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Ward 1 Residents Reject Zoning Changes Proposed by OP at Packed Public Meeting

Accompanying map showing Ward 1 boundaries can be viewed in the February 2014 issue PDF

 By Nancy MacWood*

At a recent Saturday afternoon meeting convened in Columbia Heights by Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, residents from across the ward 1 rejected the rewrite of the city’s land use regulations proposed by the District’s Office of Planning (OP).

 Known as the Zoning Regulation Review (ZRR), it would rewrite the city’s complex and highly technical zoning code to change the character of the District’s residential areas, particularly single-family neighborhoods.

The tone of the meeting was set by Councilmember Graham. He pointed out that while the City Council is prohibited by law from participating in zoning decisions, more time is needed by citizens and elected officials to fully grasp the far-reaching, long-term consequences of OP’s proposals.

Opposition increased as the audience, comprised of residents and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) members, discussed the implications of the ZRR, including how developers and speculators were out-bidding potential residents for what are single-family homes and then carving them up to degrade the historic character of these buildings and neighborhoods.

As described by the panel organized by the Committee of 100 on the Federal City and comprised of Laura Richards, Sue Hemberger and Alma Gates, the OP recommendations would invite creeping commercialization of residential property. This would include taller garages and garage apartments, businesses in garages or accessory structures, multiple home occupations, conversion of housing for institutional uses and corner food markets. While making these changes easier, if not “by-right,” the ZRR would dramatically decrease the opportunity for public participation, including by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, in these zoning and land-use decisions.

A straw poll showed virtually unanimous opposition to the ZRR.

“This has to be stopped until residents have an opportunity to understand how these proposed changes will affect the quality of life for our residents,” said Columbia Heights ANC Commissioner Dotti Wade. Added Mt. Pleasant ANC Commissioner Jack McKay, “This is a profound revision of the regulations according to some unknown and unexplained philosophy.”

It was apparent that Councilmember Graham recognizes that the ZRR proposals do not deal with a number of other critical issues that currently threaten neighborhoods, including pop-ups and apartment conversions of single family homes.

 Editor’s Note: The Zoning Commission had scheduled public hearings for Ward 1 and Ward 2 residents to be held on Thursday, February 13th; however, because of a major winter storm that began late on the 12th and continued well into the next day, the DC government was closed by order of Mayor Gray.

 *The writer, a long-time Ward 3 resident and for the past 13 years an ANC commissioner, presently serves a the chair of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. Previously, she served as a member of the Zoning Regulations Revision Task Force and before that as a member of the Comprehensive Plan Revision Task Force.