Saturday, April 18, 2009

Is the City Enforcing the Arts Overlay Restrictions?

After a week in London, the 14thandyous returned to DC to discover that the Dupont Current had published a front page story on a subject that is near-and-dear to our hearts: the Arts Overlay District, and specifically its restrictions on the type (and volume) of commercial frontage in the Logan/Shaw area. (It didn't hurt that yours truly was quoted in the article, of course...and thus we reach the limits of our self-promotion.)

We won't rehash the article here, nor go over the finer points of the District's stipulations (for more on that, see our previous post on this issue).  However, we did want to bring to light a not-insignificant point raised by the article:  no one seems to know whether the District, and specifically the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), is actually going to enforce the commercial frontage stipulations.  The issue in question relates directly to the retail frontage along certain streets in the area (14th, 7th, 11th, U Street and Florida) and the fact that no more than 25% of this can be restaurants.

JBG Cos., who are developing the old Whitman-Walker building at the corner of 14th and S streets, applied for--and received--an exemption to the 25% barrier in order for them to be able to include a restaurant in their plans for the building.  Even more interesting however is the fact that JBG only applied for the exemption as a precaution, because no one knows for certain whether or not the 25% has been hit (it seems in all likelihood that it has, but no definitive numbers exist) and, more basically, no one has defined what constitutes "retail frontage".  If nothing else, it seems that running afoul of the Overlay District's regulations is not a matter of grave concern for those seeking to develop properties in the area (witness the two new restaurants/lounges coming soon to 14th street, and the recently opened Policy, as other examples.)

All of which begs the question:  if no one is paying attention, and desire to enforce the regulations is lacking, then why not take them off the books completely?  By remaining in force (officially) the Overlay District restrictions present, if nothing else, a potential grounds for protest to future developments, which would be unfortunate.

Greater Greater Washington blogger David Alpert is also quoted in the Current's piece, and I happen to agree with his sentiments:  the intentions behind the Overlay District's restrictions are noble, but the execution is flawed.  We can only hope that this archaic set of guidelines is dispatched--or, at the very least, comprehensively rewritten--before an adverse impact upon the future development and growth of the neighborhood is seen.

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