ANC Rejects Cong PAC’s Bid to Open Shop in Neighborhood – Issue Goes to City Agency – the BZA
by Larry Janezich
Tuesday night, ANC 6B voted to oppose a zoning change requested by the 30 member Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) PAC that would allow them to operate a PAC headquarters and event space in a former residence near the Capitol at 428 New Jersey Avenue, SE. The vote was 8 opposed with 2 abstentions: ANC6B commissioners Kirsten Oldenburg and Diane Hoskins. Hoskins said that she preferred a negotiated agreement which would limit how the PAC could operate; Oldenburg declined to give her reasons for abstaining.
DC regulations permit nonprofit organizations to operate in residential neighborhoods, but say they must be in buildings of 10,000 square feet or more. The regulation was apparently put in place to accommodate the headquarters of the nearby Republican National Committee when it was built in a residential neighborhood in the 1970’s. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus PAC has applied to the Bureau of Zoning Adjustment for a waiver of the 10,000 square-foot rule.
ANC Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk, in whose single member district the property resides, said that she was “adamantly opposed” to the erosion of residential neighborhoods. Samolyk credited the activism of neighbors whose efforts had contributed to shutting three down non-residential “party” houses on nearby D Street, SE. She announced that as a result of her complaint, the city has started an official investigation of another business that appears to be operating out of a New Jersey Avenue residence without a certificate of occupancy and in violation of the zoning regulations. As co-chair of the ANC’s Community Outreach Task Force, Samolyk said she hoped to hold a meeting to hear from DCRA and BZA on the issue, and “bring them back into the fold” with respect to securing their cooperation in preserving residential neighborhoods.
Last Saturday, CHC PAC representatives met with neighbors to attempt to reach an agreement which would permit the PAC to operate out of the townhouse under a set of restrictions on traffic, parking, trash removal, security and an end time for events. Neighbors used the meeting to reiterate their opposition to the plan under any circumstances. See here: http://bit.ly/2qQRUwl
Last night, some 15 neighbors turned out for the meeting to oppose the PAC’s plan. They cited the numerous problems non-residences brought to the neighborhood. One neighbor said, “This is a tipping point. This is the case that will be cited as a precedent.” Another told the ANC that 36% of the total residences on her block were now non-residential. Another said that a granting the request for a variance from regulations will undermine the zoning and if the BZA removes the 10,000 square foot bar, the ANC won’t have the same residential character ten years from now. For previous Capitol Hill Corner post on this, see here: http://bit.ly/2p6xGN3
PAC attorney Meridith Moldenhauer cited other houses on the block which were not properly licensed and told the ANC, “Our position is that this is an opportunity for the ANC to take a stand and tell organizations not following the law that the ANC is going to set standards.”
ANC Planning and Zoning committee chair Nick Burger reminded the audience that the ANC has no authority to approve or deny, “We make recommendations.” He urged the neighbors – “regardless of the outcome tonight” – to make sure that their energy was channeled toward the body that will make the final decision – the BZA. He said he would vote to support the neighbors. “I understand where the (Congressional Hispanic Caucus) is coming from. But were dealing with uses and future uses. There is a risk here in going along with caucus. By tacitly blessing the conversion to nonresidential, the next time this comes before us we will be hard-pressed not to do the same thing. We still think there is an inconsistency with the fundamental zoning.” He cited the comprehensive plan ban on businesses encroaching into residential neighborhoods, saying, “We have a strong motive to eschew any nonresidential uses.”
The vote on adoption of the motion to oppose the zoning change came after the ANC adopted language to allow the ANC to provide BZA with details justifying their opposition and allowing ANC6B Chander Jayaraman to appoint a commissioner (likely Burger) to testify in support of the ANC position before the BZA.
The application for the zoning adjustment now goes to the current 3 member BZA (one position is vacant – a fifth rotating member from the Zoning Commission participates to keep the total an odd number) for a decision. On paper, the issue seems clear cut. But In some ways, the issue can be seen in terms of power dynamics – the rights of residents under zoning regulations and the Comprehensive Plan vs. the needs of a significant block of Democratic members of Congress. Without deep commitment and continued action from those most affected – and sometimes, not even then – such a contest does not always end well for the city’s residents.
The current board members of the BZA are as follows:
Chair, Frederick L. Hill, founder and President of Hill Group and former developer.
Lesyllee M. White, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Marketing for the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust.
Carlton Hart, National Capital Planning Commission.
For more on the BZA, see here: https://dcoz.dc.gov/bza/about