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C100, OP debate zoning update in Georgetown tonight

Tonight, Nancy MacWood of the Committee of 100 and Travis Parker of the Office of Planning will debate the zoning update's effects on Georgetown this evening at 7:30 pm.


Georgetown's zones. Image from the DC zoning map.

Parker heads up the OP's zoning rewrite effort, and MacWood is both an ANC commissioner in Cleveland Park and a zoning activist in the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

The Citizens' Association of Georgetown is hosting the meeting. CAG's legal counsel, Richard Hinds, who like MacWood has testified against much of the zoning update, will moderate the exchange.

Much of the debate will center on 2 contentious topics: greater allowances for commercial uses in the neighborhood, and greater allowances for accessory dwellings.

However, the zoning rewrite's recommendations on Low and Moderate Density Residential areas, which includes Georgetown's residential areas, place tighter limits on development than currently exist. The Committee of 100 and CAG's Hinds haven't mentioned these changes in their testimony, but they deserve mention as examples of the reasonableness and balance that the Office of Planning is bringing to the rewrite.

For example, stricter front yard and height requirements would place greater limits on the "McMansionization" of homes would be enacted through. Property owners would no longer be able to extend their homes out farther than other homes on their blocks, eliminating their front yard, even if doing so would fall within their lot occupancy limit (recommendation 3). Owners would also no longer be able to "pop-up" an extra story in certain situations (recommendation 2). In Georgetown, historic roles already preclude most of this, but most neighborhoods have no such controls today.

Commercial uses in the neighborhood: Corner stores have always been central to Georgetown's historic fabric and lifestyle. But if the current beloved corner stores were to burn down and not be rebuilt within 3 years, they would be illegal. How is that in keeping with historic preservation?

The Office of Planning is recommending that, rather than focus on a narrow list of uses (e.g. churches, schools) that are permitted in new neighborhood construction, the zoning code should focus on neighborhood impact. Corner stores that meet the needs of neighbors should be allowed. Carry-out pizza shops open until after midnight should not be allowed (recommendation 10).

Accessory dwelling units: Carriage houses and "granny flats" bring many benefits. They enable seniors to age in place and they allow Georgetown to absorb the increasing population of DC without losing its historic character (recommendation 11).

In fact, the greater numbers of residents in existing buildings is actually part of the neighborhood's historic character. In 1950, DC had 13,151 people per square mile. As of 2000, it had only 9,316 people per square mile despite building more buildings. This happened because household sizes decreased; 44% of households have only one person compared to 14.3% in 1950, and the number of children declined 39%.

Allowing a childless couple or empty nester to rent out a basement apartment or carriage house actually lets Georgetown's historic buildings hold the same numbers of residents they used to hold, and bring potential customers to the neighborhoods' shops.

Opponents have complained of the parking problems created by this increase in housing stock, but this should be addressed by better management of on-street parking. In fact, DDOT has planned a parking pilot for Georgetown that would do just this, and CAG is on record as supporting it.

There is also fear that these accessory units will invite more students into the neighborhood. However, by refusing to allow accessory units over the past 5 decades, Georgetown's students have instead become concentrated into fewer buildings, creating a "student ghetto" instead of better integrating the students into the community. Boarding houses, incidentally, were also a very historic living pattern in Georgetown's buildings.

If anything, the experience with the students shows us that preserving historic character amidst increasing population and housing demand requires continued development that is consistent in character with neighboring development in order to prevent existing housing from being overrun and existing residents from being displaced.

The Office of Planning and the Committee of 100 are both trying to preserve the neighborhood's historic character. They are just taking very different approaches. CAG's Hinds summarized this difference in his testimony on the zoning update:

I think one thing that needs to be done is basically to cut out historic districts from this entire process because it's not taking their unique characteristics into account. They are just different. We're trying to preserve. We're not trying to develop.
Most preservationists actually disagree, arguing that preservation is about managing change, not stopping change, or as former HPRB Chairman Tersh Boasberg often said, not about encasing a neighborhood in amber.

The Office of Planning is more focused on preserving historic character than keeping every physical square inch of space exactly as it is today. Sometimes preserving historic character requires placing tighter limits on development, as OP recognizes in their front yard and height recommendations. But sometimes preserving historic character requires development that is tightly controlled to be consistent with neighboring developments.

The debate will take place at the Letelier Theater, on the upper courtyard level of Georgetown Court, 3251 Prospect Street NW. The reception begins at 7 o'clock with the program from 7:30 until 8:30. You can get to the theater from Prospect Street by coming up the staircase next to the garage entrance, to the left of Café Milano. Or you can enter Georgetown Court on N street (beside Neyla's) directly onto this upper level.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Along with midnight closing times, pizza shops should be required to carry sun-dried tomatos, smoked gouda, and other higher class toppings.

by aaa on Nov 22, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

@aaa

Honestly, the way DCRA handled Philly Pizza is an example of how we should be handling retail in the neighborhood.

