Housing Complex

Mendelson Proposes Work-Around for Anacostia Playhouse

Last week, with the scheduled opening of the Anacostia Playhouse threatened by the need to obtain a variance from the parking requirements in the zoning code, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson declined to consider emergency legislation that would have allowed construction on the Playhouse to go forward in advance of zoning approval. Now, Mendelson just sent a letter to Washington City Paper explaining his reasoning and proposing a possible work-around to permit the Playhouse operators to continue building out the space. The letter is reprinted in full below:

March 29, 2013
Response to Anacostia Playhouse Article

As many of you know, the opening of the Anacostia Playhouse has been jeopardized as a result of parking requirements under the zoning regulations. Two councilmembers devised legislation to help the Playhouse – by exempting the permitting process from zoning compliance. While this might have enabled the Playhouse to proceed with renovation work, it also would have created a troublesome precedent. It is not in the public interest to enable developers to begin construction regardless of zoning compliance, thinking that after-the-fact they’ll meet the requirements. The temptation to create this type of precedent must be resisted. The potential for future abuse is certain.

More importantly, the Playhouse can proceed with renovations without this legislation. One does not need zoning review to obtain a plumbing or electrical permit, or to make interior changes to a warehouse. Zoning approval is necessary only at the point the Playhouse seeks a certificate of occupancy to operate as a theater. That can come after the renovations, and the Playhouse can meet its schedule. My office has reached out to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs urging them to issue the renovation permits now, and I believe they will. This renders the special legislation unnecessary.

I know that many, particularly in the Anacostia community, are excited about developing that corridor. I know they were upset about the prospect of delay for the Playhouse. I think the Playhouse will be a great addition. But ill-conceived legislation is not the answer. As it turns out, it isn’t even necessary.

Phil Mendelson
Chairman, DC Council

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • http://www.facebook.com/AntLorenzo Anthony Lorenzo Green

    I truly appreciate this "work-around". But if it was that simple, why wasn't this done from the beginning? Why did it take pissing off my fellow folks in Anacostia for a simple move like this to be made?

  • Actually

    Phil's incorrect: You can't get a permit from DCRA unless you pass a zoning review while your permit is being reviewed.

  • Adam L


    You can't get *some* permits, but surely you don't need to go through the entire regulatory process in order to complete work on what is as-of-yet only envisioned plan. (That means to say, the theatre can get permits whenever it wants to undergo an renovation for any reason, as long as their construction plans meet code. They only need additional regulatory approval if they submit an application for other operations. Mendelson and the playhouse are absolutely in the right.)

  • Actually

    @Adam L: Nope.

    Look at the photo of the building permit Aaron posted. It's current use is office space. And because it's intended to be used as a theater, that change of use triggers a zoning review. Which triggers the parking minimums. Which the playhouse couldn't meet without BZA approval.

    Had the theater sought to do renovations as "office space", it could have been issued permits months ago without any zoning issues. But, it wouldn't have gotten a Certificate of Occupancy for a theater w/o BZA approval.

    Phil is conflating two different issues in his conclusion.

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