The recent discussion of plans for 401-403 15th Street SE has re-opened an old Hill East debate: Should 15th Street SE be zoned for commercial activity? Or should it be zoned residential?
The majority of Hill East is zoned R-4 for residential use. Most of the commercial areas in our neighborhood are clustered around Pennsylvania Avenue. The exception to this general rule is a stretch of 15th Street SE between Independence Avenue SE and D Street SE, an area that is zoned C-2-A for commercial use.
For most of the past decade, residents’ experience with retail along this corridor has been negative. In the early 2000s, residents complained about crime and loitering around the now defunct New Dragon restaurant. And some residents also voiced concern that developers were taking advantage of the commercial zoning to build tall residential-only buildings along the corridor (C-2-A allows buildings up to 50 feet high compared to 40 feet for R-4).
In 2003, ANC 6B supported a request made by several frustrated 15th Street residents to rezone 15th Street SE from the commercial C-2-A to the residential R-4. While the Zoning Commission did not change the area’s commercial zoning, the commission and residents successfully encouraging the DC Council to rezone the corridor in the city’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan.
In 2007, ANC 6B sent another letter (pdf) to the Office of Planning requesting that the Zoning Commission rezone 15th Street SE from commercial to residential. The Office of Planning responded that the issue would be considered in the agency’s planned rewrite of the city’s zoning regulations.
Fast forward to now and the Office of Planning is preparing to present its zoning rewrite to the Zoning Commission in 2013. But does the neighborhood still support rezoning 15th Street SE from commercial to residential?
This past year saw the opening of two popular food establishments along the corridor – The Pretzel Bakery and Crepes on the Corner. The Pretzel Bakery (340 15th Street SE) has been a huge hit. And while Crepes on the Corner (257 15th Street SE) unfortunately closed, most Hill East residents I’ve talked to enjoyed having a place to grab coffee and lunch in the neighborhood. Southeast Market (1500 Independence Ave SE) was also recently sold and renovated. All three of these establishments are or were positive additions to the neighborhood.
While 15th Street will never be a Barracks Row, I can certainly envision a future time when the corridor acts as a small neighborhood serving commercial zone located halfway between the heavier retail activity around Eastern Market and the future retail activity on Reservation 13. Rezoning 15th Street to R-4 would eliminate future opportunities for restaurants, cafes and shops along the corridor.
Over the next 2-3 months, ANC 6B will have an opportunity to comment on the Office of Planning’s proposals for the zoning rewrite. Just this month, ANC 6B created a Zoning Regulations Review Task Force that will help the commission craft a response and position on the proposed rewrite. During this process, I plan to ask the task force and my commission colleagues to weigh in on whether 15th Street SE should remain a commercial corridor.
What do you think? Should 15th Street SE remain a commercial corridor? Or should it be rezoned residential? Post your comments below.
Note that the first meeting of ANC 6B’s Zoning Regulations Review Task Force will be this Thursday, Dec. 20 from 7:30 pm-9:30 pm at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE).