Housing Complex

Zoning Board Rules Against Mt. Pleasant Library Expansion

This ran in last week's Northwest Current, but since you probably didn't pick up the dead-tree-only paper, a below-the-fold article bears re-blogging: The Board of Zoning Adjustment, which had previously deadlocked over whether to allow a rear expansion of the Mt. Pleasant Library, tipped against it earlier this month with new board member Lloyd Jordan (yes, that Lloyd Jordan) casting the deciding vote.

Activists had protested the destruction of the sunlit reading room on the back of the old Carnegie library, saying that the planned addition for community space was too large and wouldn't leave enough room for emergency vehicles. Two local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions spent thousands of dollars on studies contesting the addition as well as the access ramp, which they said was too difficult for the handicapped to navigate.

Of course, construction is already well underway, on track for completion this winter. The D.C. Public Library still plans to proceed under existing building permits, and has applied for a zoning variance that would retroactively clear the way for the rear addition. As the Current notes, the BZA may very well reject that application, in which case DCPL could take it to the D.C. Court

The rear expansion is already under construction. (Lydia DePillis)

of Appeals. If rebuffed there, however, they'd have to tear down whatever had been built.

DCPL spokesman George Williams says that legal fees and design changes have already added $1 million to the cost of the $11.5 million renovation.


UPDATE, January 22: The Library got its requested variance, and so won't have to tear anything down.

  • Johnny

    You have got to be kidding me. I walk by there every day and the expansion is already up! Can't these people leave it alone? It would be a waste of millions to reverse course. Not to mention a huge loss for the community. We should be gratefull we are getting an expanded library. Only in Mount Pleasant.... I swear.

  • RT

    The NIMBYs in this city are out of control. What is going on?!! Expansion of a library is a bad thing now?

    (In crazy NIMBY tone) "Won't anyone think of the children?!"

  • Wrack

    I. Hate. ANCs.

  • Ian

    One of the whole points of the rennovation is move all the back office operations and mechnical stuff to the addition so that maximum public use of the historic part of the building can be acheived. If the library is allowed to proceed, the community will get a nice large library that will be on par with Georgetown and the new libraries east of the river in terms of square footage of usable space.

    If you live in Ward One want that kind of space, this is the time to speak up. Write and call your ANC reps, write to the BZA, take action. Otherwise, stand back and let a few people with axes to grind control what goes on in your community.

  • rockcreek

    If this happens, I'll personally go and lay down in front of the bulldozer.

  • Sarah

    Unfortunately, these things happen when DC agencies don't follow the zoning regulations. This isn't the first or only time. In fact, the DC Court of Appeals is now likely to rescind approval of a very large development project in Northwest, Cathedral Commons, because the developer tried to do a legal end run around BZA (to get a special exception to overlay zoning) and chose an easier forum for its PUD, the Zoning Commission. A lot of people at Giant (the developer), its attorneys, the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission are likely to have egg on their faces. Stay tuned.

  • wait

    This is just strange and sorry. The NIMBY's are this extreme? I kind of hope that this fails so that people can see what happens when you let crazy people become involved in the project.

  • DC Guy

    Sarah, is that your lay-person's opinion on Cathedral Commons? There is nothing I have read that suggests the NIMBY neighbors have a chance in that case.

  • Ami

    @Sarah Don't forget that the Zoning Board, ANC, Mayor, former mayor, Councilmember Mary Cheh and 95+ percent of the community supports the Giant's project. It's only the totally out of touch Cleveland Park Citizens Association and a handful of people who oppose the Cathedral Commons project.

    I can't recall a development in DC that's had more support than this one.

  • Lampredotto


    You're confusing the role of the BZA and the Zoning Commission. The BZA is the go-to agency for zoning variances due to hardships like limitations caused by a historic building, an oddly-shaped site, etc.

    The reason we have PUD's is that it would be impossible to write the zoning code to anticipate all site conditions or types of mixed-use projects that could be built, so PUD's give the zoning authority flexibility to look at the merits of major projects on a case-by-case basis. PUD's allow developers to build additional height, density, etc in exchange for providing community benefits (parks, superior architecture, green building systems, etc.)

    And PUD's always go through the Zoning Commission, not the BZA.

  • Sarah

    PUDs may go to the Zoning Commission but because there is a special zoning overlay involved, the case had to go to the BZA. Don't just take my word for it. The DC Attorney General's office basically conceded the Zoning Commission's position in its filing with the Court of Appeals. As I said, stay tuned. The Cathedral Commons development may have to start all over again.

  • Green Voter

    "PUD's allow developers to build additional height, density, etc in exchange for providing community benefits (parks, superior architecture, green building systems, etc.."

    Hmmm. I live in McLean Gardens so am pretty familiar with the Cathdral Commons plan. But the PUD doesn't include any parks, green/LEED certified buildings, community space. And the architecture is fairly generica, not at all "superior." Does anyone know what benefits the zoning board cited when it approved the extra height and density.

  • chris

    Maybe the benefit of getting rid of an old suburban strip mall and replacing with a new grocery store and new housing for a growing population.

  • Green Voter

    "Maybe the benefit of getting rid of an old suburban strip mall and replacing with a new grocery store and new housing for a growing population."

    Those may seem beneficial in a broad sense, but they're not the type of specific "community benefits" that typically are required in a PUD to get extra density and height beyond what zoning allows, especially since (1) there is already a grocery store there; (2) Ward 3 is hardly a "food desert" like Ward 8; (3) there is housing available in the area -- in fact, a matter-of-right multi-unit building just opened across the street. My question is how a 2-block PUD slipped through without a park, community theater/arts space, green roof, funds to maintain nearby recreational facilities, etc. that more modest-scale PUDs have had.

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