A community-initiated plan to change the zoning of a 66-acre chunk of the Dupont Circle area will be aired next week before the D.C. Zoning Commission.
At hearings to be held at the District Building next Monday and Thursday, residents, civic groups, property owners, developers and realtors will debate proposed changes to the zoning map. The changes generally would limit the height and density of new buildings that could be constructed in the area and curb non-residential uses of those buildings.
The area proposed for rezoning is bounded by 15th Street on the east, M Street on the south, 23rd Street on the West and Florida Avenue on the north. Not every block within that area is included in the plan but approximately 2,100 pieces of property would be affected. For example, the zoning of Massachusetts Avenue between 20th Street and Florida Avenue would be changed from R-5-D, which permits 90-foot high apartment buildings, to SP-1, which permits 65-foot residences and offices for non-profit groups or professionals. Connecticut Avenue between Dupont Circle and Florida Avenue would be rezoned from C-3-B, which permits 90-foot retail, office and apartment buildings, to C-2-A which permits only buildings up to 60 feet high.
Most of the proposals advanced by the Dupont Coalition - an amalgam of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Dupont Circle Citizens Association, the Dupont Circle Property Owners Association, the Midway Civic Association and the North Dupont Community Association - would reduce the height and density (the number of square feet of building in relation to the square footage of the lot) of new construction. But also included is a proposal to change a section of 17th Street between P and R streets from a "medium density community business center" with 60-foot buildings to a "medium-high or high-density community business center" with 90-foot buildings.
"We want to encourage neighborhood commercial development there," explained Dale Hudelson, who will testify on behalf of the proposal for the Dupont Coalition.
Witnesses disagree sharply about the long-term results of the proposed rezoning.
"By down zoning, the city will erode its tax base, lower property values and encourage people to go elsewhere," said Jeffrey N. Cohen, president of the National Capital Planning Association.
"The city could suffer as much as a $1.830 million reduction per year in real estate tax revenue," said Franklin Paulson of the Washington Board of Realtors.
"We're concerned about the possible effects on revenue, economics and employment," said Colden Florance, who will testify against the rezoning proposal on behalf of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade. Florance warned that the proposed changes would not guarantee the desired effect and might instead send the area into a "real decline."
According to George Wheeler, chairman of the Dupont Circle ANC, however, the proposed rezoning will help stop the demolition of historic buildings, the depletion of the housing stock in the area and the replacement of neighborhood oriented shops and businesses such as drug stores and dry cleaners by "go-go, office oriented 9-to-5 establishments of little use to neighborhood residents."
Wheeler, who lives in the 200 block of N Street, cited the recent demolitions of most of the residential structure in the 1900 block of N Street as an example of something that could be prevented by the proposed rezoning. According to Wheeler, developers would have less incentive to demolish buildings if they were not permitted to replace the razed houses with high-rise office buildings.
Wheeler also cited the case of the Benbow Inn, a neighborhood bar on Connecticut Avenue which is slated to be replaced by an office building. The proposed zoning change for that block - which would restrict buildings to 60 feet rather than the current 90 feet - might make such sites less attractive to developers, according to Wheeler. Wheeler added that the citizens groups will present evidence that the proposed zoning changes will not cause a loss of revenue to property owners.
"Earning potential is not related to building size but to general attractiveness of the area and the number of people interested in visiting it," said Wheeler, citing the example of low-rise Georgetown.
According to Hudelson, without the zoning changes, Dupont Circle would not "continue to be viable downtown communities? If so, it has to take steps such as this rezoning."
Work on the rezoning plan by citizens groups began in 1973, and a proposal was submitted to the Zoning Commission in June 1975. Last year, after many preliminary procedural hearings, the commission agreed to consider the proposaL. Some neighborhood activists claim that part of the reason for the long delay was that Theodore Mariani, who headed the Zoning Commission during most of the period, owned property at 1600 20th St. that would be affected by the proposal. Mariani continued to participate in the discussions, however, saying that he had sold the property. The citizens groups said they found that he had sood it with an option to buy it back at a set price, however, and took the matter to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Although the board claimed it had non jurisdiction over zoning commissioners, Mariani withdrew from the case.
When the commission agreed to hear the case, it divided the proposal into two sections - text amendments and map amendments. Text amendments, which would change the definitions of zoning categories such as Special Purpose (SP) on a citywide basis and create new categories such as Special Purpose (SP)-1, are being considered in separate hearings along with text changes suggested by groups in other neighborhoods. Text amendments for commercial and special purpose zones similar to those proposed by the Dupont Coalition have been tentatively adopted by the Zoning Commission.
The proposed map amendments - changes in where the various zoning categories are placed in the map - will be considered at next week's hearings.
The Zoning Commission is expected to reach a decision on the proposed map changes in November.