DCRA placed restrictions on their activities to reduce negative neighborhood impact, instead of endorsing the kneejerk reaction that NO food establishment should be allowed on that particular block because it might be another Philly Pizza.

The result is that I and other Georgetown residents will now probably walk to the new establishment, Go Fresh, to pick up food to go. This reduces congestion and promotes a vibrant local neighborhood.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Ken: Didn't the Philly P neighbors make crystal clear they wanted NO store at that location? And the Philly P case was handled the way it was b/c it was a consent order filed with the DC courts. If every retail store in the neighborhood were required to undergo a similar sort of "voluntary agreement" with the DC gov't and the DC courts, who the heck would want to open a business in Georgetown?

by Fritz on Nov 22, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

@Fritz,

I think we're saying the same thing.

No one would want to open a business in the Georgetown neighborhood when the presumption is that businesses should never open in the neighborhood. The zoning rewrite would add a presumption that businesses that contribute to a liveable, walkable neighborhood and don't have negative impacts would be allowed.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Ken - Not sure we're saying same thing.

If I recall the story correctly, the city shut down Philly P for zoning violations. Same owner then wants to open Go Fresh and neighbors go ballistic, arguing that NO STORE should be allowed to open at that location - regardless of whether it complied with the zoning regulations - b/c it would negatively impact the neighbors through crowds, litter, noise, etc.

I guess I don't understand how the presumption would work in the Philly P case since if you had a set of neighbors that absolutely did not want a business - or maybe even ANY business - at a particular location, they would identify a litany of negative impacts.

My view is that the Philly P case is an example of the extreme lengths the city will go to restrict a perfectly legal and properly zoned business when there's a set of very loudmouth neighbors and a spineless city councilmember.

by Fritz on Nov 22, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

Ken, Are you saying you think it's alright for a business to buy a residential property on a residentially zoned block and turn it into a business?

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

Are you saying you think it's alright for a business to buy a residential property on a residentially zoned block and turn it into a business?

Within very specific limitations, yes.

As OP says in their analysis, "Current regulations limit flexibility for local neighborhoods to allow for a wider variety of home occupations, neighborhood serving uses including corner stores, or other non-residential uses that would promote a walkable city and healthy lifestyles."

Residents of Georgetown and other historic neighborhoods love their corner stores, but otherwise undermine their ability to survive by not allowing any new non-residential uses whether corner stores, in-home dentists or psychologists, or whatever.

The result over a couple decades is a population of residents that expect to drive to get things done, and not walk, which hurts the handful of corner stores that somehow have managed to stay open.

Historic preservation isn't about embalming a neighborhood.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Ken Within very specific limitations, yes.

Wow ... this is just incredible! I'm going to bet you don't own your home ... and never had ... or you'd understand how a terrible terrible thing this is.

Historic preservation isn't about embalming a neighborhood.

This has absolutely nothing to do with historic preservation. This is all about good and responsible planning, which this is not.

I'm starting to really understand the danger posed by putting people with no real stake in the process in a position of testing their text book theories.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

How is it horrible and terrible to fix the zoning that ensures that the store that has been there for years has the opportunity to stay a store even if the first owner decides to vacate?

by Canaan on Nov 22, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

How is it that there are hundreds, if not thousands of cities world wide where corner stores, or otherwise small scale mixed use structures are the norm. Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Boston are places where the corner bar, corner market etc are commonplace, yet somewhere in DC, this is a problem.

I don't get it.

by William on Nov 22, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

Lance,

One of the corner stores in my historic district has been closed for a few months (long story) and neighbors are eager for it to reopen. It's in an area zoned--- gasp!--- R4!

by Eric Fidler on Nov 22, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

@Lance

I own my own home. Plus other rental property. If these properties were on corners versus mid-block, and especially if there was an opportunity for street access with a minimum of steps, then I would certainly consider a business use for the ground floor of the building.

Likewise, if some of my neighbors wanted to open up an appropriate, neighborhood serving business out of their house, then I may support that as well. In fact, a few of the rowhouses on my block in (non-historic district) Capitol Hill once had corner stores, offices, dry cleaners, and other businesses in their ground floors.

There is nothing "terrible terrible" about allowing some more mixed-use into our residential neighborhoods, especially, as the proposed regulations suggest, in such as a way as to be similar to the existing and past uses that residents enjoy and appreciate.

by Tony on Nov 22, 2010 2:12 pm • linkreport

Wow ... this is just incredible! I'm going to bet you don't own your home.

Another ad hominem, Lance. What does it matter whether I own my home or not? I provided reasons for my position, and would surely benefit from reading your response to them.

And I do own my home. I've dreamed of living in Georgetown since 7th grade when I visited Georgetown on a family trip from Oklahoma. My 2-year-old will grow up in Georgetown. What more must I invest in my neighborhood for my position to count?

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Lance
Wow ... this is just incredible! I'm going to bet you don't own your home ... and never had ... or you'd understand how a terrible terrible thing this is.

[snip]

I'm starting to really understand the danger posed by putting people with no real stake in the process in a position of testing their text book theories.

