Zoning Commission Case No. 08-06A Testimony on Behalf of the Cleveland Park Historical Society

Zoning Commission Case No. 08-06A
Subtitle H
Testimony on Behalf of the Cleveland Park Historical Society
Nov. 13, 2013

First, many thanks to the Zoning Rewrite Committee for the effort and thought they have given this long process. We appreciate their commitment to implementing the Comprehensive Plan’s long-range vision of prosperity for the District of Columbia.

In preparing for today’s hearing on Chapter H, I have limited my testimony to the Comprehensive Plan, N zones and the N-3. Cleveland Park.

As in any city, Washington’s many neighborhoods have just as many personalities. The variety of cultures is what gives interest and vitality to the city. The neighborhood I represent, Cleveland Park, is no exception. Part of our special character is the historic shopping strip on Connecticut Avenue. That is the reason it was included in the Cleveland Park Historic District. In 1988, another layer of protection was added: the Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District (NCOD)

The zoning rewrite proposal has additions and omissions, which the Board of the Cleveland Park Historical Society believes, will weaken the protection for Cleveland Park’s historic character that the NCOD has provided for the past 25 years. We ask that these changes and additions be corrected or clarified.

First, Reinstate the term overlay in the title in the General Provisions the draft should preserve the explicit use of the term “overlay.” The draft re-write renames the NCOD (ZRR 400.) as a “neighborhood mixed use zone”. By contrast, the Comprehensive Plan uses the term “overlay” (RCW Element, pg.23-1, pg. 23-16) and the current zoning refers to the Neighborhood Commercial Overlay. (Title 11, Chapter 13) The reference to “neighborhood mixed use zone” distances the ZRR from the Comprehensive Plan and the current
zoning and sends a signal that its purpose has somehow changed. (I do note that the word “overlay” is added in the N-3 (Cleveland Park) section.)

Likewise, in the ZRR “General Provisions” there is no reference to the Comprehensive Plan in the N zone language. In the current zoning the Preamble [(Sec.1300.3 (c)] specifically refers to its purposes “as generally required by the Comprehensive Plan.” We are concerned that with the name change and the omitted reference, consistency with protections in the current zoning code and in the comprehensive plan is lost.

Secondly, in the General Provisions N, the ZRR has added new, vaguely worded purposes which weaken the current zoning’s original purpose of the overlay. The ZRR now recites the intent to foster “residential, employment,…. and other related uses….” [ZRR 100.2 (a)] In contrast, the current zoning and Comprehensive Plan make no reference to those intentions. Again their repeated purpose is to preserve and enhance the neighborhood shopping areas. This is another disconnect from the current zoning and Comprehensive plan.

Third, in the General Provisions of the ZRR, we would ask that the first three words “in addition of” be replaced by “subject to”. (ZRR 100.2) That change will make it clear that the specific provisions in each neighborhood’s regulations will trump the more broadly worded general provisions.

Fourth, in the N-3 provisions specific to Cleveland Park, a new line appears expressing the “intent to permit mixed use development at a moderate density.” (ZRR 400.2). We are concerned that the addition of this provision could be interpreted as authority for changes in the existing uses and density of development in this overlay district. We would like to have that section deleted.

These may seem like small changes from the current zoning code, but as a whole, they weaken the current neighborhood overlay zoning structure by suggesting opportunities for developers to seek exemptions that could damage the historic district. The relationship of M to N to N-3 in the proposed revision is not easy to follow. I think some of these inconsistencies could be cleared by adhering to the structure in the current code’s Chapter 13, which followed the provisions in the old and the 2006 Comprehensive Plan.

The point of an historic district is to maintain a sense of what has always given a neighborhood distinction. When the Zoning Board voted for the Neighborhood Commercial Overlay for Cleveland Park, the pressure for change and development, even in the 80ties was intense. The overlay reinforced the restrictions imposed by the historic district designation to save what we have today. Small shops providing essential services. They survive because rents are affordable and the shops are accessible. New buildings would change the neighborhood character and come with a high price.

We are not against change. But we would like to have a strong voice in what change would be appropriate,
rather than having change thrust upon us in the future because the zoning regulations were not clear. Clarity is important to us since Historic Districts generally do
not have the resources to fight zoning battles against commercial interests.

Thank you for this chance to testify,

Dandridge Ince