ANC 6B March Meeting Recap

We had a standing room only crowd for ANC 6B’s March 12th meeting at the Hill Center.  Here is a brief recap:

  • During community speakout, a number of residents who live south of Pennsylvania Ave SE and east of 11th Street SE voiced concern about plans for DDOT’s proposed Southeast Boulevard. Pointing to the recent Sustainable DC announced by Mayor Vince Gray, residents said that building a new boulevard would violate the goals of the plan and would decrease quality their life. Commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04), chair of ANC 6B’s Transportation Committee, urged attendees to submit comments and concerns to DDOT’s Barney Circle project team. She also noted that ANC 6B would weigh in on the various alternatives once they are presented to the neighborhood.  
  • Rachel Trego of the RockStAr Community Garden, located at 19th Street SE and Burke Street SE on Reservation 13, invited attendees to volunteer with the garden. If you haven’t visited the garden, I encourage you to stop by. Neighbors and volunteers typically meet at the garden on Mondays and Thursdays at 6:30 pm and Saturdays at 10:30 am. You can learn more on the garden website. A big thanks to Rachel and others for making such a positive contribution to the neighborhood.
  • James Jones of DC Vote urged attendees to support Referendum 8 on DC budget autonomy on April 23rd, the special election date. A strong voter turnout will help reinforce to Congress that DC deserves to determine its own budget, without congressional pre-approval. You can learn more about Referendum 8 on the DC Vote website.
  • Vanessa Lim, owner of Tash restaurant at 524 8th Street SE, shared her plans to have a mural painted on the south side of the building. Ms. Lim is paying for the mural, which will be painted by artist Gaia. Though the mural is being painted on a building in the Capitol Hill Historic District, there is no prohibition or review process for exterior murals. A few nearby neighbors voiced opposition to the mural, stating that it was not consistent with the character of Barracks Row and Capitol Hill. Other attendees voiced support for the mural and said it would add value to the neighborhood. You can view a photo of the proposed mural on the East City Art website.
  • After owner Gary Cohen committed to painting and repairing the facade of the current building, which houses a laundromat, the commission voted unanimously to support his request for a two-year extension for variances to build a 5-unit residential building at 732 15th Street SE. I was pleased that Mr. Cohen and the nearby neighbors were able to come to an agreement.
  • The commission also voted unanimously to support a letter (pdf) to the District Department of Transportation outlining the principles the commission will use to evaluate alternatives for the Pennsylvania Avenue-Potomac Avenue Intersection Pedestrian Safety Study. Thanks to Commissioner Nichole Opkins (6B06) for drafting the letter.
  • The “main event” of the evening was a series of votes on comments to the DC Office of Planning (OP) on proposed changes to the District’s Zoning Regulations, regulations that have not been comprehensively reviewed and updated since 1958. Overall, a majority of the commission generally supported OP’s recommendations with a few additional comments. Below is a brief summary of key votes:
    • Elimination of Parking Minimums – After a lengthy discussion, the commission voted 8-2 to support support OP’s proposal that there be no parking minimums required for new construction of single-family houses or residential developments of less than 10 units and that there be no parking minimums in Apartment and Commercial/Mixed Use zones within ½ mile of Metro stops or ¼ miles of high-service bus corridors (so-called “transit zones”). The commission added that OP should push DDOT to make changes to the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) program. I voted in support of this proposal, mainly because the current policy is ineffective and inefficient. Requiring developers to build or provide an arbitrary number of parking spots typically wastes building space and increases the cost of housing. In many instances, developers build parking spots that remain unused because it is much cheaper for tenants to pay $30/year for on-street parking.
    • Height Measurement – Height measurement.  The commission unanimously supported OP’s proposal that, in residential zones, for new construction and additions, for flat-roofed buildings, height would be measured to the highest point of the roof, and for pitched-roof buildings, measured to the mid-point of the pitch.
    • Number of Dwelling Units. The commission unanimously supported OP’s proposal to allow, in R-4 zones, 2 dwelling units per lot as a matter-of-right regardless of whether they are in the same building. This would allow the conversion of an existing accessory unit, such as a carriage house, as a matter-of-right so long as there is only one unit in the principal dwelling, rather than requiring a variance as the current code does.  New construction of a carriage house would require a special exception.
    • Alley Lots. The commission unanimously supported OP’s proposal to allow residential use (renovation or new construction) of alley lots on narrow alleys by special exception.  This would change the requirement in the current code for a variance in such cases.  The proposed change also would impose certain height, lot occupancy and other standards on all new alley dwellings.
    • Conditional Commercial Uses in Residential Areas.  The commission voted to support  OP’s proposal to change the test for the conditional use of commercial space in residential areas but with an important variation.  OP proposes to change the test for such activity from a variance to matter-of-right.  The commission supported changing the test to a special exception for certain commercial uses in residential areas in any building, including so-called “corner stores”, if they meet certain conditions. I agreed with comments by Commissioners Brian Pate (6B05) and Phil Peisch (6B03) that the commission should consider urging OP to 1) remove language that prohibits “corner stores” within 500 feet of current commercial zones and 2) allow conversion of buildings originally built for commercial purposes, but now located in residential zones, to return to commercial use by matter-of-right. The commission plans to gather more data on this topic.

    I thanked Commissioners Dave Garrison (6B01) and Kirsten Oldenburg and residents who participated in the commission’s Zoning Regulations Review Task Force for their hard work. The commission will likely weigh in again on the zoning update when OP’s proposal is presented to the Zoning Commission later this year.

  • The commission ratified my March 1 testimony on Reservation 13 and approved my March 12 testimony on the status of the DC General shelter.
  • ANC 6B’s April meeting will be on Tuesday, April 9, 7:00 pm at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.
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