Zoning Fights That Make Me Sad
I had the pleasure of attending two ANC meetings over the last two evenings in which zoning for two specific parcels was discussed: One, for the Curtis Chevrolet site on Georgia Avenue, and another, for the Big Bear Cafe on First and R Streets NW. Both left me feeling even more depressed than ANC meetings usually do.
Once upon a time, developer Foulger-Pratt planned a 400-apartment mixed-use building on the Curtis Chevrolet site, which was supported by Councilwoman Muriel Bowser and many residents. In March of last year, ANC 4B provided extensive comments to the Office of Planning, requesting more time to consider the proposal. But then, in July, the ANC voted to endorse an all-commercial development on that lot. The "whereas" clauses included: "Our Community is homeowner-based and family oriented, we want to maintain the character and integrity of our community" and "With the addition of over 1000 more residents in a compact area the likelihood of crime and violence increases dramatically."
Ultimately, the mixed-use project fell apart because it's apparently easier to get financing for all-commercial projects in this economic climate. Now, the site will likely become a Walmart, which may not have been the kind of all-commercial development that residents opposing new apartments had in mind (their requests included the usual neighborhood dreams of a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and a movie theater). At Monday's ANC meeting, even though the Office of Planning had ruled that her anti-residential zoning request would be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan, and even though the planned Walmart would render it moot, Commissioner Brenda Speaks passed another resolution requesting that the zoning appeal be heard. At the same time, her personal assistant was circulating a flyer opposing Walmart.
Here's the bottom line: You can't demand fun, high-quality, neighborhood-serving retail without accepting more residents. Brightwood isn't high-density or high-income enough to support the kinds of things Speaks and Co. are asking for, and when you oppose mixed-use projects, you're just asking for a Walmart.
Next depressing zoning discussion.
You thought the Big Bear Cafe wars were over? So did I. But after being defeated in their battle against the cafe's liquor license, nearby residents are opposing the zoning map change from residential to low-density commercial that owner Stu Davenport needs to operate his business legally. The ANC voted to support the change back in 2008, and it passed in the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2010. But last night, in the outgoing Commission's last meeting–also the last meeting at which the single member district in which the cafe is located, currently represented by Davenport, would not have a vote–the ANC overturned its previous vote and supported neighbor Karla Lewis' petition to keep the address residentially zoned.
In both cases, the powers that be will likely ignore the ANC appeals for unrealistic commercial development (in ANC 4B's case) or monochromatic residential character (in ANC 5C's case). But both represent somewhat regressive visions of neighborhood development. It's the kind of thing that the Office of Planning is trying to mitigate by overhauling zoning regs to allow for commercial uses in high-density residential zones. Healthy neighborhoods have amenities like restaurants, cafes, gyms, daycares, etc. within walking distance (which you can see in a wonderfully visual way with the Office of Planning's nifty walking map).
Doesn't mean unrestricted commercial development–neighbors still have a substantial degree of control. Just desirable retail where it works. It's my wish for the New Year that more local government bodies will understand.