Category Archives: Zoning

Come Out to Hearing About Zoning Changes Tonight!

Photo by scsmith4.

Tonight at St. John’s Church at 6:00, the Citizens Association of Georgetown will be hosting an open meeting to discuss proposed changes to zoning rules in Georgetown. It sounds incredibly dry, but it is actually a very interesting topic and should help influence land use policy in Georgetown for decades to come.


The District of Columbia last rewrote its zoning code in 1958. Since that time the local government (which over that time transitioned from a board of commissioners, to an appointed council, and finally to an elected council) has touched up the document in innumerable ways. As a result, it is now a hulking incomprehensible mess.

In 2006, the DC Office of Planning updated another old guiding document: the Comprehensive Plan. This document sets forth the Districts general policies for a wide range of issues. Amending it meant establishing the city’s course for the next century.

Since the comp plan had much to say about land use, it followed that the zoning code should be modernized to incorporate the new policies set forth in the plan. The Office of Planning has been slowly working towards producing that updated code for years now. Last year it finally issued draft new regulations.

Early on, the Citizens Association of Georgetown reached out to the Office of Planning and requested an opportunity to work with the Office of Planning on drafting the rules that would specifically apply to Georgetown. The office was receptive to the request and began working with CAG.

Members of CAG representing ostensibly divergent views worked on the draft. Some were conservative and were nervous about the possibility of increased density, while others (like GM) are card carrying urbanists who welcome increased density. Over many meetings within CAG and with the Office of Planning, a draft “specialized zone” was created for Georgetown.

It is not final, and is subject to input from a wider group than who initially contributed to it. But GM will spend the rest of this post highlighting some of the more important elements. Continue reading


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Showdown at the Zoning Commission Tonight on Campus Plan

Tonight’s the night that the Zoning Commission finally starts to reveal its hand and move towards making a decision on the GU campus plan. The meeting starts at 6:30 pm and it’s at One Judiciary Center. Or you can just watch it from the comfort of your computer here.

The Commission may not reach agreement on all the matters in the plan, but it is likely that tonight’s meeting will give the public a good sense for where the commission will end up.

The public is not allowed to speak tonight, but if you’re really into this issue and want to show support for your respective side, you ought to get down there.

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Meeting Thursday to Discuss Evermay Conversion

Last year one ridiculously rich couple, Ryuji Ueno and Sachiko Kuno, bought both the stately Halcyon House and the giant Evermay estate. Initial reports suggested that they were going to live in one, and throw parties in the other (that’s just what you do when you’re the .0001%). More recently, however, the couple has filed an application with the city that clarifies exactly how they plan to use the properties.

Ueno and Kuno made their money in biotech, but like many wealthy magnates before them, they have now turned to charity. They set up the S & R Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting scientific and artistic endeavors among young people. They would like to turn Evermay into the headquarters for this foundation. But to do so requires a zoning variance, and so the couple has filed for one. Continue reading


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ANC Testifies Before Zoning Commission

Last night the ANC testified before the Zoning Commission on the Georgetown University campus plan. You can watch it here.

In many ways, this was a presentation years in preparation. Commissioners Ron Lewis, Bill Starrels, Jeff Jones, and Ed Solomon each spoke, but it was Ron that carried the heavy load. Where the Office of Planning’s case was undermined last week due to an apparent lack of preparation, nothing of the sort was on display last night.

Essentially the story that the ANC put forth was this: the 2000 campus plan was adopted on the promise that it would remedy an existing problem with students in the neighborhood. The ANC argues that not only did the plan not address the existing problem, the school took advantage of the lack of an overall student cap and grew every category but traditional undergrads as much as possible. Thus, they argue, the situation with the undergrads are at best no better than they were before the 2000 plan, and in the meantime, a new problem with excessive graduate and non-traditional student growth has produced a new problem. Continue reading


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Office of Planning Testifies

Last night the Zoning Commission held its second hearing on GU’s proposed campus plan. You can watch it here (sorry GM can’t embed it for some reason, and you’ll have to install Microsoft Silverlight to watch it, but it’s worth it).

The main attraction of the night was the testimony of the Office of Planning. As discussed here, that office issued a report devastating to GU’s position. So it was very interesting to here what they had to say about their report.

The main speaker for OP was Jennifer Steingasser, who was apparently the main drafter of the report. Her testimony begins around the 1’12” mark of the video.

In her speech she emphasized several aspects of OP’s report. She explaining that she welcomed GU’s move from using an average to an absolute in calculating the student cap. But she argued that rather than use either of the methods suggested by GU or the ANC, such as the full-time equivalent calculation, they should simply count the number of students absolutely.

She explained that OP rejected the GU hospital element of the plan because it was clearly just a placeholder and none of the specifics had been fleshed out. She stated that any major development there should be handled by an amendment. Continue reading


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DDOT Doesn’t Particularly Care for the Campus Plan Either

Last Friday, GM wrote about the stunning report from the Office of Planning calling for GU to house 100% of its undergrads by the fall of 2016. Buried in that news was that DDOT also chimed in on the campus plan, and it wasn’t good for the university either, although it was not uniformly negative.

The overall thrust of DDOT’s report is that it cannot support the campus plan at this point due to a lack of information. The agency praises the school for some of the measures it takes to address transportation problems. However, DDOT was very critical of the school’s failure to deliver adequate studies on the effects of the proposed changes.

