Most of the land-use designations in the newly adopted D.C. Comprehensive Plan follow the existing zoning patterns of the city. Where the zoning has been residential, the plan calls for residential use, and where the zoning has been for commercial or industrial uses, that is what the plan says should be there too.
Except, that is, for a number of small, unexplainable discrepancies that residents and developers say could confuse zoning issues in the city for years.
Stanton Park, a small square on Capitol Hill surrounded by a mix of commercial and residential uses, is an example of one of those corners of the city where the zoning, the policies and the comprehensive plan don't match.
The plan -- along with the maps that accompany it -- is supposed to encompass the generalized land-use policies for the city. There are places on the maps, however, that include very specific changes in land-use for certain sites, many of which have surprised and angered local residents.
Under current zoning, commercial use is allowed along the north and south edge of Stanton Park. The rest of area around the park is zoned residential, except for the land along the northwestern spur of Massachusetts Avenue.
Current uses mirror the zoning, with commercial establishments on the northern edge and a school and commercial town houses along the southern edge. To the east of the park, in the residentially zoned area, are two churches, some town houses and a barbershop.
When Mayor Marion Barry submitted a proposed comprehensive plan map to the D.C. City Council this fall, the map showed commercial uses for the northern and eastern edge of Stanton Park, but not for the southern edge.
Later, the City Council approved two amendments to the plan that reduced the depth of commercial use that would be allowed on the northern side and eliminated the commercial use along the eastern edge, but the council did not reinstate the commercial use along the southern edge that had been on the Mayor's proposed map.
"That's bizarre," said Anne Devon, former chairman of the Stanton Park Neighborhood Association. "The southern side has commercial town houses and a school. That's very confusing. I wonder what it means."
What it will mean, say zoning attorneys, is that the possibility of expanding commercial uses along the southern side of the park has vanished with the stroke of a pen.
Under the Home Rule Act, which gave the city the authority to adopt a comprehensive plan, zoning must conform with the policies set forth in the plan.
"The plan has considerable legal significance," said J. Kirkwood White, a D.C. zoning attorney with Linowes and Blocher and a former director of the city's planning office. "If a landowner on the southern side of the square wanted to expand his store, or if someone wanted to change the school into offices, he wouldn't be able to, because that would be inconsistent with the plan, despite the fact that the zoning is for commercial."
By the same token, landowners on the north side of the 300 block of D Street NE, whose property has now switched from a residential to a commercial use, apparently could get their land rezoned for commercial development.
White said it is still unclear, however, how the city will bring the zoning maps into compliance with the plan. He said that the D.C. Zoning Commission, which has the authority to rezone any parcel of the city, may go through the city rezoning parcels out of compliance with the comprehensive plan, but that they might wait for individual landowners to seek rezonings. It is also unclear if all uses that do not comply with the comprehensive plan will be allowed to continue as nonconforming.
The city has been charged by the City Council to prepare more specific plans for each ward of the city within a year, and many local residents concerned about discrepancies with the plan say they will try to win changes during that process.
"It's unfortunate that they didn't retain the commercial use for the southern side, because unless we can retain the commercial areas we do have, there will be increased pressure to turn other residential areas around the park into commercial," said Dorothy Williams, chairman of the planning committee of the Stanton Park association. "Now that it is getting down to our own backyards, we're going to have to speak up and have more of a voice."