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A Reader Comments on Our Oct. 2019 Comp Plan Lead Story

Willam Schultz’ article reporting on the controversial proposed Comp Plan updates highlights a major issue that will permeate public discussion in coming weeks of the 1,200 pages of proposed amendments of the Comprehensive Plan released by the Mayor on October 15.  That issue is the balance between market-rate and affordable housing development, and the extent of citizens’ ability to influence, by judicial action if necessary, how that balance is struck.  So it is noteworthy that the most important measure affecting citizen participation in future land use decision-making had already been passed by the Council, on October 8, when it adopted the Plan’s Framework Element — and in so doing ceded a major part of its prerogatives under the Home Rule Act to the Zoning Commission.

Home Rule, in one of its compromises on democracy for the District, gave the authority to write and administer zoning regulations to a five-member unelected agency, of which two members were to be federal officials. As a counterweight, the democratically-elected Council was given the power to establish, in a comprehensive plan, the basic ground-rules within which zoning must be applied — putting the Council in a position to say which of the various zones created by the Commission could apply in what parts of the city.

This is the critical power that the Council, at the insistence of the Mayor, largely turned over to the Commission, in an effort to insulate the Commission against claims by unhappy citizens that it has exceeded its authority under the Comprehensive Plan in “up-zoning” a site to accommodate a developer.  Within very broad limits, the Commission was awarded the power to re-write its own ground-rules case-by-case.

For more information see the report issued last month by the Committee of 100.

Larry hargrove
Adams Morgan
[Ed. Note: The writer is a trustee of the Committee of 100.]