Court Allows Hine School Development to Move Forward
The D.C. Court of Appeals today rejected arguments from neighbors against the planned 158-unit residential development on the site of the former Hine School, allowing the controversial Capitol Hill development to move forward.
A group of neighbors had appealed a March 8, 2013 decision by the Zoning Commission to approve the application of the development team, led by EastBanc Inc. and Stanton Development Corporation, for a so-called planned unit development, allowing the project to be larger than allowed under the existing zoning for the site. The neighbors raised several objections to the Zoning Commission's ruling; the court today rejected all of them.
First, the neighbors took issue with the scale of the project. The neighborhood surrounding the Hine site, on the 700 block of C Street SE near Eastern Market, consists largely of rowhouses, while the proposed project would require a change to "medium-high density" commercial-district zoning to allow for its 90-foot height (plus an extra four feet in one section to accommodate an elevator). Neighbors argued that “the PUD will be more than twice as tall and more than twice as dense” as the rest of the neighborhood, and that the Zoning Commission had not sufficiently considered this extra mass. The judges disagreed, finding that the Commission had considered it thoroughly and found no reason to disagree with the Historic Preservation Review Board's ruling that it was still compatible with the surrounding historic district.
Next, the neighbors objected to the project's commitment to affordable housing. Rather than comply with the usual inclusionary zoning requirement, the developers sought federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits to build affordable units. The court determined that they acted fully within the law, since they'll be providing more affordable units than required under IZ (29 percent of the units, as opposed to 8 to 10 percent). There was also concern over the fact that the affordable housing will be segregated in the project's North Building rather than integrated into the larger South Building, but the court noted that Stanton-EastBanc had justified the decision by demonstrating the difficulty of obtaining financing for a mixed building, and had revised its design to ensure that the quality of the affordable building is equal to that of the market-rate one.
Finally, the court found that despite neighbors' objections, Stanton-EastBanc and the Zoning Commission had followed due process, and that the city had acted properly in granting the land to Stanton-EastBanc through a competitive bidding process.
While many neighbors are upset by the planned development due largely to the height and density it'll bring to the area, the court also noted that this feeling is not universal. "Many residents, community groups, and businesses supported the project," the judges stated in their decision, "including Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, which negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Stanton-EastBanc."
Photo from the PUD application