Chapin Street rezoning requested for affordable housing
The owner of the vacant lot at 1412 Chapin St, NW has asked the Zoning Commission to rezone the property for a five-story, 44-unit affordable apartment building because existing zoning forbids one the same size as its neighbors or the one that burned down on that spot in 1996.
In addition to the 10% of units under inculsionary zoning that have to go to households making 50-80% of the Area Median Income in perpetuity, the proposal would dedicate the rest of the units for households at 60% AMI for 30 years. 9 of the units would be studios, 26 one bedroom, and 9 two bedroom.
Concept plan. Image from the PUD filing.
A garage opening onto the rear alley would contain 15 car spaces, one handicapped space, one loading space, and 41 indoor bicycle parking spaces. In addition, the applicant proposes giving a $50 SmarTrip card, a one-year SmartBike membership, and a one-year Zipcar membership to each new resident. They will work out an agreement to hire DC residents and partner with an inner-city mentoring program, Mentoring Works2, to enable at-risk youth to observe the design and development process. Finally, they propose to create a green roof garden and other energy efficient features.
In addition to apartments, the ground floor will house a community room for residents. That floor will occupy the entire lot, while upper floors will form a U shape around a central courtyard.
This property is zoned R-5-B, but that zoning doesn't allow the scale of the project as proposed. That's too bad, because the project is similar in size to most other buildings on the block. The two apartment buildings across Chapin Street are also five stories, and buildings to the west range from 4-6. Most of the properties take up the vast majority of their lots as well.
According to the OP report, a six-story apartment building, "The Berkshire," occupied this property until destroyed by fire in 1996. Across the alley to the south was a four-story building, once the Van Cortlandt Apartments and then the Community of Hope homeless shelter before sitting vacant for some time; the remaining facade was sadly demolished this summer.
Aerial view of the area, facing west. Image from Bing Maps.
Chapin Street is on the right, Belmont on the left, 14th below. The property in question is the grass-covered lot just above the block-long dirt lot (Nehemiah Shopping Center).
However, R-5-B zoning only permits an FAR of 2.16 with inclusionary zoning, a height of 50 feet, and 60% lot occupancy. The remaining buildings in the area surely exceed many of these parameters, and the Berkshire, which OP says had 90% lot occupancy, likely exceeded all three.
In order to get this project built, the applicant is requesting a rezoning to C-2-B, the same zoning as the property facing 14th Street to the east. That property used to be the Nehemiah Shopping Center, and received zoning approval in 2006 for a 90', 225-apartment building with ground floor retail, but that project has not yet started construction and recently received a two-year extension.
The C-2-B zoning will give added height and lot occupancy flexibility for this project. However, it won't actually contain any commercial uses. This lot is also smaller than the normal minimum for a PUD, but the Zoning Commission can relax the minimum if it finds the project to be "of exceptional merit and in the best interest of the city or country." Creating affordable housing is indeed very meritorious, though perhaps the standard need not be so high. Making the housing stay affordable in perpetuity instead of just for 30 years would also make it even more meritorious.
The zoning in an area should not make most of the existing buildings nonconforming, or, as in this case, prohibit replacing buildings destroyed by fire or neglect with similar ones. Projects shouldn't have to constitute "exceptional merit" and undertake a lengthy PUD process just to build something shorter than what was there before. And it shouldn't require rezoning a residential property to a commercial classification to construct an all-residential building. This building type isn't necessarily appropriate in every R-5-B district, which includes many 3-4 story row house areas, but it certainly is here, and our zoning code should reflect that. With the upcoming zoning rewrite, hopefully it will.
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