The D.C. Zoning Commission voted this week to reconsider a request by the owners of Fourways Restaurant near Dupont Circle to rezone their property to permit the construction of a seven-story condominium building at the rear of the restaurant.
Several neighborhood associations have opposed the rezoning, fearing the new structure may be used as a hotel that would cause additional traffic congestion.
The five-member commission voted 4 to 0, with one member abstaining, to hold a public hearing Nov. 5 to listen to Walter Sommer, general partner of Fourways of Washington Ltd., which owns the property, and representatives of several community groups opposed to changing the zoning from residential to commercial.
Last July, the commission denied the rezoning request because several community groups complained that the change could lead to a further intrusion of businesses in the residential areas of Dupont Circle. The groups also said it would cause too much traffic at the already congested intersection of 20th and R streets NW.
The property includes the Fourways Restaurant, which is in the 97-year-old Fraser Mansion, and a parking lot where the condominium would be constructed. The mansion has been used as a restaurant since 1932 and has been the home of the Golden Parrot, and such nightclubs as Larry Brown's and Sagittarius.
Sommer and his attorneys, Whayne Quin and Maureen Dwyer of Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick & Lane, have submitted a revised application that has three alternatives for the zoning commission to consider. They denied that they have any plans to use the condominium as a hotel or office building and contend that the 29-unit apartment building would provide additional housing and 55 underground parking spaces to the neighborhood.
One of the proposed covenants, similar to one submitted last June, commits Sommer to using the new building only for residential use. A second proposed covenant would require that any new owners have their plans for the Fraser Mansion reviewed by the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. The third recommendation proposes a split-zoning of the site, which would allow only residential use of the building but require the owners to file for variances to make any changes in the restaurant and residential parking.
During the past five years, the D.C. Board of Zoning Appeals has granted Fourways a number of variances, including expanding the commercial use of the building to the upper floors of the mansion and allowing a business club in the building.
Community groups, however, said they will continue to fight the proposal no matter what changes are proposed.
C.F. (Con) Hitchcock, a local attorney and president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, said that if the commission changes the zoning to commercial it would be "the first step down a slippery slope.
"We fear that it may extend further," he said. "The experience in the community shows that if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
Vernon Palmer, staff coordinator for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, said, "We don't want to lose any residential zoning."
The existing zoning would permit an apartment building on the parking lot, but Sommer said that he is unable to refinance the property to afford the construction. An international restaurateur and hotel owner, he purchased the historic landmark for $2 million in 1981 and has spent more than $3.1 million in restoring it. In 1983, a fire caused more than $1 million in damages to the building, which is now worth more than $4.2 million.
Sommer said the restaurant is in good financial health and that he is now paying the District $10,000 a month to pay off $1.07 million in personal property, employe withholding, corporate franchise, sales and use and real property taxes owed for the period from 1982 to 1986