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