Zoning Issue Likely to Sink Plan for 20 Unit Condo Project Near Barracks Row
by Larry Janezich
The correction of an zoning error by the DC Office of Zoning will likely sink District Quarter’s plan to raze Tried Stone Baptist Church near Barracks Row to build a 20 unit condo building.
Apparently, the property at 417 9th Street, SE, has been historically zoned as residential property but recently, a Zoning Office on-line map incorrectly showed the property as being zoned commercial.
The commercial designation may have mislead the development company District Quarters who announced plans to build a condo building on the site at a May 1 community meeting in the church. At that meeting, the developer said that their contract to purchase the property was contingent on the proposed building being approved by the city.
It is unclear who called the discrepancy to the attention of the Office of Zoning, but it caused that office to restore the original residential designation to the lots. Being zoned residential means that only townhouses can be built on the site if the church is razed. The placard giving notice of the intent to raze the building has been removed.
On May 16, Sara Bardin, Director of the DC Office of Zoning, issued a statement regarding how the change in zoning came about: “In brief, we do not know how the zoning changed from [residential] to [commercial] on the 2003 Zoning Map. All we know is that there is no map amendment that shows a decision was made to change the zoning. The only clue we found that could explain why it was showing as [commercial] is that there was an exhibit in case 00-41 (page 3) that shows the three lots zoned [commercial]. This MAY be what was used to erroneously change the online map, but we do not know for sure. Therefore, we have changed the map to reflect the correct zoning of [residential].”
On May 22 the developers announced their intent “to hold off on any further meetings as we work through a few questions that have come up.” The message continued, “We will also not be presenting at the ANC or [Historic Preservation Review Board] at this time.”
Capitol Hill Corner reached out to District Quarters partner Evan Muchai on Tuesday to ask about the status of the project. Muchai said, “It is our understanding that the property is zoned [commercial]. He said that he wanted to inform everyone at the same time regarding decisions as they work through the process, but “as of now, we have no comment.”
According to Gary Peterson, chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s Zoning Committee, the property is assessed taxes as residential. He said that the online map is not official; that only the Office of Zoning has the official map, and ultimately, “what governs is the Comprehensive Plan.” He says he is “pretty sure” the Comprehensive Plan designates the property as residential. Asked how a church could be built on land zoned as residential, he said that DC makes exceptions to zoning regulations, allowing for the construction of churches and schools on property zoned for residential use.
Peterson said that although he did not have accurate measurements for the site, he thought that at most, four two unit townhouses could be built. Alternately, he said, the developers could convert the church to residential units, perhaps gaining one more unit than they could if they built townhouses.
Given the developer’s insistence that they needed 20 condo units to make the project economically viable, the conversion option seems unlikely. And while it is possible to change zoning from residential to commercial, Peterson said it not often done. It’s a lengthy process and neighborhood opposition would be a factor in any such undertaking.
Since the building was built in 1951, it does not fall into the protected category of a “contributing structure” in the Historic District. Likewise, the building does not appear to be eligible for landmark status since it appears to lack significant architectural merit.
For a report on the May 1 community meeting and a rendering of the proposed building, see here: http://bit.ly/2vxVqz6
12 responses to “Zoning Issue Likely to Sink Plan for 20 Unit Condo Project Near Barracks Row”
“According to Gary Peterson, chair of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society’s Zoning Committee, the property is assessed taxes as residential.”
This isn’t correct; you can look up the property taxes for Square 0925, lots 0822, 0818 and 0817; the properties are assessed for a church (as you would expect). Property taxes are based on the use of the property (in this case, E1-Religious, and pays no property tax) not the zoning.
Conversely, there are lots of homes in Capitol Hill that are residential properties (and assessed as such for tax purposes) but sit on land zoned to allow commercial or higher density uses. It’s not unusual. Either way, the tax status doesn’t reflect the zoning.
“He said that the online map is not official; that only the Office of Zoning has the official map, and ultimately, “what governs is the Comprehensive Plan.” He says he is “pretty sure” the Comprehensive Plan designates the property as residential.”
The proposed 20 unit building would be residential in use, so I’m not sure what the issue is there. The Comp Plan’s Future Land Use Map is meant “to be interpreted broadly” and not on a parcel-by-parcel basis, but even so, the residential uses shown would be ‘moderate density residential’ which explicitly includes “low rise apartment buildings.”
Office of Zoning lists this square as RF1. (see http://handbook.dcoz.dc.gov/zones/residential-flat/rf-1/)
“predominantly developed with attached row houses on small lots within which no more than 2 dwelling units are permitted…2 dwelling units may be located within the principal structure or 1 each in the principal structure and an accessory structure.”
Maximum height 35 ft, 3 stories, setback consistent with adjoining structures.
So no 20-unit apartment or condo building.
Right, obviously the zoning matters. But either the RF-1 or MU-4, or MU-25 zones would be entirely consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
It’s a big change in procedure, but it would seem to be entirely possible for the developers to ask for a map amendment to change the parcel if it turns out it’s not MU-4 or MU-25.
This property was built as a Jewish Temple and was. sold to the Church in the ’70s. As a matter of fact there was a stained glass window showing the ten commandments over the entrance door. Leonard Hacker
While I was looking at the DC Zoning maps, I noticed that Distad’s — the gas station and car repair shop next door — is indeed zone commercial. You can put that 20-unit apartment building (actually, many more than that) there are a matter of right. A hugely valuable piece of property that is very low-hanging fruit for a developer.
It still would not fit the character of that block, in my view.
Why wouldn’t it fit the character of the block? It’s immediate neighbor is a gas station.
Great. So now we get to look at a vacant and ugly building for the next 20 years. The joy of zoning.
The site is two blocks from the metro and is immediately adjacent to a gas station, which is in turn next to a 5(?) story office building. To that end, it’s an ideal site for more density, and will result in the added bonus of the current building being demolished, which is underutilized and an eyesore.\ If the zoning doesn’t allow a 20-unit apartment building of modest height built here, the zoning should be changed.
The zone *does* allow a 20 unit building, if it is converted from the original church without taking it down. It has three floors — I think you could get 20 units out of that building, easy.
I can’t figure out why DC property prices are so high…
This is unfortunate. As others have pointed out, this property is close to a metro station. It’s not inconsistent with the surrounding area that there be more dense residential situated there. But I have a feeling the even if the proposal was just for townhouses, there would still be opposition.