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DC Board of Zoning Adjustment to Reconsider Mt. Pleasant Library Case

The following report, received on March 7th, was provided to The InTowner by the Ralph Nader organization’s Library Renaissance Project.

Some residents of Ward One believe that DC’s Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs (DCRA) Zoning Administrator wrongly issued a building permit to the DC Public Library for its proposed expansion of the historic Mt. Pleasant Library.

At a March 1, 2011 hearing, one member of the Board of Zoning Adjustment said that he agrees with residents and the local Mt. Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission. The Assistant Architect of the Capitol, Alan Turnbull [a member of the BZA], declared that “the Zoning Administrator erred.” [more]

While noting Zoning Administrator Matthew LeGrant’s extensive academic background and expertise, Turnbull concluded that, “He ignored all that . . . his total knowledge of commonly believed [planning] terms.”

At issue is whether a change of address, legally allowable for a building located on a corner, as the library is, justified a change in the designation of the rear yard. DCPL requested the address change in order to have a different part of the property designated as the rear yard on which to build the expansion. Turnbull further commented that the library building program was already done when the request came before LeGrant and “he [LeGrant] wanted to help the owner [the library].”

The Chair of the BZA, Meredith Moldenhauer, called this case “challenging” and scheduled another hearing on April 5, 2011, to allow the Board to bring in another Commissioner for “further deliberations.”

The idea of an expansion of the library has been controversial since it was first announced two years ago. It was opposed by disabilities advocates because it replaces an access ramp in the front of the building with one that is twice as high, three times as long, and located on the side of the building where it will not be visible from the front.

The expansion is also opposed by nearby residents who wanted the city to use the opportunity to construct emergency access to the rear of nearby apartment buildings. Currently, there is no public alley. Building the addition will foreclose the possibility of using the publicly owned land to improve fire safety for an entire block, an area known to DC Fire Department as a “trouble spot.” Three buildings within 200 feet of the library have experienced major fires over the past three years; the fires killed two people, displaced hundreds of people, and resulted in millions of dollars in property loss.

ANC 1D, the appellants in this case, along with neighbors living around the library believe that the rear yard setback requirement of 15 feet should prevail in this case. This would prevent overcrowding and increase fire department emergency access to this hazardous corridor. DCPL plans to extend the addition from the back of the original library building all the way to the rear property line of the library, with no set-back at all.

A BZA ruling upholding this appeal may necessitate changes to the proposed addition. Despite this, DCPL’s construction team has worked feverishly during the past ten days.