Anacostia Playhouse Construction Is Good to Go, With an Assist From the Mayor
After weeks of regulatory battles and legislative debate, the Anacostia Playhouse has its building permit—just not as a playhouse (yet).
The Playhouse, scheduled to open in June, was forced to stop construction work because it didn't have a building permit, and it couldn't get a building permit because, through an arcane rule requiring a minimum number of parking spaces on the same tax lot, it didn't meet the zoning requirements. So Playhouse CEO Adele Robey and COO Julia Christian Robey had to apply for a variance from the Board of Zoning Adjustment and wait to begin construction until it was granted, as everyone expects it will be—a process that would put them weeks or longer behind schedule and threaten their opening productions.
Two D.C. councilmembers proposed emergency legislation to allow construction to continue, but Chairman Phil Mendelson was uncomfortable skirting the zoning rules, for reasons he outlined in a letter to Washington City Paper. Instead, he suggested that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issue a permit for interior work on the building, and DCRA found a way to make it work: issuing the permit not for a theater, but rather for the building's current use, as an office and warehouse space, which doesn't have the same zoning requirements. (The permit, shown below, lists both the building's existing use and its proposed use as "office.")
"We're not doing an end run around the zoning requirements," says DCRA spokesman Helder Gil. "It's a creative way to get them up and running."
To mark the triumphant end to a tedious bureaucratic process, Mayor Vince Gray showed up at DCRA this afternoon to sign the permit, making it the only existing permit with the mayor's signature. (Gray's autograph has no functional role on the document, since it's also signed by DCRA Director Nick Majett, but Gil says it "enlivens it.")
At the signing, Gray told the Robeys that the solution to the building permit issue reflects the first of the six "visions" he laid out in his five-year economic development strategy in November.
"The first vision is making the District of Columbia a more business-friendly place," he said. "And this is exactly what I'm talking about."
Adele Robey says she hopes to have contractors working on the Playhouse on Monday. The BZA hearing is set for April 23; if the variance is approved, DCRA will then issue a revised permit reflecting the fact that the Playhouse is, well, a playhouse.