I see. So the people with a "real stake in the process" are the people who own homes?

by David R. on Nov 22, 2010 2:22 pm • linkreport

Add my name to the list of adult renters in Georgetown (for the last 6 years, 4 in our current apartment) who doesn't understand why Lance thinks my wife and I, who both pay DC income tax, sales tax, and (through our monthly rent payments) property tax, shouldn't be considered to have a "real stake" in the process.

My wife and I would love to own property in Georgetown, but it won't be something we can afford for several years down the line. But the last time I checked, a resident was a resident. Please enlighten me.

by Jacques on Nov 22, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

"How is it horrible and terrible to fix the zoning that ensures that the store that has been there for years has the opportunity to stay a store even if the first owner decides to vacate?"

That wasn't the question. (I.e., My question to Ken wasn't based on 'a store that has been there for years' ... it was more general.)

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

A "different stake", I can understand, but not a real stake?

by Jacques on Nov 22, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

Lance, in addition to owning my home in DC, I have also lived in many cities. Unlike you, I did not buy my home merely because it was a good investment while seeking to maintain a suburban lifestyle without grappling with the collapse in real estate values. So unlike you, I actually have quite a bit of experience with living in many different cities and realize that neighborhood serving retail and carryout food services is a normal, expected part of the neighborhood landscape.

Law abiding businesses should be allowed to open. Businesses that exist should be allowed to be replaced by other businesses with a minimum of hassle. Not only that, but there should be a presumption that opening small neighborhood businesses in neighborhoods should be allowed.

This is all about good and responsible planning, which this is not.

The committee of 100 and their supporters have played a role in encourage very irresponsible planning, and in addition encourages dishonest temper tantrums to the point of slandering responsible, honest business owners.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

Save your breath, Ken. The CAG and their fellow travelers are the most reactionary of statist NIMBYs. As Lance's comment hints at, they believe their bountiful equity and status entitles them to veto power over anything that may affect their ability to host cocktail parties.

by Dizzy on Nov 22, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Ken - Could you clarify:

Are you saying you have no issue with a historic district property that was a corner store several decades ago reopening as a corner store?

Or that you have no issue with a historic district property that's always been residential being turned into a commercial building?

I can see some sense in the first; but the latter would be a big issue. Actually, the more I think about it, even the first would be a big issue in G'town among the neighbors concerned about truck deliveries, noise, hours of operation, trash, congregating by G'town students, rats, etc.

by Fritz on Nov 22, 2010 2:54 pm • linkreport

For people who want to live right next door or across the street from a store, there are lots and lots of opportunities to do so in DC. Some people want this, and others don't. As the zoning rules currently stand, people get to excercise one option or the other and be sure their 'choice' doesn't change from under them after they move in.

Zoning is all about providing stability ... and setting expectations. For example, I like living where I can walk a block or two from where there are restaurants and grocery stores and the like. But I also like not being 'right on top of them'. I'm close enough to them that I can get to them on foot, but far enough away that they're not going to keep me awake at night or produce unnecessary noise and traffic (both foot and car) at all times of the day. It's ideal for me. When I was 20 years younger, I might have preferred living a block closer and being within earshot of these places and not had a problem with it. But at my more mellow age, I prefer what I have. And that is why I bought where I did. People change and a livable city needs to not only be able to accommodate all people, but all people at all ages.

Now the OP proposal is terrible because it takes away that very stability that people are going to be willing to put money down for. Ken, you might very like being 'right on top of everything' (as I once did), and so you don't see a danger posed. But for those of us who like the quieter parts of our neighborhoods that are still within a short walk of the livelier parts, OP's plan takes away that option. As I've said on other posts, the way OP is changing the zoning code, I could literally wake up one morning and find a dry cleaners operating out of the house next door to me ... or a bar .... or a restaurant ... or a grocery store. And I can tell you that would cause me to move immediately ... Now ... if you think the city should be only about people who want to be 'right on top of everything' then maybe you're okay with that. But if you're honest about this being a livable city for all, then OP's proposal doesn't cut it. Nor do a lot of the other policies such as the anti-car policies I see coming out of DDOT.

The long and short of it is that what makes Washington so special is that it is NOT mid-town Manhattan ... it has a big open sky, the neighborhoods have small town characters, and it's a city that can work for people from all walks of life and all age groups. Do you think the same can be said for mid-town Manhattan?

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

That wasn't the question. (I.e., My question to Ken wasn't based on 'a store that has been there for years' ... it was more general.)

Lance, you ignorant slut. Many commercial businesses have been rezoned as residential and "grandfathered" in, which means that if the store were to close or the building were to burn down, it could not be replaced. It is ironic that the very city you enjoy and claim to have a stake it would be ILLEGAL to recreate, in part due to the crazy belief system of many of your peers in your narrow socio-economic demographic.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 2:58 pm • linkreport

@Tyro: Watch the ad-hominems, there.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 22, 2010 3:01 pm • linkreport

At least we no longer have to be white or male to have a say in things, but I guess we still have to be land owners, according to some.

by ontarioroader on Nov 22, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

@Jacques, why Lance thinks my wife and I, who both pay DC income tax, sales tax, and (through our monthly rent payments) property tax, shouldn't be considered to have a "real stake" in the process.

