Housing Complex

Cheh Considers Bill That Would Give ANCs More Input on Residential Buildings

Advisory neighborhood commissioners rejoice, developers beware: Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh is considering introducing legislation to give ANCs a chance to weigh in on matter-of-right residential buildings.

Currently, ANCs provide input on building projects that require a change to or exemption from the zoning code, as well as certain large commercial and mixed-use projects that trigger a so-called Large Tract Review. Cheh's bill, if she decides to move forward with it, would extend Large Tract Reviews to residential buildings above a certain size—she's thinking maybe 100,000 square feet—even if they meet all the zoning requirements.

The idea came up at a D.C. Council hearing on Wednesday, at which representatives of ANC 3G and the 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition raised objections to a 263-apartment building planned by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises at—you guessed it—5333 Connecticut Ave. NW, in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. The problem for the neighbors is that the project conforms to the city's zoning regulations, at least according to the developer, so the ANC is granted no official input in the process. For projects that require zoning amendments or exceptions, ANC resolutions must be given "great weight" by the zoning authorities.

Now, Cheh is thinking about introducing legislation to "allow the ANC to be a vehicle for community concerns, and maybe make recommendations to whatever agency gives permits." Cheh acknowledges that on projects like this one, though, "their recommendations or concerns might not have any relevance to the permits."

"They object to the aesthetics of an all-glass building," Cheh says of the Chevy Chase project. "But even if they sent that concern to [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs], it wouldn’t be relevant."

Even still, Cheh feels that some of the conflict surrounding the Cafritz project could have been avoided if Cafritz had been required to consult with the ANC before moving forward.

"It would have gone so much better, even though there wouldn’t be a veto, to lay the groundwork, to do something like this," she says.

Cheh says she already discussed the possible legislation with the Council's general counsel to see if it might be considered "an incursion into zoning prerogatives" and was assured that it wouldn't be.

Even so, it's not likely to be popular with developers, or with DCRA. If ANCs are given a formal platform to object to elements of by-right residential projects, DCRA will be forced to respond point by point to the objections. If the ANC then disagrees with the response, it can submit another letter explaining its disagreement, which DCRA will again have to refute—even if just to explain why the ANC's objections aren't under DCRA's jurisdiction. It's an extra layer of bureaucracy that threatens to slow down the process and make developers warier of undertaking matter-of-right development in neighborhoods with particularly vocal ANCs.

Update 4/9: Cheh just now introduced the “Large Tract Review Process Amendment Act of 2013.” It applies to matter-of-right residential developments larger than 150,000 square feet. The full bill is below.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Citizen

    The current relationship between the ANCs, developers, zoning regs, etc. has served well in Logan Circle. What we have here, once again, is a group that has been little involved in developing a strong community base, logical, workable, process, etc. trying an end run with a too broad, blanket strategy. Cheh should recommend these people run for and vote for ANC. The process are already in place. Learn how to use them.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Now, Cheh is thinking about introducing legislation to "allow the ANC to be a vehicle for community concerns, and maybe make recommendations to whatever agency gives permits."

    And this isn't what ANCs already are?

    So, this proposal wouldn't add any new authority to ANCs to object to projects, but it would add a substantial amount of red tape and lengthy process to get by-right projects (that would remain by-right) their permits?

    How is that a good idea?

  • Hillman

    Far too often ANCs are petty, vindictive, and or just basic idiots. You only realize this once you have an issue before them.

  • Edgar D.

    ANCs have delayed projects such as the Giant in Cleveland Park for years ... or decades. Areas in upper NW such as Tenleytown look blighted because the local ANC refuses to accept change. The Council shouldn't be looking to increasing ANC power, it should be looking to eliminating ANCs. Isn't their function why we elect and pay for the Council?

  • Typical DC BS

    ANC's should be nothing more than advisory. All they do is gum up the works and provide litte more than an opportunity for NIMBY's to delay and cost legitimate business projects time and money. No other city in the USA has these penny ante wanna-be political covens in use.

  • DC Guy

    Bad idea, Ms. Cheh. The developer owning the property does so under zoning conditions. The proposal here appears to meet the various thresholds for a matter of right development. This same neighborhood opposed a historic district, of which, this parcel would have been included. They cannot have it both ways.

  • fongfong

    Anybody know who's committee this would go to? Who is in charge of DCRA? Mary needs to do something to placate the NIMBYs in Ward 3 - she must think she is vulnerable to a candidate that seems ready to embrace an anti-growth agenda. I wonder if she knows this is not going anywhere, which is why I ask about the committee in charge.

    Sad to say this, but I am reasonably confident that enough Councilmembers are beholden to developers for campaign financing, this will never pass.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    There is a ward 5 commissioner who is licking her chops at the possibilities.

  • Logan Res

    Very bad idea Ms. Cheh. These groups oppose any building over three levels. DC needs to grow. We should not allow these NIMBYs to continue to demand height reductions for buildings in commericial districts where zoning allows for maximim heights.

  • ANC Dysfunction

    Good idea. The ANC's vary in competence and function all over the map. Development in some DC areas is a run-away train fueled by greed. The ANCs can be of no help at all.

  • Barrie Daneker

    CM Cheh please that is crazy. We just had a complete over haul of the Comp Plan. where was this then. Also what about the illegal construction in neighbors that we can't get DCRA to call for fines, razing of illegal building and garages!

  • AMos

    Indeed, this is a terrible idea. I agree that Ms. Cheh is likely responding to the NIMBY contingent in her ward. They are everywhere but she likely has more of them in her ward than elsewhere. I'm not sure if this legislation was passed tomorrow if it would make any difference anyway. My understanding is that Calvin Caffritz has owned that property for years and if they've already submitted their plans for approval the DC Council,cannot turn around and change the rules mid-stream.
    Having been an ANC commissioner once I agree with the comment that ANCs vary in their competence around the city. Some ANCs are incredibly abusive in many of these zoning cases, using PUDs for example, as a "gimme" to demand free stuff. In fact, members of the DC Council have encouraged this type of behavior by instructing ANCs to request free office space from developers as a part of getting their vote in favor of their PUD. You also see ANCs and other community groups sometimes using the historic preservation process in an attempt to get around the zoning code. And of course, developers can act like idiots, too, and don't do themselves any favors by refusing to engage the community with a large project.
    If anything, the zoning process (aside from the rewrite currently under way) needs to be revamped to restrict how long ANCs and other parties hold up a project. A few years ago I witnessed a person claim he was representingq two "concerned neighbors" groups in an attempt to gain party status in a ZC case. Luckily, the ZC quickly realized that this was astroturf and did not give him party status.

  • Catfish

    Clearly a bad idea and it's disappointing to see Councilmember Che actually drinking this anti-development Kool Aid.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    Let's start taking these terms at face value: "comprehensive plan," "advisory neighborhood commission," and "by-right zoning." If these words meant what they say they mean, our little District would be a vastly more efficient place.

  • http://twitter.com/monkeyrotica monkeyrotica

    The Control Board didn't happen overnight. It took years of stupid legislation passed by inept councilmembers and led by a spendthrift mayor. Good think that could never happen in DC again.

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