Photo by Go Interactive Wellness.
Last night the ANC met for its May session (GM forgot to give you a preview; sorry about that). Here’s what GM could stick around long enough to catch:
The lawyer representing the landlord of the space that was once occupied by Govinda Gallery (the corner of 34th and Prospect) was there requesting a change to zoning. The block in question (the Govinda space, as well as the other shops on the corner) is zoned residential. All the commercial uses in that space exist simply because they were grandfathered in since the 1950s. But non-conforming uses (as such grandfathering is called) can only be what it always was. Thus if a building has housed a market, new markets may open in that space, but a barber wouldn’t be permitted without zoning relief.
The owner of this block would like to sign up a yoga studio to take over the old gallery space and some of the other vacant space. Since there wasn’t a yoga store there already, they need zoning approval.
The ANC recognized that all things considered, yoga studios are pretty low impact. Most customers walk to the studio and they don’t create much noise. But as originally drafted, the applicant was seeking approval to conduct instructional classes. This would cover yoga, but it would also cover karate and spin classes. Both much louder uses.
The ANC negotiated with the attorney that the request would be limited to just yoga and a small retail store selling yoga clothes and equipment.
They then negotiated over hours, finally settling on a 9:30 pm closing time. Continue reading
Photo by me and the syop.
Last night the ANC met for its April session. While GM had to leave after little more than an hour, most of the interesting stuff is up front, so here’s what he caught:
Close Lanes Not Roads
During two items last night, the ANC touched on an underused solution to a frequent problem. The problem: street closures for special events. The solution: close just a lane instead.
The two items were the annual French Market fair on Book Hill and the Thai Festival on lower Wisconsin.
The BID will hold the French Market April 19th and 20th. One problem with the success of this event is that the narrow sidewalks of Wisconsin Ave. get overcrowded with the crowds and the booths. The ANC posed the reasonable solution that the BID ought to seek to spread the event over to the parking lane. John Weibenson of the BID responded that he was working with the city to arrange for just that.
As for the Thai Embassy, they would like to shut down Wisconsin from South St. to Grace for their annual festival June 29th. The ANC objected to the request, but proposed a similar solution to the French Market problem: why not just take over the parking lane?
The problem is that the city has shown a strong aversion to allowing, essentially, pedestrian and automobile traffic to share the road like that. Even when proposing appropriate barriers, groups seeking permits like this have been rejected. Thus if these requests are granted, they would represent a great possible solution to the problem of too many street closings in Georgetown. Continue reading
On Monday, GM posted an article showing how the waterfront has changed since 1918. One element of the old photo that GM found particularly interesting was the line of buildings along Canal Rd. and Prospect St. south of GU:
From another old GM post, you can trace back through the Library of Congress to find the survey records from 1920, which show these properties:
GM thought he’d use today to share with you a tool he uses quite frequently in his research: the Office of Zoning’s Zoning Map.
This is a simple Google Maps utility that allows you to zoom down into any property in the District and quickly find out useful information.
As you zoom in to any particular property you start to learn certain things. First you’ll see was zoning district the property is in. For instance, most of Georgetown is R-3 (rowhouses), but the commercial strips are C-2-A, and some of the north east sections are R-5 (detached houses). Interestingly there’s a fourth major zone in Georgetown: W (Waterfront). The only other areas of the city with this peculiar zone are around Buzzards Point and Anacostia.
Zoom in further and you’ll see the Square number (i.e. the block number). This is the official ID the city has for a particular block. Zoom in further and you see the lot number. Someone once told GM that if the lot number is a small number from 1 to 200 or so, it is a lot that has been surveyed. If it’s in the 800 range, it hasn’t. Continue reading
GM noticed a letter in the Current yesterday discussing the topic of the Office of Plannings historic rewrite of the zoning code. Linda Schmitt of Chevy Chase writes:
Our neighborhood in Chevy Chase D.C. is low-density–single family homes with room for kids, the elderly, friends, dogs, lots of birds, gardens and a general war on crabgrass…The D.C. Office of Planning thinks we need to be fixed. Low density is apparently too low. Modest homes are wrong. The officials think we need homes that are higher, wider and deeper…Why? Well who knows? As one neighbor put it, this mandate is turning her into a tea party advocate for less government. [emphasis added]
This displays a fundamentally flawed understanding how zoning works. The zoning code doesn’t mandate that certain sized buildings get built or that buildings get used in a certain way. It permits buildings to be built or buildings to be used in a way. If no one wants to build a building allowed under the zoning code, no building will get built. If no one wants to open a store in your neighborhood, no store will be opened.
