick says, “The judge will have to take her time considering each case.” But McCormick says her office is trying to find a way to “provide enough food for employees while not detracting from the intended use of the area.” CP