Yes, you may have very many 'different' stakes in where you live, but one thing you do not have is a 'financial' stake in the property and its value. A drycleaner opens next door to where you are living, starts spewing fumes into your home, and all you need to do is say 'landlord, this place isn't safe to live in ... I'm outta here ... give me back my deposit.)

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

Georgetown suffers from being an historic urban neighborhood populated by well-heeled, anti-urban residents whose extreme activist measures degrade the quality and diversity of development within the neighborhood's borders. That, coupled with the reactionary nature of a horrifically mismanaged DCRA, spells trouble for Georgetown businesses as evinced by the Philly Pizza case.

Georgetown neighbors vigilantly sought to shut down Philly Pizza because of the alleged noise and garbage spilling out of the popular late-night pizza haunt from the hands and mouths of the shop's student clientele. Mustering exceptional organization, funding, and influence to bury Philly Pizza, neighbors harped on the shop's critical misstep: having a Certificate of Occupancy that listed Philly Pizza as a restaurant though Philly Pizza appeared to be operating as a prepared food shop or fast food shop.

In many cases of this nature, DCRA's Office of the Zoning Administrator works with the offending business owner to bring the business under compliance. In this case, however, the political benefits of shutting down the maligned Philly Pizza required a full court press by DCRA officials, despite Philly Pizza having already reduced the shop's hours of operation and voluntarily making a number of concessions that ate into the parlor's profits. If only DCRA had enough nerve to try every case of non-compliance so fervently, then DC would be a better place and I and others like me would have no problem with the handling of Philly Pizza. But DCRA does not prosecute such cases regularly or as strongly; Philly Pizza appears to have been wrongfully singled out to suit the political prerogatives of a now lame-duck administration, an administration that clearly failed to understand the concept of equal application of law.

Tellingly, a number of residents living directly across the street from Philly Pizza sought to give statements of support for the then-shuttered store at the Philly Pizza press conference held by Mayor Fenty and DCRA Director Linda Argo in March. If this shop and its patrons reportedly annoyed the neighbors so much that it needed to be closed, then how could non-student residents living in such close proximity to this alleged nuisance have been motivated to speak on the pizza parlor's behalf? Reading between the lines, one can easily surmise that Philly Pizza hardly lived up to the claims of complainants but was just another casualty of urban residents with suburban sensibilities. Georgetown residents of that ilk ought to seek more suitable housing in Fairfax and Loudon counties, as they clearly cannot appreciate what drives a city: diversity of all kinds - mixed uses, mixed populations, a mosaic of forms and functions that brighten and enliven the urban fabric.

As an aside, DC Mayor-elect Vincent Gray would be much behooved to first, discontinue the quixotic quest against the former Philly Pizza and, secondly, oust current DCRA Director Linda Argo, whose excellent shopping mall marketing management skills (Curbside Cookoff anyone?) have been pathetically misapplied to the business of regulatory enforcement. This is no more apparent than in the Office of the Zoning Administrator. DC's OZA has but one Deputy Zoning Administrator while neighboring jurisdictions have multiple deputies covering far less populated areas. DC's OZA also only has one professional specifically tasked with enforcement in a city notorious for nonconforming structures and uses. The rest of the staff exclusively contends with ruffian "customers," permit applicants who lie, cheat, steal, forge, chase, threaten, and harass to acquire permits for non-compliant building plans. Under Argo's watch, many of those applicants' wishes became command as a matter of practice, if not policy; the more threatening or annoyed one appears in the DCRA Director's office the more likely one is to obtain a permit for plans falling far short of complying with DC's administrative and regulatory ordinances. All in the name of customer service. Replace Argo with a strong regulator heading a BLRA instead of a DCRA who can manage building and land regulation with a discerning eye and iron fist instead of a plastic smile.

by Sadly DC on Nov 22, 2010 3:05 pm • linkreport

For people who want to live right next door or across the street from a store, there are lots and lots of opportunities to do so in DC.

Actually, they do not, which is why those neighborhoods you describe are so expensive. DC is very strangely zoned where commercial and retail services are heavily ghettoized into isolated areas, and in some cases out-and-out strip malls of the sort you see in Cleveland Park. This has contributed to difficult problems in DC with traffic as well as high real estate prices for anyone who is looking for local commercial and retail services nearby. In some cases (as with the building where the big bear cafe is located), there were efforts to downzone buildings to residential only in order to drive out retail services. This has to stop. We need to create a presumption of acceptance of local retail services, particularly in areas where that has been traditionally available. This works in most other small cities. It is you, Lance, on whom the burden of proof lies to prove that DC is uniquely incompetent and its people are uniquely stupid such that they are unable to grapple with this.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

@Tyro, Again that wasn't my question to Ken. I'm all for grandfathered commercial properties in a residential zone being grandfathered in forever ... even if they've been shut down for 3 years and then re-opened. Like I explained, it's all about 'stability' ... expectations being set and guaranteed all via zoning ... as it was intended to be.