Canal Road Entrance

The agency praised GU for delivering a transportation study, however it found major faults in the school’s efforts. Primary of them was that much of GU’s transportation plan depends on the ability to turn left from the Canal Rd. exit during rush hour. Right now that is prohibited, but GU wrote in its campus plan:

In the 2010 Campus Plan, the University is prepared to fund construction of an internal loop road that will improve GUTS service on campus by creating stops for major routes on both the north
and south ends of campus. Combined with signal timing adjustments at the University’s Canal  Road entrance and relief from left-turn restrictions and Canal Road capacity constraints in
consultation with DDOT, and assuming receipt of necessary regulatory approvals, the internal  loop road also will permit the University to reorient GUTS buses away from neighborhood streets.

DDOT agreed that allowing an eastbound turn onto Canal Rd. during rush hour would make sense, however it notes that this is a “highly congested regional corridor” and criticizes the school’s study on the future states of this corridor with the change. DDOT requests that GU resubmit a study with projections for the road in 2020 and 2030, taking into account the entire stretch of the corridor within the District, not just in the immediate vicinity of the school.

You’ve got to feel for the school somewhat on this issue. It’s because of the neighbor’s demands–unreasonable demands in GM’s opinion–to stop running GUTS buses on Reservoir Rd. that GU is looking to the Canal Rd. in the first place. Continue reading


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Watch the GU Campus Plan Hearings

GM couldn’t make it down to the Zoning Commission for last night’s GU campus plan hearings since he had important business elsewhere. But once he realized that the Buffalo Sabres playoff game wasn’t on national television, his schedule freed up. So he watched the hearings over the Internet. And if you missed them, you can still watch them right here. (GM couldn’t get it to embed, so you’ll have to go to the ZC’s website).

Some initial impressions: GU put on a very strong case. Their lawyer, Maureen Dwyer of Goulston Storrs, was very sharp and represented her client well. Substance-wise, there wasn’t too much new to the presentation than what they’ve put on before. But overall they seemed to be better prepared than in other settings and their arguments were tighter than before.

Richard Hinds of CAG (and Cleary Gottlieb)  led the cross-examination, which is a fascinating feature of the proceedings. He was similarly sharp. His focus was largely on the enrollment numbers and the question of how many students (both undergrad and grad) are and will be in the neighborhood. An additional focus (primarily from representatives of Foxhall) was the loop road issue on the west side of campus.

Anyway, it’s a very fascinating watch. No matter which side you’re on in this debate, you’re probably going to see something you like in the video. And huzzah to the DC government for getting these hearings up on the Internet so fast.

In the interest of full disclosure, GM should note that he recently agreed to become the secretary of CAG. For what it’s worth, he hasn’t participated in any of the planning for these hearings. The views expressed here are his own and don’t reflect those of CAG.


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Key Parts of GU Campus Plan Hearings Postponed

This week, the Zoning Commission hearings for the proposed Georgetown University campus plan will begin. These hearings will be an opportunity for government agencies, the school, community groups, and the public to testify for or against the plan. The first of three hearings will be this Thursday at 6:30 pm at the Zoning Commission’s hearing room at 441 4th St. NW, Suite 220-S.

This first hearing was expected to be dominated by the school’s presentation and the ANC’s. However, due to the school’s recent changes to their proposal, the Office of Planning is delaying the issuance of its report on the plan. As a result, the ANC has requested and been granted a postponement to their scheduled testimony. Now the Office of Planning is expected to file its report on May 5th and to testify on May 12th (at the same time and location as listed above). The ANC will testify afterwards. Continue reading

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What’s Really Going On With GU’s Campus Plan Changes

As mentioned here on Monday, GU has amended its proposed campus plan as the Zoning Commissions hearings approach. The changes can be found here, but here’s a quick list of them:

  • Add 250 beds to the main campus by the fall of 2014, or if they can’t build more dorms on campus, they’ll locate these beds outside of the residential sections of the 20007 zip code.
  • By Dec. 31, 2013, move 1,000 students in the School of Continuing Studies to satellite locations.
  • Reduce the total proposed student cap from 16,133 to 15,000.
  • Build no more parking spaces on campus.
  • Agree not to hold convocations on the newly covered Kehoe Field.

There has been a lot of teeth-gnashing around the Internet since these changes were proposed, but GM thinks a lot of that frustration stems from not understanding the context of the situation. It is GM’s opinion that GU stopped seriously trying to win over the neighbors and the ANC a long time ago. As soon as it became clear that the anti-GU groups were not going to accept anything but a significant reduction of students living in the neighborhood, GM believes that school started playing to a different audience: the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission.

Because in the end, those are the primary parties that will decide the fate of the campus plan. The Zoning Commission will be the party actually deciding it, but it will be greatly influenced by the Office of Planning. This represents a change from ten years ago. Back when the last GU campus plan was being submitted, it was the Board of Zoning AdministrationAdjustment that decided the case.

And the BZA actually ruled against GU during the first go around. In 2001, it approved the campus plan by modifying it to set an enrollment cap at the 1990 levels. GU appealed, and in 2003 the DC Court of Appeals overturned the BZA decision and sent it back for rehearing.

The second time the BZA heard the case, it swung dramatically back in favor of GU. Much of this has to do with the fact that the minutes to the original hearing were not well kept, so there wasn’t much of a factual record for the second BZA to rely on (GU successfully blocked CAG’s attempt to add to the record the second time around). Second, the BZA had a different composition by the time it heard the case again. The second BZA review resulted in, among other things, GU having the higher undergrad cap it requested and no overall cap. Continue reading


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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.” Continue reading

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