What's in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 2
Officials of the Folger Shakespeare Library clashed last week with Capitol Hill residents and civic groups whether the Library's properties constitute that which we call a campus. By any other name, the Library would not be entitled to special zoning considerations accorded to institutions of higher learning.
At a meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustment, some residents of the neighborhood praised the Folger's cultural worth, but as a neighbor the Library did not come off smelling like a rose.
The Folger, located at 201 East Capitol St. SE, plans to add a two-story underground vault and an addition to the rear of its present building. There were no objections to this part of the Folger's request.
Objections were raised concerning a campus development plan that would include several properties owned by the Library in the 300 block of East Capitol Street and in the unit block of Third Street, and to the creation of a 6-car parking lot in a vacant lot at 315 East Capitol St.
Lawrence Monaco, representing the Capitol Hill Restoratoration Society, said approval of the campus plan would legalize many existing illegal uses of the Folger's properties. He cited an illegal office at 12 Third St., a printing operation at 14 Third St., and the parking lot at 315 East Capitol St. Such uses are illegal in the area, which is zoned R-4, unless variances or exceptions are granted.
Dr. O.B. Hardison, director of the Folger since 1969, testified that sometime before his tenure the Folger had begun purchasing properties in the 300 block of East Capitol and the unit block of Third Street. He said no purchases had been made during his tenure and that he had always refused offers of property. The Folger has no plans to demolish any of its properties, said Hardison.
The Folger now owns the properties from 301 through 315 East Capitol Street and from 6 through 22 Third Street. Most of the buildings are townhouses built before the turn of the century. Some are used as office space for the Folger Theater Group. Some space is rented to other organizations. Some houses serve as living quarters for scholars who come to use the Library's collections, and one house serves as Dr. Hardison's residence.
The fact that the Folger owns all of these contiguous properties has aroused fear and suspicion among some of the Folger's neighbors. Renee Stewart of 320 A St., SE said that several years ago the Folger had made public a plan to demolish its houses in the 300 block of East Capitol Street and construct a new building.
"The plan was shelved due to lack of funds and neighborhood opposition," she testified. "But we're still concerned about possible expansion plans lurking on the drawing boards somewhere. Why should all these properties be included in a campus plan? There's no logical reason except possibly some plan for future development."
The Folger's lawyer, Whayne S. Quin, said the zoning laws required the Library to file a plan for the development of all its property. Ellen Seidman, who represented Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 6B, said that the ANC felt a campus plan for the Folger was an improper interpretation of the zoning regulations. The ANC opposed the campus plan, said Seidman, because the boundary between monumental Capitol Hill and residential Capitol Hill is delicate.
"The designation of part of residential Capitol Hill as something other than residential ripens the atmosphere for allowance of non-residential uses, now and in the future," said Seidman.
Much of the discussion centered around the issue of whether the Folger was in fact an academic institution of higher learning and entitled to consideration as a campus. The Library has research facilities and conducts seminars for scholars, but does not confer degress or offer regular courses. It is administered by the trustees of Amherst College.
Academic institutions of higher learning may apply for special exceptions to zoning regulations. Other applicants must apply for use variances. The Board of Zoning Adjustment uses more stringent standards for granting use variances than for granting special exceptions.
Warren Cox, of the architectural and planning firm of Hartman-Cox, which drew up plans for the addition to the Library, testified that the proposed parking lot at 315 East Capitol Street would be landscaped and probably paved in brick. Several neighbors opposed the parking lot.
Albert Crenshaw of 321 East Capitol Street testified that the Folger had permitted the use of its property as a parking lot despite the fact that the Board had previously turned down a request for a parking lot in that space. The Folger had also permitted trash to accumulate on the lot according to Crenshaw.
Olivia Jones, who lives at 317 East Capitol Street, "across the alley from the Shakespearean parking lot," called the lot a hazard. "I have two children, ages 4 and 7," she said, "and I'm constantly trying to keep them out of the alley." She said that the existence of parking spaces on the edge of the alley drew many cars into the alley and made it a throughfare.
Carol Santos, chairman of the zoning committee of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, said the Society heartily approves the addition to the Folger building itself, and asked the Board to expedite this request. Santos suggested that the Board issue two orders - one pertaining to the remaining properties - in order to prevent a delay in the Library's building program.
Hardison underscored the importance of avoiding delay. "The cost of the new structure goes up $40,000 each month," he said.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment is expected to rule on the matter in mid-June.