Thanks for showing your true colors.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

"Encasing neighborhoods in amber" usually leads to their decline, whereby buildings meant for one use become obsolete and due to restrictions of use, are abandoned and left in disrepair. I'm sure that Georgetown residents will see that point. The city narrowly avoided this result in the 16th Street Baptist Church drama.

by Eric on Nov 22, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

I am sure C100 supports smart planning as long as it means everyone can park their three cars in front of their house, on "their street." Should be a very logical and forward thinking discussion tonight.

On second thought, maybe C100 should propose widening M Street by REMOVING the sidewalks on Georgetown so traffic moves better, after all, the traffic models all show increasing traffic projected. Anything short of that would be irresponsible!!

by Joe on Nov 22, 2010 3:19 pm • linkreport

I'm all for grandfathered commercial properties in a residential zone being grandfathered in forever.

If we (a) allow in-home businesses (e.g. a psychologist, a dentist, etc) in any home and (b) allow residential lots that at any time in their past served a commercial use to serve a commercial use again, within specific neighborhood impact limits, that would be good enough for me.

What do you think, Lance? Can we shake hands on this and be a model of reason and discourse to our peers?

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 3:19 pm • linkreport

Lance,

I could literally wake up one morning and find a dry cleaners operating out of the house next door to me ... or a bar .... or a restaurant ... or a grocery store...

The long and short of it is that what makes Washington so special is that it is NOT mid-town Manhattan ... it has a big open sky, the neighborhoods have small town characters, and it's a city that can work for people from all walks of life and all age groups. Do you think the same can be said for mid-town Manhattan?

Can you please explain your logic here? How will a dry cleaners lead to 700' tall high rises? How will these changes in allowable uses lead to transformation into downtown?

If I may suggest something - if you want to make a slippery slope argument, you at least have to make the slippery slope somewhat plausible. Adding one dry cleaners = Midtown Manhattan is not a plausible argument.

by Alex B. on Nov 22, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Sadly DC: You know that the first question at Gray's Ward 2 town hall was in relation to Philly P and that he agreed with the neighbors' views?

And, if I remember correctly, the neighbors' legal tactic with Philly P was that its actual use was in violation of the zoning regulations. If that wasn't the case, then wouldn't they have won their case at the BZA?

Seriously, if you're going to be shilling for a company on here, shouldn't you at least disclose the connection? Your post reads like a Philly P press release or attorney filing.

by Fritz on Nov 22, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

if you want to make a slippery slope argument, you at least have to make the slippery slope somewhat plausible. Adding one dry cleaners = Midtown Manhattan is not a plausible argument.

I agree Alex. The true slippery slope we have to be mindful of is this: Banning any new commercial uses in a neighborhood eventually will kill off the existing commercial uses in the neighborhood. And this is what has happened over the past 5 decades in Georgetown.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@Ken, If we (a) allow in-home businesses (e.g. a psychologist, a dentist, etc) in any home and (b) allow residential lots that at any time in their past served a commercial use to serve a commercial use again, within specific neighborhood impact limits, that would be good enough for me.

(a) is already allowed. There are restrictions as to the number of people who can be working there and the professional actually has to live in the house ... But yes, it's already allowed.
(b) I would disagree with because you say "at any time in their past served a commercial use" Remember, I'm all for stability. For all you know, maybe the house next door to you was used by some little old lady in the 1890s to bake bread which she sold ... And actually, the more I think about it, before the instituting of zoning and its protections, anybody anywhere could have had a business ... Hence, just about any property in all of downtown DC would qualify for going commercial under your rules ... And that is not in line with the stability which I already explained my thoughts on. As for whether 3 years or another number is better .. or maybe a whole other criteria (e.g., 'Did it function as a residence between the time it last served as a commercial place and now?) that is all up for discussion. I am not for 'gradually eliminating' grandfathered in stores if that is what you are asking. But I am for promoting stability and someone not easily knowing if the property next door to where they are considering buying/renting can be turned into a commercial property, causes instability.

Also ... someone much more knowledgeable of the code than I am has pointed out to me that you may have some misconceptions about what is and isn't allowed. Here is that person's explanation:

The zoning regulations currently deal with non-conforming uses. These uses are grandfathered, and can continue with some limitations, for example, they cannot be enlarged or extended into other portions of the structure. The non-conforming use is not allowed if that use was discontinued for a period of more than 3 years, except where governmental action impeded access to the premises. It can be restored if it had been discontinued for a period of 3 years or less. In addition, the non-conforming use cannot be restored if the building is destroyed by more than 50%, but it can be restored if the damage is less than 50% of the cost of reconstructing the structure."

