84 Year Old Zoning Fight Foreshadows Current One

When GM was digging through the Post archives the other day researching the Fillmore School, he came across a fascinating article from 1927. It described a zoning fight over the block facing the Fillmore School, on the eastern edge of Burleith.

According to the article, J.R. Hall owned the buildings on the west side of 35th St. between S and T. This block was zoned for residential use, however three frame houses on the block contained stores (presumably built before the residential zoning was applied). Hall proposed to knock down these small buildings and build “new and more ornamental” buildings to house more stores. He needed the block to be rezoned commercial in order to accomplish this.

Hall wanted to serve Burleith residents, who had begun to move in to all the new Shannon and Luchs houses. No commercial district was built into Burleith and the residents soon tired of walking all the way to Wisconsin Ave. for their retail needs. In fact, Hall presented a petition signed by a majority of the neighborhood’s residents in favor of his request. Even the Burleith Citizens Association was for it.

What stopped Hall, and the reason there are still no commercial buildings in Burleith is the topic from yesterday, the Fillmore School. A 35th st. neighbor filed an objection and his effort was supported by the PTA and several other citizens associations from across the city. Their arguments were based off of the belief that no commercial buildings should be in the immediate vicinity of schools. Assistant Superintenent of the Schools, Robert Haycock, argued against the change because, “experience has shown it disadvantageous to the education system and such stores become a factor in delinquency.”

The zoning of the block wasn’t changed. Whatever few stores were open have long since closed and the buildings either torn down or converted to residential use.

Without trying to draw too many parallels, GM will merely note that this fight over the location of commercial buildings in a non-commercial setting, is still going on. As described here, the Office of Planning is drafting up a brand new zoning code. When Travis Parker of the Office of Planning presented the rough contours of the plan to the Citizens Association of Georgetown in November, he emphasized that one of the core principles of the rewrite is to change the code in order to allow other neighborhoods become more like Georgetown. In other words, Georgetown already has great neighborhood stores like Sara’s and Scheele’s, but such stores are prohibited in most residential zones (and wouldn’t be allowed in Georgetown if they weren’t already grandfathered in). Under the zoning rewrite they will be permitted on a limited basis.

Not everyone is happy about this proposal. While the arguments are probably going to involve fewer mentions of student delinquency and more complaints about noise or traffic, the basic battle lines will be the same. Eighty-four years ago, the anti-mixed use crowd won, and to this day Burleith residents have a longer walk to get a jug of milk (and most probably just drive instead). The deck is stacked a bit more in favor of the other side now, but it’s not over until the DC Register sings.

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