"The hotel industry is of crucial importance to the economic well-being of this city," representatives of the Municipal Planning Office (MPO) told the city Zoning Commission at a recent hearing. But representatives of several civic groups told the commission they didn't want hotels in their neighborhoods. If hotels have to be in residential areas, said the citizens, they should be strictly controlled.
As part of extensive citywide zoning changes now being considered at public hearings, the Zoning Commission is exploring ways of dealing with hotels in residential and mixed-use areas.
Undder the current zoning regulations, hotels are allowed as a matter of right in areas zoned R-5-B, R-5-C and R-5-D (medium and high-density apartment house zones) and in areas zoned Sp (special purpoese),which includes residences, professional offices and offices of non-profit organizations. In W-1, W-2 and W-3 zones (waterfront) and in CR zones (commercial-residential), there is supposed to be a mix of commercial and residential buildings. In these zones, hotels are counted as part of the residential component.
In a preliminary report, MPO recommended that new, large hotels - 300 rooms or more - in residential special purpose or commercial-residential zones be required to have approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. In the lower-density waterfront zones, hotels of 100 rooms or more also would need BZA approval, under the MPO proposal.
Some community groups, however, contended that the proposed restrictions didn't go far enough.
"Commercial hotels bring with them restaurants, night clubs, conventions, exhibits and other facilities and activities which would be forbidden in a residential area if not part of a hotel. They also generate a great amount of traffic and parking on narrow, crowded residential streets," said Helen Wood of the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Committee (WACC). Wood urged the commission to delete hotels and motels from uses permitted in R-5-B, R-5-C and waterfront zones.
"We are on the edge of losing a good portion of the residential character of our neighborhood," said Hal Savitt, of the Foggy-Bottom-West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). The problem in Foggy Bottom, according to Davitt, is apartment hotels.
As examples, Davitt cited the Almanac at 924 25th St. NW, a 121-unit building recently converted from an apartment house to an apartment hotel, and Guest Quarters at 25th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, now under construction as an apartment hotel.
Apartment hotels, said Davitt, bring tour buses and added taxi traffic, and their transient residents lack any kind of community feeling. Apartment hotels, added Davitt, are not subject to rent control, and conversions from apartment buildings to apartment hotels threaten the supply of housing stock.
Leila Smith, a representative of Don't Tear It Down and a resident in the Woodley Park area, said the 800-room Shoreham and the 1200-room Sheraton Park in her neighborhood are "not hotels but convention centers."
Smith said the hotels, originally built as residential complexes, had become convention centers, bringing added traffic and parking problems to the neighborhood. Smith objected to the MPO recommendation that hotels in residential zones not be given non-conforming status. If an establishment is considered non-conforming, hearings must be held before the owner can change its use or substantially rehabilitate it.
"The Sheraton Park is now rebuilding as a new convention hotel which will eliminate many of the amenities for the community . . . It is simply a large commercial center, and there is no regulation for it," said Smith.
Donald Shannon, of ANC 3A and a resident of the Georgetown waterfront area, asked the Zoning Commission to change the rule that classifies hotels and motels as residential uses in the waterfront zone. The waterfront zoning was created to promote a mix of commercial and residential development. But, according to Shannon, developers are using too much of the residential quota for hotels.
Harriet Hubbard, who said that until recently she lived across the street from the Washington Hilton, and Beatrice Wilgus of 818 New Hampshire Ave. NW, who said she lives next door to one hotel and across the street from another, claimed to be experts on the subject of how hotels affect residential areas.
"I have all the experience of personally being on the receiving end of all the unpleasant effects of convention hotels," said Hubbard, who represented the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.
"Hotels downgrade residential areas," said Wilgus. "They bring traffic, delivery trucks, taxis, tour buses, fumes, signs and spotlights."
However, Lenonard E. Hickman, of the Hotel Association of Washington, urged the Zoning Commission to be cautious in putting up zoning obstacles to hotels, lest the hotel industry flee to the suburbs.