The residents of Brightwood had their day in court. They turned out this week, 40 strong, for a Zoning Commission hearing to voice their opposition to a rezoning application which would permit townhouse development in Brightwood, a neighborhood characterized by single-family, detached dwellings.
Marie Haywood of 1625 Nicholson La. NW had prepared a slide show presentation for the commissioners "so you would know the general character of our neighborhood that we hope you will allow us to keep unchanged."
"This is the Ugandan Embassy", she said, as a large and gracious home flashed on the screen. It was followed by a slide of brick homes under construction.
"These are new houses which, I'm told, are selling for between $140,000 and $170,000," Haywood said.
"Are they desirable?" Chairman Walter Lewis asked Haywood.
"Yes, sir," she replied briskly. "And they're all detached!"
In a sometimes emotional hearing, the citizens of Brightwood detailed their arguments against Mary C.B. Scott's application to change the zoning of a triangular plot (almost 15,000 square feet) bordered by 14th Street, Nicholson Lane and Manchester Street from R-1-B (single family, detached) to R-5-A or R-3, both of which would allow townhouse development on the plot. Six townhouses would be built on the site if the zoning change was granted.
At a previous hearing on May 25, attorney Norman Glasgow, architect John Sulton and real estate appraiser William Harps had presented the case for the applicant: a change in zoning would permit more economic development of the plot, would increase tax revenues to the District, would help solve District housing needs and would form a transition area between the bulk of Brightwood and the commercial areas that line the eastern portion of the community.
Brightwood, which is bordered on the north by Military Road, on the south by Colorado Avenue, on the east by 13th Street NW and on the west by Rock Creek Park, has some apartments and commercial areas along the 13th and 14th Street borders. But in general, the area is marked by old Victorian wood frame homes, large brick tudor style homes and simpler brick ramblers.
Brightwood residents told the commission that the streets are tree lined, children ride skateboards and bicycles along them or play in the large backyards that grace most of the homes, and most residents work hard at maintaining both the houses and a neighborly spirit.
A change in zoning would set "a dangerous precedent," said Gloria Slotnikof. "Before we know it, the big homes around here will be razed and rebuilt for multi-family conversion. It only takes one hole in the dyke. We beg you not to put a hole in our dyke," she said.
Larry Chatman, president of the Citizens for Preservation of Neighborhoods, testified that the 351 paid members of his organization did not oppose development of the site, but backed the construction of three single-family detached homes because they would be in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.
Laplois Ashford, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 4A-1, which includes Brightwood, testified that the ANC had adopted a resolution in opposition to the application.
In an attempt to refute the applicant's arguments for rezoning as a tax and housing benefit to the city, Anthony Martin of 1407 Nicholson La. NW, told the commission that the townhouses would be built to sell for about $70,000 per house and that the city's housing needs were for homes in the $40,000 to $50,000 category. He also said that the tax revenue difference between six $70,000 townhouses and three $90,000 detached homes was about $3,000.
"The difference is miniscule when you put it in context of the District's budget," he said.
Both Martin and Larry Goodwin, who lives at 1625 Montague St. NW, told the commission that they felt citizens were at a disadvantage at a zoning hearing of this kind.
"We meet against a high caliber attorney, a real estate appraiser and architect, which the applicant hired.We can't afford to pay for consultants. All the community can do is react emotionally," Goodwin said.
It took the citizens of Brightwood a little over two hours to tell the commission that not only would the character of the neighborhood change with rezoning but that traffic and parking would be adversely affected if the townhouses were built.
As the hearing ended, Lewis said the record would be open for two weeks for additional written data and for two weeks after that for conclusions. The record would be closed by Aug. 7 and the commission would then make a decision which would be announced at a regular commission meeting sometime in the future.