It comes from CHAPTER 20 NONCONFORMING USES AND STRUCTURES.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

I should have said 'the relevant regs are in CHAPTER 20 NONCONFORMING USES AND STRUCTURES'

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

@Fritz: I am very well aware of the situation at Gray's Ward 2 Town Hall, hence why I wrote what you hopefully read. Why do you think Gray responded the way that he did? Political reasons, maybe? The main idea of my post: stop using, abusing, and mutilating land use regulations and the businesses bound by such regulations for political gain.

I am very well aware that Philly Pizza was not compliant with DC Zoning regulations. But, as I clearly communicated in my post, DCRA typically works with businesses to get them to comply with zoning regulations. In this case, DCRA et al. instead went for the jugular. Dare I hazard a guess as to why? To curry political favor with Fenty's favorite wards...

"Seriously, if you're going to be shilling for a company on here, shouldn't you at least disclose the connection? Your post reads like a Philly P press release or attorney filing." That's funny. I am neither an attorney nor a Philly Pizza employee of any kind. My only connection is that I am sensitive to perceived injustice of any kind.

by Sadly DC on Nov 22, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

So, yeah, I personally think that the 'rebuilding requirements' are too stringent. But I think your requirements (as in 'b') are too loose.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:41 pm • linkreport

@Ken I agree Alex. The true slippery slope we have to be mindful of is this: Banning any new commercial uses in a neighborhood eventually will kill off the existing commercial uses in the neighborhood. And this is what has happened over the past 5 decades in Georgetown.

I'm totally confused by what you are saying here. Are you really saying that Georgetown has lost commercial uses over the last 5 decades? I can only go back 3 decades, but I can assure you that the transformation from then to now is like night and day. I remember when all you had on M street was a large suburban style movie theater, a few restaurants, lots and lots of 'discount' clothes retailers, newstands, a couple of dirty book stores, and warehouses on the south side of it that you didn't go 'down the hill' from without lots of other people at your side ... (i.e., it was very dangerous down there by the canal and south of there.) Wisconsin wasn't much better.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 3:47 pm • linkreport

"Neighborhood stability" is a meaningless shibboleth. What it really means is that multi-use neighborhoods get down-zoned to the most-residential-denominator, shutting out any retail or commercial activity. In Lance's world, we have a "once residential, always residential" situation. That's why Ken said that places with a past history of commercial use should be allowed to have them at a later date.

As I said, the burden of proof is on Lance to argue that DC is ancity uniquely incapable of grappling local commercial and retail services, such as corner stores and local cafés.

Do not ignore the role of social class, here, particularly in Georgetown. Small business operation, especially of the retail variety, is considered low class among a bunch of DC socialites and their toadies, so there is suspicion about having them in close proximity to the neighborhood. But that is part of an overall hostility of many provincial DC residents to small businesses.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 3:50 pm • linkreport

@Lance,

Don't you agree that in-neighborhood retail relies on a community that values in-neighborhood retail? If so, won't we gradually lose in-neighborhood retail if we ban any new retail that doesn't currently exist? If so, won't the folks who move to the neighborhood gradually become people who don't value in-neighborhood retail, because there's less and less of it in the neighborhood?

If you said 'yes' to these 3 questions, then you understand the perspective that sees historic preservation as being necessarily about preserving historic lifestyles, not about embalming buildings. You can't divorce the lifestyles of those in a neighborhood (e.g. being able to open a store in the neighborhood like Anna Fuhrman opened Proper Topper in Georgetown) from the physical character of the neighborhood itself. They are inseparable.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

@Dizzy:
CAG is nothing of the sort. CAG is hosting the C100/DCOP debate. CAG seeks to represent its membership and all Georgetowners are welcome to join. CAG has no fixed views, though R. Hinds has taken the time to consider long-term effects. CAG does not seek to preserv Gtown in amber but to retain its unique character in spite of development pressure unlike anyplace else in DC.

by lou on Nov 22, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

CAG seeks to represent its membership and all Georgetowners are welcome to join. CAG has no fixed views, though R. Hinds has taken the time to consider long-term effects. CAG does not seek to preserv Gtown in amber but to retain its unique character in spite of development pressure unlike anyplace else in DC.

All of this is true and well-said, except for "CAG seeks to represent its membership". CAG's meetings to debate resolutions it adopts are not open, that a resolution might be considered or debated in closed meetings is not announced publicly, and the resolutions themselves are not made publicly available. The ANC does these things because it has to by law. CAG would be only better if it were to begin doing these things as well.

by Ken Archer on Nov 22, 2010 4:04 pm • linkreport

What's interesting is that the class dynamic plays out differently throughout DC, but the anti-business attitude is the same. In Bloomingdale, Stu Davenport faced a dynamic of people feeling, "He thinks he's better than us!" and business owners in the region are expected to engage in acts of propitiation to the neighborhood and its "community leaders", up to and including "donations" to various non-profits or projects in order to secure ANC approval. In contrast, the attitude in Georgetown is that the residents should be insulated from anything so vulgar as commercial activity, and certainly nothing that would create a local gathering place: that needs to shunted away from civilized society.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 4:14 pm • linkreport

Good one, lou. You come up with that yourself, or is that a product of CAG's PR/messaging consultants?