Allowing larger buildings to be built or stores to open is “less government”. Wanting the code to mandate that everything stays exactly the same is advocating for more government. So long as everyone in Chevy Chase D.C. agrees with Schmitt that everything should stay exactly the same, it will. But if someone wants to do something different, the current code says they can’t. If there’s a “tea party” position here, it’s against the current system.
Schmitt ends her letter insulting renters saying they can’t engage with the community like homeowners. As someone who wrote a neighborhood website for years and became Secretary of the neighborhood citizens association all before owning a house, GM obviously thinks this is a rather uninformed position.
Last night the Zoning Commission began its public deliberations on Georgetown University’s campus plan. While the commissioners appeared far from reaching a final decision on the plan, the contours of the discussion were well fleshed out. Watch it for yourself right here.
While all five of the commissioners attended the meeting last night, Commissioner Marcie Cohen is apparently recusing herself from the decision, so only four opinions matter. And relatively shortly into the proceeding you could begin to see where those opinions stand.
As he was throughout most of the testimony, Chairman Anthony Hood displayed a can’t-we-all-get-along attitude. He repeatedly cited the recently approved Howard University campus plan as a model. It appears that he just hopes against hope that a compromise between the school and its opponents can be reached.
Vice-Chair Konrad Schlater took the most pro-University line of the commission. Early on he cited how GU is the largest private employer in the District. Late on he made it clear that he rejected the possibility of GU housing all its students either on campus or outside the 20007 zip code. He acknowledged that a nuisance does exist from students living in the neighborhood, but he appears to believe that the campus plan is not the proper way to address those concerns. Continue reading
Photo by Jim Malone.
Good morning Georgetown, here’s the latest:
Photo by Vosburg_09.
Good morning Georgetown, here’s the latest:
- Great article by Georgetowner Shannon Christmas on the problems with the way DC’s zoning laws are enforced, and not enforced.
- The BIDs rebranding is finally getting its rollout soon. Dave Roffman will be so thrilled.
Canal graffiti by Daquella Manera.
Good morning Georgetown, here’s the latest:
- Another Zoning Commission meeting last night. GM doesn’t have anything to add because he totally forgot it was happening and didn’t watch it. Sorry.
- O Salon is moving to O St. Seems like it ought to have been there all along.
Last night the ANC met for its May session. And to the extent it had an overriding theme, it would be one of a disconnect between neighbors.
The first case that had this disconnect was the EastBanc project at the Exxon station. This has been discussed here before. Essentially, EastBanc wants to build a five story building where the Key Bridge Exxon now stands.
This would cut off a part of the currently magnificent view enjoyed by the homes on Prospect St. When the ANC first reviewed this project, it took the neighbors’ side, but not aggressively so. It asked that OGB to seriously consider the effect on the Prospect St. neighbors’ views, but they didn’t really come that hard against it, at least not in the resolution.
So last night, EastBanc was back with some modest tweaks to the design. Primarily it reconfigured the facade to be less modern and to “read more” (i.e. kinda look) like a set of rowhouses. Apparently they made a few modest changes to the building’s positioning, but they were all pretty minor.
The neighbors were back again. The criticisms seem to fall into two buckets: the effect the building’s height has on the views of the Prospect St. neighbors and the impact the building would have on the “gateway” of Georgetown.
In GM’s opinion, the “gateway” argument is really just a tarted up way to complain about the height. Right now there’s a gas station, and GM suspects a lot of the people complaining about the height would be perfectly fine if the gas station stayed. Besides, as EastBanc argued last night, the building would be on your periphery as you come across the Key Bridge. Your eyes are directed straight at Dixie Liquors, not the Exxon: Continue reading