Zoning Commission Hearing on Hine to Continue Wednesday, July 11
by Larry Janezich
Five hours of hearing time on Thursday night was not nearly enough. The DC Zoning Commission continued the Hine hearing over until 6:30pm on Wednesday, July 11. It could be a month after that before the commission issues a decision on developer Stanton-Eastbanc’s Zoning Application and a zoning order detailing required adjustments to the project or accommodations the Commission expects the developer to make regarding concerns raised by community groups.
Thursday night’s hearing started with testimony from developer Stanton-Eastbanc’s transportation consultant, DDOT, and ANC6B. Commissioners Frishberg and Pate testified in support of the development, contingent on finalization of outstanding items in the memorandum of agreement as reported elsewhere on emmcablog. Frishberg asserted the development would be a net benefit for the community and the city. Questioned by Zoning Commissioner May about the reason four of the ten ANC6B Commissioners voted against endorsing the development, Frishberg said that there were two reasons: objections to the over-all size and scale, and objections that the community was not getting enough benefits or amenities for the project. At the conclusion of the Commission’s questions to the ANC, Zoning Commission Chair Hood announced that a third night of hearings would be necessary and started suggesting dates when the Commission could meet again.
For a few minutes, it appeared as though the hearing would be continued until October after key participants cited scheduling conflicts and raised objections to suggested dates. Jacques DePuy, counsel to the developer, pointed out that an October date would put SEB in non-compliance with a schedule set by City Council statute. That sent Zoning Chair Anthony Hood back to seek consensus for an earlier date.
The Commission agreed to resolve the issue by changing the order of witnesses, allowing the parties in opposition to go out of order and complete their testimony and attendant cross examination Thursday night. This opened the way for a Commission meeting on July 11 to conclude the process of taking testimony.
The Commission went on to hear first from Bill Pate of Hine School North Neighbors (HSNN) who represented 8th Street neighbors’ concerns about the North Building. He urged leaving it green space or keeping R-4 residential zoning for the parcel. An expert witness for HSNN testified that that C2B zoning which permits the 94 foot height on the western portion of the project was inappropriate for the site and could be found nowhere else nearby. He urged C2A zoning for the western half of the project and R-4 residential for the eastern half. Another HSNN expert witness testified against the inadequacies of the SEB’s traffic consultant traffic study.
Eyes on Hine representative Marcel LaFollette testified on behalf of the 8th Street neighbors directly across the street from the project, saying that the project should be “smaller and better” and that the current plan “disrespects the modest scale and character of the neighborhood.” She expressed concern that the developer was not taking steps to protect the homes closest to the site during construction, and Commissioner Turnbull offered assurances that the commission could help with that.
A third group in opposition, Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), was represented by Steve Holtzman, who cited the benefits associated with the original design, including a central plaza, ample space for the flea market, the Shakespeare Theater, and accommodation for a large non-profit, all of which had fallen away. What was left, he said, is a development proposal that needs more work. He asked the commission to call upon the developer to take the concerns of the neighbors seriously, and listed those concerns as height and design of the project, historic district compatibility, open space for the flea market, a buffer between commercial and residential, and respect for the historical role the site has had in providing meaningful services for children.
Another party status opponent, Michael Berman of Diversified Market, LLC, manager of the Sunday flea market, testified on the economic and social value of the flea market. He was supported by a contingent of witnesses – which the commission heard, but refused to acknowledge as “expert” on a 3-1-1 vote. Berman’s witnesses testified that the Sunday flea market brought $29 million in revenue annually to the District, $5-6 million spent at the flea market, $8 million spent at Eastern Market, and the balance spent in nearby businesses and other parts of the city. Berman asserted that reducing the size of the flea market to the space provided on C Street would reduce Sunday revenues for entirety of the Eastern market, including the flea market by $6.7 million annually. Under cross examination by ANC commissioners, he said he had not tried to estimate the impact of 7th Street becoming available for the flea market, as has been proposed under legislation providing for a new governing structure for Eastern market.
It was difficult to assess how much traction the parties in opposition made with the Commission. The Eastern Market legislation and the proposed solution for accommodating the flea market has somewhat defused that issue. Drawings provided by the developer to the Zoning Commission and the ANC showing the development plan the city awarded the bid to compared with the current proposal show, according to ANC Commissioner Frishberg, the current proposal to be “in the ball park” – undercutting critics’ “bait and switch” argument. Frishberg also noted the lack of engagement of the previous ANC6B in negotiating the terms of the Land Dispostion and Development Agreement, which, he said, limited what the current ANC could achieve. Concessions by the developer to not put high impact commercial on the 8th and D Street corner, and hints of siting a child care facility at that location may have taken the buffer issue off the table. New information from the developer’s traffic consultant and discussions with DDOT appear to have resolved the most serious issues raised by the DDOT Transportation Study. No detailed critiques of the design were offered by any of the parties in opposition, and though CHRS will insist on changes to the design fronting Pennsylvania Avenue (though not the height of the project) when it testifies, without the strong support of the ANC, it is not clear how seriously the Zoning Commission will take objections on either height or design issues.
The hearing will be continued on Wednesday, July 11. The Commission will hear from parties in support, groups and individuals in support, and groups and individuals in opposition. The witness list has been closed, but there are more than 90 witnesses who have registered to testify, though the Commission will not allow repetitive testimony from multiple witnesses. The hearing will close with the developer’s rebuttal.