Let's just say that CAG's definition of who constitutes a "Georgetowner" isn't what one would call inclusive.

by Dizzy on Nov 22, 2010 5:47 pm • linkreport

Dizzy: It looks like anyone can join CAG. I joined my local neighborhood association, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, and found them to be very happy to have more viewpoints. Maybe CAG would represent a wider range of residents if more residents participated.

by David Alpert on Nov 22, 2010 5:49 pm • linkreport

I was out during the day, but regarding this debate about a dry cleaner: What Lance is missing is that the OP proposal specifically calls for limiting businesses based on impacts.

When someone says, "I don't want a dry cleaner opening next to me," what they really mean is, "I don't want the smells and noise that come with a dry cleaner opening next to me." I wouldn't want the rats that often come with a restaurant in my alley, either.

The Lance/C100 approach to limiting this problem is to ban all businesses in residential areas. The OP recommendation is not to allow all businesses, but to allow businesses as long as they don't bring certain impacts. I wouldn't mind having, say, a stationery store next to me.

We can forbid smell-creating or trash-strewing businesses in certain areas without having to forbid all businesses.

People often say that they want more local neighborhood shops like a little boutique clothing store. But the problem is that those kinds of stores usually can't afford the same rents as a restaurant or bar can. Since there's such limited retail space, the restaurants and bars take it all over.

Then the Lance/C100 approach is to start banning those too. But the other approach would be to say that in suitable ground floor spaces on corners in residential areas, you could allow these kinds of businesses. It would not bring in the same revenue to a landlord, but since zoning would now allow noisy, trash-creating businesses, they couldn't expect it. But maybe another kind of business could locate there.

by David Alpert on Nov 22, 2010 5:54 pm • linkreport

David, this was the conversation the other day which I was referring to which you didn't recall. Incidentally, I wouldn't want a little boutique clothing store next to me either. There are as many externalities associated with that kind of store as there are with a drycleaners ... just different. When people buy on a residential block they expect to have neighbors in the houses adjoining them so that they have a neighborhood there ... and not empty buildings at night surrounding them. Additionally, there's the long term impact that comes from the realization that because commercial rents are far higher than residential ones (or property prices), that little by little all your neighbors' homes get bought up and turned into boutiques or drycleaners or whatever ... because in the middle of the city, minus protections to keep an area residential, the highest and best use is a commercial ... commercial not to serve neighbors, but commercial to serve the hundreds of thousands of folks who come in to DC to work every day ... and then retire to their suburban communities where they DO enjoy the protection of 'residential is residential' zoning ...

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 6:44 pm • linkreport

Lance
I think your last comment really captures the fundamental difference between you and most other readers of this site. You think most people want to retire to their residential zoning, but I think you are wrong, or at least wrong about those who choose to live in the city.

I want things I can walk to, I don't want exclusively residential zoning. Yes I don't want to raise a family on a busy commercial strip, but I don't want that strip to be more than a couple of blocks from me. I do want a restaurant down the street, I also want a market, and in fact I do want a dry cleaners. It is a real problem for me to find time to drop off or pick up my dry cleaning if it is not directly on the way to work.

by nathaniel on Nov 22, 2010 7:11 pm • linkreport

These days most dry cleaners - especially the small neighborhood type places - don't do the actual cleaning on the premises anyway, which makes the "fume-spewing dry cleaners next door" hypothetical even more unlikely.

by Phil on Nov 22, 2010 7:59 pm • linkreport

@Nathaniel, please re-read my posts. I live 2 blocks from all the kinds of businesses you describe . I walk to.all of them. What OP is proposing is that they can be on every block. That takes away individual choice. If you allow commercial development on every block, eventually every block will be commercial. (As happened before zoning stabilization came about. That how NYC happened. And how Don't south of the Circle came about . The proposed changes take choice away from us.

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 10:43 pm • linkreport

Sorry for mispelled words. Android phone ..

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 10:46 pm • linkreport

Lance, if you want to have commercial and retail businesses within 2 blocks of you, they're going to end up being on someone's block.

When "NYC happened," it created Greenwich Village. The DC way gave us this. I know which is preferable from an urban design POV.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 10:56 pm • linkreport

@Tyro, the blocks they are in are zones as commercial. Anyone buying there ( or renting there) knew what they were getting into. OP wants allow this to happen in all Residentially zoned blicks. How is that good or fair

by Lance on Nov 22, 2010 11:24 pm • linkreport

Lance, how is it fair that I might have to have you move next door to me? Not very fair, but it's something I have to accept. Or I might prefer to have married couples with children on my block but instead have to deal with the fact that the residents might form a group house of roommates. But that's life.

We can accept that certain spaces may have residential, commercial, or mixed uses. Or not. One day a corner building might be a house. The next day it might have a convenience store with an apartment above, depending on what the owner chooses/prefers. A "residential block" doesn't necessarily have to mean "100% residential." But it might be 100% residential if there's no need for a corner store or pub.

