The Board of Zoning Adjustment met and considered again the variance application for Call Your Mother. This was a follow up hearing from an initial hearing in October. After some legalistic discussion, the BZA strongly encouraged the applicant to explore a slightly different approach and is scheduled to consider that alternative next Wednesday.
The application as it stood yesterday was for a use variance. As GM explained in the link above, they need to do this because the building is zoned residential (notwithstanding the fact it literally has never been used exclusively for residential purposes). Variances are tough to obtain since the burden is on the applicant to show, essentially, how they are uniquely burdened by the application of the relevant zone. This is compared with special exceptions, which can be granted simply so long as it wouldn’t unduly burden the neighbors.
At the hearing yesterday, the board heard another round of witnesses both for and against the application. However, the board appeared to have not really gleaned anything from these testimonies that they didn’t get from the October hearing. Reading the body language and tone of the board, it appears as if they would like to grant the variance, but they have a little heartburn about it. (You can watch the hearing for yourself here.)
Before granting the variance, the board encouraged the applicant to explore whether the application wouldn’t be eligible under the corner store rules. In short, under the 2012 zoning rewrite, corner stores can be used for commercial purposes in certain residential zones, including here. In Georgetown, corner stores do not qualify for this rule if they are within 750 feet of a commercially zoned property. In this case, the Call Your Mother location would be within 750 feet of Wisemiller’s, which is actually zoned commercially. The BZA wants the applicant to explore whether an exception to this rule would be available instead of a basic use variance. They’ll decide next week.
GM was involved in the zoning rewrite. And he was always under the understanding that the purpose of the 750 foot rule was to prevent the bleeding of commercial off of Wisconsin Ave and M St. into the residential blocks. It was never meant to limit corner stores who just happened to be within a couple blocks of the two tiny slivers of commercial zoning tucked into the neighborhood (on top of the Wisemiller block, the 7/11 block on P St. is also commercially zoned).
It would be particularly ridiculous if the presence of the 35th St. commercial zone prevents Call Your Mother from opening. As GM described, it was a mistake to treat the 34th and 35th St. commercial strips differently. Both of them should have been included in the commercial zone. We shouldn’t compound that mistake now by preventing the corner store rule from being used exactly as it was intended to be used.
Again, it’s GM impression that the BZA wants to approve this application. And if this corner store provision isn’t available, they may still just grant the use variance. It’s all so ridiculous, to be honest.