Zoning Commission Approves Hine Project for Final Hearing on Zoning Change – Decision on Zoning Likely in May or June
by Larry Janezich
The five member DC Zoning Commission (ZC) voted unanimously tonight to approve (or “set down” for a final hearing) Stanton/Eastbanc’s request for a zoning change for the Hine site that would permit greater height and density for the project. That hearing before the ZC could occur in 60 days, but is more likely to happen in May or June. The decision on a final date will depend on how soon Stanton/Eastbanc is able to resolve the outstanding issues that arose from the current and earlier reviews, including the residual and as yet unaddressed concerns from the Historic Preservation Review Board.
Today, five ANC6B Commissioner’s sent a letter to the Office of Planning (OP), saying it had not been clear to ANC6B that once the ZC set down the request for a final hearing, changes to Stanton Eastbanc’s proposed new zoning (C-2-B, a business/retail multi-use classification) would no longer be possible.
OP’s representative, Jennifer Steingasser, who presented OP’s set down recommendation to the Commission, noted that the letter stated that it did not represent the official position of ANC6B. Steingasser appeared to interpret the letter as a request for a delay in tonight’s hearing, likely because the only way to address the issue raised would be a delay. She said that OP felt they could not withdraw the request at the last moment.
Pressed by ZC Chair Anthony Hood whether the request for a delay would have been granted if it had come earlier, the OP representative said “it probably would not have, based on the issues raised in the letter.”
Zoning Commissioner Peter May noted there are a lot of unusual things about the project, and cited the reopening of C Street, relief from the restriction on mechanical penthouse height, below grade retail, and a list of items OP has specifically said need to be addressed. May said that the whole project “feels unsettled to me” and asked Steingasser why OP felt it was ready to recommend a set down rather than wait a month or two.
Steingasser said she did not disagree but said that the project is being driven by specific markers in the timeline set by the City Council, and that the developers don’t want to go back to the city Council for an extension. Stanton/Eastbanc has already been granted a one year extension by the Council. Steingasser went on to say that OP has had an “animated discussion with the developer” and received assurances that the outstanding issues will have been resolved by the date of the final hearing.
Issues which seemed to be of most concern to Zoning Commissioners included massing and height of the building on 7th Street and the retail plan. There was a consensus that a better retail plan was needed; the proposed possible below-grade retail for the project was regarded with skepticism by more than one commissioner, with some saying they had not seen it work well elsewhere and those who had attempted it were forced to return to the Zoning Commission and seek new classification.
Parking for the project was also a concern, with Zoning Commissioner Marcie Cohen wondering why “all those parking spaces were needed in a project so close to Metro and bus lines.” May asked whether OP had determined the eligibility of residents for residential parking permit, noting parking issues in the neighborhood. Steingasser said the office would consult with DDOT on the issue, and Chair Hood noted that DDOT has changed position on this a number of times and that with a new DDOT in place the policy needed to be clarified.
A majority of the Commission seemed to feel that they needed to better understand the context of the building within the neighborhood. Other specific concerns included the concentration of the affordable housing in one building, and the management of curb-side loading for retail.
Neither the developers nor the community participated in the set-down hearing. Once the final hearing is scheduled, members of the public and affected community groups can appear before the Commission to testify.