The District of Columbia Zoining Commission, acting against the recommendation of Mayor Marion Barry, yesterday voted to prohibit the expansion of hotels in the city's residential neighborhoods.
The action bars the proposed controversial expansions of the Washington Hilton Hotel into land occupied by three Columbia Road apartment buildings. The only way the hotel now can expand is to ask the zoning commission to approve a special, individual zoning change.
The issue of hotel expansion and new hotel development in residential areas, which the commission banned, was the most controversial issue in the massive package of proposed changes to the city's hotel development regulations that the commission considered.
Barry had asked the commission to ban new hotel development in residential neighborhoods, but to allow some hotels on major streets -- including the Hilton -- to expand.
This element angered many Adams-Morgan residents.
Barry, through his planning director, James O. Gibson, also recommended that apartment-to-hotel conversions, which have mushroomed in many downtown neighborhoods in recent years, be barred in most of the city.
The zoning commissioners chose to reject that recommendation as well. Instead, they voted to allow hotel development and hotel conversions in so-called "special purpose" zones that surround downtown and which contain a mixture of residential and commerical buildings.But developers first must get approval for their projects from the city's board of Zoning Adjustment.
Hotel development would be allowed as a matter of right in the city's other mixed use and commerical zones.
This week, with the help of D.C. City Council member David Clarke (D-Ward 1), Barry met with more than two-dozen Dupont Circle and Adams-Morgan leaders. The leaders voiced concern over the threat of conversion and demolition of the city's house and apartments.
Gibson again raised some of those concerns at yesterday's meeting, but the zoning commissioners, who often in the past have expressed frustration that they constantly are forced to decide matters that they feel should be the responsibility of other agencies, said they were doing what was required of them as land-use body.
Community leaders and tenants of three Columbia Road apartment buildings threatened by a Hilton expansion yesterday praised the commission vote dealing with residential areas. But they were unhappy about its positions on other zones.
Ann Hughes Hargrove, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Adams-Morgan, said thousands of houses and apartments on the edge of downtown that are protected under current regulations could be "wiped out."
Whayne Quinn, the attorney who represented the hotel industry throughout the lengthy zoning process, said he was "very disappointed" with the commission's ban on residential hotel development, as well as the requirement that hotel developers get Board of Zoning Adjustments approval in the special purpose zones.
The hotel industry contends that hotels basically are residential in nature and should have the flexibility to locate in many areas of the city. With a convention center expected to open within the next few years, Washington should be encouraging hotel development, they said.
Gibson said after the meeting that despite the fact that some of Barry's recommendations were rejected by the commission, he saw no reason for disappointment. He said there appears to be no immediate threat to thousands of apartment housing units in the city, nor any threat of instability to the city because hotels cannot expand in residential areas.
Gibson and his planning department now are working on regulations that would set up a new, special zone near the covention center that would provide incentives for hotel development.
The zoning commission vote yesterday was in the form of a "proposed action" that will be referred to the National Capital Planning Commission for its report on federal impact.
Once the federal planning commission reports back, the zoning commission is expected to take "final action" next month. Currently, there is a 120-day moratorium in effect that bans the development of expansion of hotels in residential areas.