Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Agencies Push to Loosen Restrictions on Bars/Restaurants

Last week, as reported here and elsewhere, DCRA Zoning Administrator Matt Le Grant issued a letter stating that his office would no longer approve occupancy permits for bars and restaurants along the 14th and U Street corridors, in what is known as the Arts Overlay District.

The announcement came at the conclusion of a study by DCRA that showed that the percentage of street-facing retail along 14th and U streets that is devoted to bars and restaurants was just under the 25% threshold permitted under the current Arts Ovelray restrictions. Enforcement of the rule had been advocated by a small group of neighborhood activists, including ANC1B commissioner Peter Raia and ANC2B commission Ramon Estrada, among others.

As expected, the announcement touched off the proverbial firestorm of controversy, both from within and outside of the area. Seeking to quell the anger, as well as to ensure that the decision posed as little threat as possible to the ongoing development and growth of the neighborhood, it was announced today that the DC Office of Planning would submit a set of recommendations to the Zoning Commission by April 26 to raise the allowable percentage of bars and restaurants to between 40-50%.

The 40-50% amount was the amount recommended by the Arts Overlay Committee in its report delivered last year. (Full disclosure: I served on the Committee.)

Once delivered, the Zoning Commission will vote on the measure at their next hearing, in either late May or early June. If adopted, the new rule would go into effect in late June or early July.

The move is clearly a response to the community outcry that arose after DCRA's statement last week. Although the statement merely indicated a willingness on the part of DCRA to enforce an existing law, the move was seen largely as a response to advocacy on the part of commissioners Raia and Estrada, along with other neighborhood activists, who had sought to have the so-called "25% rule" strictly enforced.

By moving so swiftly to change the law, and thus negate the potential effects of its enforcement, DC agencies seemed to be in agreement with nearly everyone throughout the 14th and U street area that the 25% rule was, in fact, outdated and needed to be revised.

Astute observers will note that, even with this action by the Office of Planning, there is still potentially a three month window during which occupancy permits could be denied to otherwise deserving businesses along the corridor. In response to this, local ANCs--including ANC2F--are moving to ensure that the move has minimal impact on the neighborhood.

"Our neighborhood is open for business," said ANC2F chairman Charles Reed in a press release issued today. "ANC-2F will do everything in its power to assist in speeding community acceptable license applications through the BZA process."

While nothing is certain--the Zoning Commission could, in fact, reject the recommendation--in a city where change seems to come at a glacial pace, it is refreshing to see agencies moving so quickly to address this concern.


Anonymous said...

FYI - The Zoning Commission could also adopt an increase in the cap on an emergency basis, meaning it goes into effect immediately and remains in effect for 3 months.

Anonymous said...

"ANC-2F will do everything in its power to assist in speeding community acceptable license applications through the BZA process."

Unfortunately for any business that needs to go through the BZA process in order to get an exception to the 25% rule, if you call the BZA staff today they will tell you that yes, can apply. It will cost you $1200 and you will be on the Board's calendar in JULY 2010. Oh, and then the process will take 3 to 4 more months in order for the board to make a decision--6 to 7 months total.

So, although I appreciate Mr. Reed's goodwill, the neighborhood is definitely NOT open for business right now.

Anonymous said...

"It is refreshing to see agencies moving so quickly to address this concern."

I agree, DCRA seems to be moving shockingly fast at the moment, and possibly not for naught if indeed they can get an "emergency text change" through the Zoning Commission process at the end of this month.

HOWEVER, this case epitomizes BAD governance.

If the DCRA/Office of Planning intent was to raise the 25% cap on restaurants in the neighborhood, then why would they wait to request the change from the Zoning Board until AFTER the neighborhood reached the cap and AFTER they announced that they would no longer issue building permits of C of O's to new restaurants?

A competent government agency would have done the following:

1. Taken consistent measurements of the restaurant concentration in the overlay and report the results to the public, so that businesses would be able plan accordingly, and

2. Submitted the text change to the Zoning Commission 3 months ago, thus avoiding this whole fiasco altogether.

Anonymous said...

15th St. Arts district PANHANDLE? Someone at DCRA needs to use the right crayons. Why is west side of 15th St. shaded for Arts District zoning when it's actually zoned Residential. Another odd thing is why the entire Harrison Square townhouse block (btwn 13th & 12th; V & W Sts) is included in the Arts district. Who draws these maps?

Anonymous said...

I'm an owner-resident in the 14/U area, and I'm outraged by the 25% rule. I have talked to many others who feel the same way. It would be great if you could post information about who we can write to voice our support for the increase and generally make clear that the neighborhood activists in favor of the 25% rule do not speak for all of us. This is most emphatically not a simple dispute between businesses and the neighborhood. Many of us in the neighborhood are on the side of the businesses!

Anonymous said...

Amen! I also live in the neighborhood and I have been outraged by this decision.

You should write to the following people:

Jim Graham - jim@grahamwone.com
Jack Evans - jackevans@dccouncil.us

Linda Argo, DCRA Director - linda.argo@dc.gov
Matt LeGrant, Zoning Administrator - Matthew.LeGrant@dc.gov

Anonymous said...

Rather than emailing Council members or the DCRA, why not email the Zoning Commission since it will ultimately decide whether to raise the 25% cap or not?

They're going to have to have a hearing on the cap raise, so also make sure to either attend that hearing or submit testimony in support.

Anonymous said...

OK, good idea. How does one contact the Zoning Commission? There is no information about how to do that on their website.