City Paper Widget

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2724 11th Street: Opposition to Zoning Relief Recommended

At a regular monthly meeting on October 20, a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street voted to oppose zoning relief for the owners of 2724 11th Street NW, a rent-controlled Columbia Heights apartment building. The vote was unanimous, with one abstention.

2724 11th Street a few weeks ago
The motion said the committee would reconsider its opposition if the owners could show they had arrived at a "concrete agreement with the tenants" about how the renovation would proceed.

The matter was referred back to the Design Review Committee of ANC1B from the full ANC at its last meeting on October 2. The petitioners failed to provide the full ANC with promised drawings and documents to support their request in time for the previous meeting, so consideration of the request was taken off the agenda at the last minute. However, residents and neighbors who had come to the meeting in anticipation of a vote were allowed to tell the ANC about the state of advanced disrepair into which the building had fallen -- see SALM blog post of October 8.

The owners ask again for relief

The petitioners, lead by Martin Sullivan of the law firm Sullivan & Barros, appeared with drawings that more accurately reflected their revised plans. However, Sullivan didn't think the referral back to the Design Review Committee was necessary.

"I didn't think we needed to come back," Sullivan said.

The original proposal (see SALM blog post of June 23) added 11 new basement units to the 25-unit apartment building. The revised plan will result in a net gain of eight units. One above ground unit would be eliminated to create a trash disposal room, and nine units would be added to the basement. This revised proposal was first presented to the Design Review Committee last month -- see SALM blog post of September 17 -- without appropriate drawings.

The architect, presenting the September 17 proposal once again, said the new design created a "neighborhood-friendly" and "street-friendly" building.

"We plan to do rather a lot of landscaping," he said.

The architect said the proposed new basement units would be "more of a terrace unit" with direct access to the outside. The proposed new design would improve handicapped access, he said.

"It's a terrific way to save the building," he said. "It makes it economically feasible."

Attorney Sullivan then asked for committee endorsement on two zoning variances, the most significant of which is the requirement to add three addition parking space for the new units. The variance, he said, would qualify for zoning relief as it met the legal requirement of "no substantial detriment to the public good".

The tenants and neighbors testify

One tenant testified about the infestiation of rats, mice, and other vermin that the tenants have to deal with every day. He said that the owners had, last year, proposed a renovation and suggested that, if the tenants didn't agree, they should move out.

The tenant characterized the renovation as "a tool to try to push people out".

Speaking next, Janet Laskin, a student attorney representing the tenants, said the last year's deal referred to by the tenant above was part of a proposed condo conversion deal which was now "taken off the table".

Laskin said some repairs are now being done.

"Our legal team has just begin to speak with the owners," she said. "It's a bad, bad, bad situation."

One neighbor testified that an unauthorized renovation last year, started and then abandoned, left a big hole by the side of the building that filled up with water when it rained. This showed the owners had a bad track record on construction, she said.

Other neighbors concentrated on the effects the proposed variances might have on the neighborhood. One said the parking relief would create more cars wishing to find on-street parking where it was already very difficult to do so. Another said a proposed trash pick-up area on the rear alley would block the alley for service and emergency vehicles.

An owner responds

A woman who said she was a member of the family who owns the building had a chance to respond.

"There are so many untruths here," she said about the testimony of the tenants and neighbors.

"You may think we're rolling in dough, but we're not," she said.

About the renovation, she said: "We want to make this a beautiful building. You have drawings in front of you -- it could be a beautiful building."

Committee comments on the motion to deny

Committee member Joel Heisey made the motion to deny endorsement, and said there was "no compelling interest for the community".

"I agree this building needs to be renovated," Heisey said, but the owners were not entitled to "special treatment due to deferred maintenance".

Other committee members announced themselves against the motion, with one exception: Patrick Nelson.

"I'm at a total state of frustration," Nelson said. "For me, that's a lot of BS. There's stuff that's being brought in that has absolutely nothing to do with it [i.e., the zoning variance request]."

But others disagreed.

"Everybody wants to see the building renovated," committee member Tony Norman said. Norman commented on the testimony of tenants and neighbors: "I think all of this is relevant."

Norman also quoted ANC1B chair James Turner, who said that the tenants and neighbors should continue to come to the relevant meetings if they wished to influence the process.

Turner is commissioner for district 09, where 2724 11th Street is located.

The request for a zoning variance will probably be considered once again at the next meeting of the full ANC, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 6, at 7pm, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets). The zoning variance request for 2724 11th Street is on the calendar for consideration by DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on November 18 at 9:30am. The BZA holds open meetings at its offices at 441 4th Street (Judiciary Square).

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