Some people insist that they should never have to live a block away from a store. But someone has to live a block away from the store so that you can live 2 blocks from it. Or we could make that movable: support 1 or 2 stores in your immediate neighborhood, but they could be on your block or it could be on someone else's. None of this is unreasonable: it's the way cities work. As I said, why is DC such a special snowflake city that it can insist that no one have access to corner markets or local pubs and instead ghettoize that behavior into a few select areas where the demand gets pent up far beyond supply?

It's preferable to create a zoning framework and let the market work it out rather than down-zone everything to 100% residential every time a business leaves.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 11:36 pm • linkreport

The proposed changes take choice away from us.

You could always choose to own all the houses on the block and then you could do whatever you want.

Sarcasm aside, I don't think there needs to be commercial and retail development on every single block. But DC does have excessively large "dead zones" that are residential only, given the density of some of the neighborhoods, and not only that, but the neighbors raise excessive and in many cases disingenuous complaints every time retail development is mentioned. Clearly a bit more zoning flexibility is warranted.

by Tyro on Nov 22, 2010 11:53 pm • linkreport

I'd love a restaurant on my street, with a nice bar, instead of the dead zone that my street has become with condo building after condo building, after condo building. They demolished the dry cleaners, to put in a condo building. Ditto the market that I relied on for the occasional basics and late night runs; now I have to schlep at least 6 blocks away. I can do alright with the places a couple blocks away, but how long before the paternalistic overlords declare that they're not welcome and get them booted because they don't fit the idea of a homogenized, sterile, "Stepford in the city" look some people are intent on reproducing on every block in the city?

@Lance: Dead zones are exactly that: dead. Too much of one or the other kills the organism. If you don't want a mix, go live in the suburbs, or Columbia, land of the one property one vote credo.

by copperred on Nov 23, 2010 1:37 am • linkreport

Tyro,

It's really hard to discuss this issue with you (and others on here) because you're showing an almost complete lack of knowledge of how zoning works. Most of your assumptions (and therefore your conclusions) are wrong. And the irony is that what you're proposing actually will work completely against what you're saying you want. In all fairness to yourself, go out there and try to understand what it is we have in place now, and what it is we'll end up with if we did as you say.

And while I definitely don't want to go down the road of trying to educate you on what it is we currently have, let me just note this one thing ... The deadzones that everyone is talking about do not exist because of zoning, but despite of it. I.e., In the end of the market decides if something allowed for an area actually goes in there. Yes, you heard me right 'allowed for the area'.

Each and every neighborhood has a series of different zones. At a simplistic level, we have Commercial, Mixed-used, and Residential. The Commercial zone means that commercial AND EVERYTHING ELSE can go in there. Why do commercial zones then tend to be mainly commericial stuff? Because once that is an authorized use, it becomes the one that people with the deepest pockets (i.e., businesses) can buy if they want to and they end up pushing out all the other users over time even though they are allowed there too.

We're very fortunate in this city in that we have a series of commercial areas surrounded by mixed-use areas which in turn are surrounded by residential areas. We have something for everybody. Now it's true that some of these commericial areas are filled with residences and not with businesses. But that is not because the zoning disallows it or somehow discourages it, it's just that the people who develop aren't seeing these areas as worth developing commercially ... and they're not seeing them worth as developing because the people who would establish businesses there aren't looking to establish businesses there.

Now if what I'm reading here is correct, OP is basically looking to do away with keeping some areas 'only residential' or 'only commercial to a specific level (i.e., the mix-ed use). They're looking to make the whole city zoned commercial (or at least all that part of the city that is the 'old' part like our wonderful neighborhoods in the original L'Enfant city.) You say, 'no, they're not rezoing', they're just allowing an exception for commercial businesses to establish themselves in the residential zones. BUT ... the who essence of the residential zones is that they are reserved for only residents. Anyone can build in a commercial zone ... you don't need to be a business ... you can build a house there if you want, or an apartment building. But as it stands to today, you can build a business in the residential zone. If exceptions are made to that 'as a matter of right' (which is what I'm reading here), then you really no longer have a 'residential zone' because residential zone means no busiesses. You have all the same thing everywhere ... i.e., commercial zones ... which is what you had before zoning came in and reserved some parts to be 'forever residential'. Which is why in the past neighborhoods went through phases where they started off as residential and the as more and more people opened businesses and shops in them they slowly became mixed use, and as even more businesses moved in, they slowly lost all their residents. Well, you're proposing a move back to the past. You're proposing taking away from people the option of living in a commercial zone, mixed-use zone, or residential zone. You're forcing a 'one size fits all' solution AND you're completely misunderstanding why there are deadzones (well maybe not you personally, but others on here) by thinking people aren't building places because of the zoning ... which is false. Look at the zoning map (it's on line) and you'll find that just about everywhere in the city (except the real suburban areas of the city), you have commercially zoned areas within easy walking distances of the residentially zoned areas of our neighborhoods. I.e. the zoning already allows for what you say you want. It can't force people to build that way, but they are allowed to under the zoning.

by Lance on Nov 23, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

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