Zoning Commission Approves Set-Down Hearing

After much discussion, the Zoning Commission approved a set-down hearing for 501 I Street SW, which is case file 17-21. As part of the discussion, Commissioners noted that they were only allowed to review certain government documents and not others already included in the case file.

Commissioners voted to approve a set-down hearing in part to explore the issue of whether the Planned Unit Development (PUD) that Erkiletian Construction and Shakespeare Theatre proposed is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and United Neighbors of Southwest contend that the PUD is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. The Office of Planning, which has had some staffing changes recently, altered their position and now contends the PUD is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Commissioners said the only way for them to explore the issue of consistency with the Comprehensive Plan was to have a set-down hearing, which was approved as a contested case. Here’s a link to the most recent ANC opposition letter.

This is not the only issue where Office of Planning and the ANC are at odds. Certain elements within the city are currently proposing to strip the ANCs (and by default the communities they represent) of their say in community issues. This gutting would happen by a wholesale rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan that would essentially hand developers the keys to the city and remove many protections from communities. The issue of changes to the Comprehensive Plan is being taken up by the City Council in a March 20, 2018, public hearing.

The bill appears custom-made for developers. Here are just a few examples of concern:

  • Any plot in the city not built to the maximum allowable height in its area would be defined under the new bill as “underutilized” (213.4).
  • The Future Land Use Map would no longer “express public policy” but instead only “generally depict public policy” (225.1).
  • The current land use definitions would be eliminated and replaced by general descriptions open to subjective interpretation (223, 224, 225, 226).
  • Neighborhood Conservation Areas would apply only to low density residential areas (223.4) – generally only the city’s richest neighborhoods – and would no longer be intended to conserve other, less affluent, established neighborhoods (223.5).
  • Historic districts would be seen to have “unique opportunities for growth” (205.3).

Here’s a link to the text of Bill 22-663 “Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2018.”

This bill is part of an extremely worrying shift in the state of affairs in Washington D.C. over the last few years. It’s heartening to know that the Committee of 100 is completely against the changes proposed in 22-663, but individual voices must speak out against these changes, too.

Once Erkiletian Construction and Shakespeare Theatre meet certain preparatory conditions, a hearing date will be set to review their Planned Unit Development proposed for 501 I Street SW.

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