What the zoning draft means for Georgetown

August 8, 2013

As reported in the Current this week, the DC Office of Planning has issued the latest draft for the zoning code rewrite. It contains rules specifically tailored for Georgetown. While the changes are modest in scope, they have the potential to change a lot of things in Georgetown for the better, or at the very least keep around much of what we love about Georgetown.

Full disclosure, in my capacity as member of the Citizens Association of Georgetown board, I participated in the discussions that went into the proposed draft. This gave me a close-up view to see how much the end product was a result of genuine and open discussion between different viewpoints. It is a true compromise that everyone involved felt comfortable getting behind, whether they are radical urbanists like me, or more conservative.

The most important changes, at least in my opinion, relate to corner stores and accessory dwellings (i.e. apartments).

Corner Stores

Corner stores like Scheele’s and Sara’s are a critical part of the appeal of living in Georgetown. But the thing is, they only exist where they are due to grandfathering. The current zoning code would consider them illegal if they hadn’t existed for as long as they have. And consequently, if any of them closed, unless a new store were opened there shortly after, the grandfathering would expire and no new store would be allowed.

This potentially has real consequences. When the future of Scheele’s was in doubt due to the Scheele family putting the building up for sale, it was never an option for the store to simply pick up and move across the street. The grandfathering isn’t portable. So if a store loses its lease, it cannot simply move to another building unless that building is already zoned commercial. There are only a few small pockets in the side streets of Georgetown that are zoned commercial.

The new rules would loosen the general prohibition on commercial activity in residential zones. You could open a corner store in any property literally on a corner. Some conditions apply, but the main one is that there cannot be more than three other corner stores within 500 feet and it cannot be within 750 feet of M and Wisconsin.

That last condition is a little odd, but the idea is that corner stores are supposed to be neighborhood serving and not simply be an extension of the existing commercial areas.

[Continue reading Topher Mathews' post here at The Georgetown Metropolitan.]

Topher Mathews blogs at The Georgetown Metropolitan . The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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Dan Reed | August 7, 2013