The District Zoning Commission has blocked the construction of apartment buildings in a 50-block area of Anacostia, a decision that citizens groups called a victory for their efforts to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
"This gives us the chance to dictate the future of our neighborhood, rather than have developers dictate it," said John Tetrault of Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc.
The commission decision affects a jagged area stretching from the rear of shops along Good Hope Road on the north to the Suitland Parkway on the south and from the rear of the shops along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue on the west to Fort Stanton park on the east. It changed the zoning to R-3 and R-4, categories that permit only single-family houses, including row houses.
Part of the area was previously zoned for 60-foot commercial buildings. Most of it was zoned R-5-A, which permits three-story apartment houses.
The community groups that requested the zoning change - the Frederick Douglass Community Improvement Council, the Fort Stanton Civic Association and Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc. - originally asked that the entire area be rezoned R-3, which requires lots of 2,000 square feet or more per house. The commission, however, zoned parts of the area R-4 "to serve as a transitional buffer" between the Anacostia Historic District and the commercial and apartment house areas. The R-4 category permits houses to be built on 1,800-square-foot lots.
"It's very helpful to us out here to have this type of zoning," said Henry Lutterlough of the Fort Stanton Civic Association. "We can begin to become part of Washington now. In the past we've been isolated because of the helter-skelter way people were allowed to build here. Now we can attract people of the type we'd like to have as neighbors."
The commission's action is "not a no-growth move. We want to encourage development compatible with what we have now, and apartment houses aren't compatible," said Tetrault.
But Joseph Horning, a developer who said he has built more than 950 homes in southeast Washington over the past four years, predicted that the zoning commission action would "delay constructions and slow up what had been a miniboom. This is the kind of snob zoning we have in the suburbs."
According to Horning, the former zoning allowed builders to use land in the most efficient and economical manner, enabling them to build moderately-priced housing. As an example of what the new zoning would prohibit, he cited the type of piggyback housing that is being used in the Beekman Place complex on 16th Street, Horning said.
The rezoning is the second action in the past year that community leaders say they hope will improve the quality of life in Anacostia. Through the efforts of community groups, the Anacostia Historic District - a 20-square-block area of frame cottages built in the late 19th century - was recently nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, making homeowners eligible for grants to renovate their properties.