Housing Complex

After Small Bump, ARTS Overlay Amendment Looks Set for Smooth Ride Through Zoning Commission

Uptown-ARTS-Overlay-District-231x300A few weeks after boosting the ARTS Overlay restriction on bars and restaurants in Midcity on an emergency basis, the Zoning Commission reconvened to hear arguments as to whether or not it should be permanently raised, as recommended by the Office of Planning.

Except nobody showed up to oppose it.

ANC 2B commissioner Ramon Estrada, who had previously pushed for enforcement of the 25 percent cap on the percentage of store frontage that could be devoted to eating and drinking uses, had been signed up to testify. On May 28, he had even sent a letter to Zoning Committee members on behalf of the ANC’s zoning and historic preservation committee that opposed raising the limit to 50 percent.

Earlier this week, the Office of Planning understood Estrada’s letter to represent the stance of the whole ANC, to some consternation among other ANC members—at its Tuesday meeting, 2B voted unanimously to endorse the recommendations of the ANC 2F arts overlay committee. Chairman Will Stephens sent a new letter to correct the record, and Estrada didn’t appear at the hearing.

Newly-minted 14th Street restauranteur Mark Wise of the Whisk Group was among the dozen people testifying in favor of raising the cap. The only person to rise in “opposition” to OP’s recommendation–based largely on the work of the ANC 2F arts overlay committee–was the celebrated local broker Wayne Dickson, who said that even a 50 percent cap would be too low.

“Today in our market, the only thing working is food and beverage,” Dickson said, noting the high cost of space. “We can’t get soft goods, meaning clothing, shoes. It doesn’t exist.”

The Commission seemed also positively disposed to the Office of Planning’s recommendation, which included measuring store frontage on a block-by-block basis rather than over the entire vast area. The only tough questioning came from vice chair Konrad Schlater, who worried about the increased traffic that more restaurants might bring—he can’t find a parking spot near U Street on a weekend night!—before invoking the D.C. development bogeyman.

“We’re trying to avoid what’s going on at 18th Street in Adams Morgan,” Schlater said. “I feel like it’s not something to be recreated.”

Office of Planning associate director Joel Lawson explained that while no, there hadn’t been a comprehensive traffic study, the Adams Morgan example doesn’t really apply.

“First of all, this isn’t 18th Street,” Lawson said, explaining that there were ways to manage traffic to avoid that type of situation. “If what we’re saying is ‘are we trying to recreate an 18th Street,’ I would say no. What we’re trying to do is create a 14th street and a U street that are the best that they can be.”

Zoning Commissioner Michael Turnbull also pressed members of ANC 2F’s arts overlay committee about parking and then joked: “I was just looking out for the interests of the vice chair,” referring to Schlater.

“I hope he’ll take the bus,” Chairman Anthony Hood quipped.

Other details: In order to protect arts uses even as restaurants are allowed to expand, the arts overlay committee recommended that eating and drinking establishments be removed from the list of “preferred uses,” which are allowed to operate under a three-to-one bonus density, and that any new bar or restaurant seeking a license above the 50 percent limit be required to obtain a zoning variance, rather than the relatively easy-to-get special exception.

The case is scheduled for consideration for proposed action on June 28th.

  • Sally

    Thanks for finally writing an article on this overlay without screwing up the basic facts!

  • Manny

    It's hard to be at 2 places at once. I saw Mr. Estrada at the celebration for the opening of the new Room and Board store in his SMD at 14th & T. With R & B as an example, perhaps Mr. Dickson is wrong about what types of businesses are willing to locate in the corridor. And, perhaps Mr. Lawson of OP could present the rationale and data to show how the mistake called Adams Morgan won't be repeated at 14th & U... He should take a walk along the 1300 block of U Street on Friday & Saturday nights, it's already happening.

  • angie

    Sorry Sally, not convinced that we can rely on this reporting...i just read Estrada's letter linked to the article...did the reporter take time to read it? Mr. Estrada's letter and the original motion that the ANC passed last month? Mr. Estrada's letter was submitted with the position taken by the ANC in May. In June, a day before the hearing the ANC changed their motion. Typically, motions and letters are sent in advance of the hearing to be included in the board's review packets. With the change to the May position passing unanimously in June, and Chair Stevens present to testify, there was no need for Estrada to be there.

  • Mark

    I would like to know the basis for Office of Planning's / Mr. Lawson's position. How is it supported if there have not been any impact studies conducted? What has the office of planning learned from the Adams Morgan problems? How is oversaturating 14th & U any different that 18th Street? Can we really take the word of an official under pressure of real estate brokers and bar owners?

  • Angus

    As a realestate broker, Mr. DIckson wants to get top dollar no matter what the collective vision of the neighborhood is. He wanted to bring a billards/restaurant to displace the Source Theater. However, the public won. Hopefully, the Zoning Commission will strike a reasonable balance to keep this area desirable. And, Mr. Dickson should take a walk down 14th and U Streets. He'll find plenty of "soft - non restaurant businesses" including: Redeem, Rags to Riches, Stem, Dekka, DC Footwear, Capital Carpet & Furniture, Muleh, Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, Hunted House, Junction, Habitat, Home Rule, Flowers on Fourteenth, Vastu, Reincarnations, Timothy Paul Carpets + Textile, Som Records, Zawadi, Urban Essentials, Universal Gear, The Bike Rack, Rue 14, Well Built, Pulp, Nana, Miss Pixies, Millennium Decorative Arts, Goodwood, Greater Goods, Yoga, Secret Pleasures Boutique, Sukio Design Co., Treasury, Ruff & Ready, Pulp, Martha's Outfitters, Lululemon, Logan Hardware, Lettie Gooch Boutique, Legendary Beast, Room and Board, Results, One World Fitness, etc., etc.

  • 14th/Uresident

    I remember when ANC2B created these committees. Wasn't it articulated then that committees would serve in an advisory capacity, and not act as independent voices to city agencies and the like? If a committee serves the entire ANC, one would assume their voice, even if/when expressed, would be on behalf of the entire ANC, which apparently did not agree with everything expressed in the first letter (the one that was superceded).

    As a resident of this area, and as one within the ANC2B boundaries, I would appreciate clarification from someone on the ANC as to the exact purpose and roles of these committees. I feel they should help the entire ANC, internally, in sifting through issues and doing research, advisory role, and then allow the ANC to express its opinion/position, after they've voted on a resolution (based, if they wish, upon research and advice from the committee).

  • Rim

    Why after the majority ruled, did the ANC 2B chair subsequently open the issue again? Oh, and isn't the chair serving with Dickson on Ward 2 Democrats?

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