The Board of Zoning Adjustment, meeting Aug. 3, granted the Folger Shakespeare Library a special exception permitting an addition to the library's present building at 201 East Capitol St. SE.
The board turned down the library's campus development plan, which would have included several townhouses in the 300 block of East Capitol and on Third Street. This part of the Folger's request drew strong opposition from neighbors and civic groups at board hearings May 24.
The board decided the case in executive session and the official order has not yet been written. Beginning next month, the board will deliberate in open meetings rather than executive sessions, according to Ben Gilbert, director of the municipal planning office.
Dr. O.B. Hardison, director of the Folger, said in a telephone interview that he was pleased at the outcome. "It's just great. We only field a campus development plan for our other properties because we thought we had to."
Carol Santos, chairman of the zoning committee of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, also said she was pleased with the decision. "On the properties east of Third Street, it's the only thing they could have done. The properties clearly did not qualify for a special exception as a campus," Santos said in a telepone interview.
At the hearing, Santos told the board that the Restoration Society heartily approved the addition - a two-story underground vault and the expansion of the reading room into an area that is now a terrace. But Santos and other witnesses vehemently opposed including other library-owned properties on Capitol Hill in a campus plan. The plan, opponents claimed, would have legalized several illegal uses. The Folger, according to these opponents, had been using property zoned residential for offices and parking.
Much of the controversy at the hearing focused on the question of whether the Folger qualified as an institution of higher learning. The Library has research facilities and conducts seminars for scholars, but does not confer degrees or offer regular courses. It is administered by the trustees of Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Although the board had denied the Folger's request to have all its property considered a campus, the library is still free to request individual use variances - such as for office space and for parking - for its properties. Hardison said he did not know at this time whether they would be requested.
"What we wanted was the right to go ahead with our addition," Hardison said, "and we got it." He said that some grants - including a $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation - hinged on approval of the adition. The library, according to Hardison, has now raised about $2.4 million of the approximately $4.7 million needed to construct the addition, which is designed to meet the Library's space needs at least until the year 2010.It will provide more and safer storage of rare books and Shakespearean manuscripts and more space for scholars who come use its collection.