City Paper Widget

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1017 12th Street: Arguments about "Light and Air" Come to the Central Business District

At a public hearing on January 6, DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) agreed to grant zoning relief to ALBA 12th Street LLC which will allow a solitary vacant red-brick holdout building with historic connections at 1017 12th Street NW to be redeveloped. However, its neighbors put up a fight, claiming that the "light and air" of the their surrounding taller modern office buildings would be disrupted by the proposed upward expansion of the historic building.

From BZA official documents
The petitioners had received endorsement from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle -- see SALM blog post of November 13, 2014 -- and had been thanked by the ANC for working to preserve the historic building, which has a connection to Elizabeth Keckley, a freed slave who went on to become Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and a local celebrity. In December, City Councilmember Jack Evans wrote a letter joining ANC2F in support, according to the BZA file on the case.

On December 9, 2014, the building owner appeared before the BZA and pledged to rename the renovated building "The Keckley", and said he hoped to arrange a post-renovation ribbon-cutting attended by Mayor Bowser and the actress who played Keckley in Steve Speilberg's 2012 film biography of Lincoln.

The building requires zoning relief because it has no parking, takes up 100% of the lot it stands on, and will be expanded to 10 stories -- still shorter than the buildings that surround it. This expansion will block the sunlight into and the view out of some of the windows of the building. Other windows in the neighboring tall office building are (in violation of the DC building code) too close to the property line of the new building and would probably have to be removed. As a result, the owners of the neighboring building came before the BZA in December to say that the proposal would have an adverse economic impact, meaning, it would reduce their office building's "light and air" and make it less desirable to renters.

In documents submitted to the board in January, the petitioners admitted the expansion of the building might have an economic impact on the existing buildings, but the impact would not meet the requirement of "substantial detriment to the public good" which would be necessary to deny the zoning relief request.

In December, the Board recommended the petitioners take a handful of actions in exchange for the approval of their variance. The petitioners pledged to do so. For example, they will have to provide bicycle racks and Smart Cards to mitigate the effects of zero parking. The petitioners were also advised to buy Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), which they did. The quantity of TDRs they needed was so small in comparison to the transaction costs that the petitioners had difficulty finding a seller, but they eventually found one who was willing to participate, hoping for future good-will.

All three BZA members present voted to approve the zoning relief at the January meeting.

I did not attend this hearing. I gathered the information above by watching the archived video at the Office of Zoning's Interactive Zoning Information System (IZIS). Videos of both the December 2014 and January 2015 public hearings on this request, along with transcripts of the same meetings and supporting documents submitted by both sides (including the letter from Jack Evans), can be viewed by clicking on the link to IZIS above and entering case number 18878 in the search bar.

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