On Monday December 11, 2017, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) voted unanimously against a set-down hearing at 501 I Street SW. With this vote and a subsequent report, the ANC sent a clear message to the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission that a zoning change at the site is not appropriate. In a neighborhood of three-story townhouses and a two-story elementary school, Erkiletian Construction Corporation and Shakespeare Theatre (Erkiletian/STC) proposed two five-story buildings.
Neighbors testified about the issues most relevant to the question of a set-down hearing, though the full list of concerns was four times as large. For the December 11th meeting, the ANC heard from neighbors about the following:
- Erkiletian/STC’s continued attempts to subvert community planning efforts codified in the Future Land Use Map, the Generalized Policy Map, the Comprehensive Plan, and the Small Area Plan.
- The experience of a homeowner who followed the rules, was denied a zoning change to increase the height of her house, and now faces the prospect of having her solar panels blocked by a building taller than her house.
- The unclear contractual and financial relationship between Erkiletian and Shakespeare Theatre. An Erkilteian family member claims full ownership of the property promoted as “The Bard,” which is alleged to be a cultural and institutional benefit to the community. (See here for Planned Unit Development Exhibit 2C – Stephanie Erkiletian as Owner of The Bard in a letter to the Zoning Commission. And remember that this site will be a vast majority benefit to the commercial, non-Shakespeare partner, who will profit from all the market-rate apartments proposed at the site.)
- A 3-foot by 185-foot potentially misappropriated piece of land at the border between the Erkiletian/STC property and Amidon-Bowen Elementary School.
- False claims in the proposed Planned Unit Development (PUD), like how the area around the site is commercial, how 6th Street is 100 feet wide, how the site could hold no more than 12 townhouses, and how a five-story building won’t block light to the surrounding community. In fact, there is no commerce around the site on any side; 6th Street is 42 feet wide; and the United Neighbors of Southwest (UNSW) commissioned a study that showed 18 townhouses could fit on the site (see previous post here). For the sunlight-blockage issue, obviously in such a already-closely-packed community, when you replace a two-story building with a five-story building, light is going to be blocked. (Note: UNSW actually found 28 falsehoods in the PUD.)
- All the places in the PUD that Erkiletian/STC say they are meeting requirements then subsequently request relief from the requirements. Parking was in that category as was Erkiletian/STC’s relief request so they can build a barren 50-foot tall wall just a few feet from the balconies of neighbors in the apartments building at the end of H Street.
- The fact 501 I Street SW is in a Neighborhood Conservation Area, where land uses are required by DC law to remain unchanged. Any adjustment to a Neighborhood Conservation Area requires a vote by the City Council and approval by the Mayor.
- The neighborhood’s lack of trust in Shakespeare Theatre given their history of broken promises to the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and to the neighborhood surrounding 501 I Street SW. See here for the most recent blog post about the status of promises in the September 2014 agreement.
- How Erkiletian/STC is attempting to undermine the rule of law with their proposals that do not respect D.C. institutions or the community.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners also spoke about their opposition to a zoning change at the site and their opposition to a Zoning Commission set-down hearing.
In particular, Commissioner Gail Fast spoke about how 700 residents participated in the crafting of the Southwest Small Area Plan several years ago. At the time, Southwest residents affirmed that the 501 I Street space should be for townhouses. In the Southwest Small Area Plan that resulted, the D.C. Office of Planning listened to Southwest residents and did not make a zoning change recommendation for 501 I Street.
Commissioner Fast also spoke about how she contacted the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly to review how well Shakespeare Theatre had met their obligations to the neighborhood under the November 2014 agreement. Commissioner Fast also found that Shakespeare Theatre had broken their promises.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted unanimously 6-0 to oppose a set-down hearing for the Erkiletian/STC Planned Unit Development. The question of whether a set-down hearing should occur now goes to the Office of Planning, which will make a set-down hearing recommendation to the Zoning Commission. In July 2016, the Office of Planning recommended against a set-down hearing on the previous Planned Unit Development. See here for the Office of Planning’s previous justification for recommending against a set-down hearing.