A measure that will allow buildings bigger than the zoning regulations normally permit in commercial areas was approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission last week with two amendments designed to placate 50 citizens' groups.
Commissioners amended rules for planned unit developments (PUDs) that allow developers to apply for exceptions from zoning regulations for specific projects. PUDs, according to proponents, encourage needed development and, according to opponents, result in spot zoning.
At least two public hearings and a minimum of three acres were previously required for approval of PUDs. Last week commissioners streamlined the process to one public hearing and reduced the required area by about 90 percent. It also removed limits on the size of buildings -- other than the federally imposed 130-foot height limit.
Representatives of 50 community groups, who complained in a letter to Mayor Marion Barry that these changes were not advertised in the public notice of the commission's agenda, asked the commission to defer action until a public hearing could be held.
The question of whether 15,000 square feet is too small an area to be eligible for a PUD was addressed by an amendment offered by commissioner John Parsons. The commission passed Parsons' motion to consider the matter at a public hearing May 14, when the commission will hear testimony on rules for PUDs in non-commercial zones.
City Council member Polly Shackleton, speaking on behalf of herself and council members Betty Ann Kane and Hilda Mason, who also sat in the packed hearing room, asked the commission to defer action on PUDs until the council votes on a comprehensive land use plan, which she said it hopes to consider this spring.
In response to Shackleton's request the commission added a sentence to the measure stating that PUDs "shall not be used to circumvent the zoning regulations nor to result in action which is inconsistent with the comprehensive plan."
James Gibson, assistant city administrator for planning and development, said, "The citizens are concerned that initiatives will be taken, which might in fact change their neighborhoods. The discretion (of the Zoning Commission) is very broad."
Gibson, who had met with 14 representatives of community groups last week that several participants characterized as stormy, proposed a "counterweight" by including citizen participation in the development of the comprehensive plan.
Citizens who attended the meeting, however, refused to be placated.
"The comprehensive plan is down the pike," said Ann Hargrove, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from Adams-Morgan. "Meanwhile, developers will come in here with their plans."
"This is city-sponsored block busting," said Courts Oulihan, attorney for the Citizens Association of Georgetown.
"We're dissatisfied," said Helen Wood, of the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Committee. "But we'll have to talk to our lawyers and to each other before we decide whether to take legal action."
In other actions at last week's sixhour meeting, the commission approved a zoning change that will permit the French government to build a chancery at 3905 Reservoir Rd. NW. Subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission, the commission also approved a zoning change to allow the expansion of the Safeway store at 17th and Corcoran streets NW.
The commission also elected Ruby McZier chairman, replacing Walter Lewis who had served as chairman for a year. Theodore Mariani was elected vice chairman.