The Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to rule later this month on whether the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, a nonprofit dance, music and art school, can move into the long-abandoned B.B. French School at 7th and G streets SE.
Several residents of the neighborhood who testified at a public hearing last week opposed the move.
"From the back of my patio I look up at 11 windows of the school," said Michael Kearns of 646 G St. SE. "Six days a week, all year around, until 9 o'clock at night, there will be noise from percussion instruments, piano, dancing and choir singing coming through those windows." He added that "traffic will obviously become a problem."
Viola Wheeler, of 648 G St. SE, whose property abuts the school, opposed the arts group's request for a special exception from the zoning regulations, saying that it would aggravate the parking problems in the neighborhood. Earl Godfrey, who lives at 541 7th St. SE, on the other side of the French School building, and whose daugther attends classes at the workshop, presented a petition signed by 20 neighbors stating that use of the building by the arts group "will result in a deterioration of the livability of the nearby residences."
But another petition, signed by 36 neighborhood residents, supported the workshop proposal. So did several witnesses, including representatives of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B, Friendship House and the Capitol Hill Group Ministry.
"A restored building with day, evening and weekend activities should help to discourage crime on the block," said Claire Birney, who lives at 612 G St. SE, half a block from the old school building.
"It would be a tragedy if the arts workshop didn't get this building," said Capitol Hill resident and WRC-TV newsman Jim Vance, whose wife and children attend classes at the workshop.
Sally Crowell, president of the arts school, said the group, which now has about 300 students ranging in age from three-year-olds through adults, has outgrown its present quarters at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.
"We have to turn away students," said Crowell, adding that she would like to increase enrollment to 500 in the proposed new quarters. Crowell produced a letter from Sam. D. Starobin, head of the D.C. Department of General Services, stating that his department would consider leasing the building to the workshop if the group proved it could make necessary repairs, secure insurance and obtain zoning clearance.
Marc Reshefsky, architect for the group, told the board that the French School building was "a blot on the neighborhood in its present condition" but that the workshop could restore it for about $60,000 making extensive use of volunteer labor.
According to zoning regulations, a special exception for such a school in a residential zone may be granted if the BZA determines it will not be objectionable to neighbors because of noise or other problem and if adequate parking is provided. Christ Church, about half a block from the proposed facility, has agreed to let the arts workshop use four of its parking spaces, the number required under zoning regulations.
From 1904 until 1942, the building served as a public vocational school. From 1942 until 1959, the Marines leased the building, and the D.C. Department of Highways and Traffic used it for storage from 1959 until 1962. Since 1962, the building has been boarded up, a target for vandals