The District government knows it can’t have it both ways. City agency adjudicators at the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, however, appear not to have gotten the memo.
Or perhaps there is more to their intransigence than is readily apparent.
One thing is certain: poor attendance delaying board decisions coupled with an astonishing lack of concern for the huge costs of decision-making deferral and a startling lack of appreciation for the expense factors in the business of building are indefensible in a city no longer willing to countenance pitiful government administration.
At issue are policies simultaneously encouraging car-less households and development in public-transit-intensive areas while fulfilling housing needs at affordable cost.
Caught in the crossfire is the local development team of Brook Rose and Gregg Busch. The duo, partners in both business and life, have encountered inexplicable opposition to their languishing proposal to provide housing in one of the most in-demand areas of a city enjoying strong and sustained population growth.
On Tuesday, after an already 10-month-long process, BZA board members again postponed a decision on an application by Rosebusch LLC for a zoning variance allowing renovation of three historic rowhouses with integrated construction of 37 micro-unit apartments spanning 1456-1460 Church Street, N.W., in the Logan Circle neighborhood.
The developers are seeking an exemption to provide four parking spaces instead of the 19 required in exchange for an appropriate and allowable offsetting mitigation measure. As proposed, the micro-unit tenants would not be allowed residential permits for on-street parking.
In other words, they wouldn’t own automobiles. The encouragement of which has specifically been adopted as city policy – alongside what many consider deliberate discouragements to possess one.
Never mind that it is acknowledged as impractical to provide so many parking spaces underneath the tiny infill lot. Even if feasible, the prohibitive expense would add a cost burden to each housing unit and subsequent rental pricing – for an amenity many, if not most, would neither need nor use.
It’s simply a deal breaker.
All this despite the project being backed by the Office of Planning, the Historic Preservation Review Board, the Department of Transportation and the neighborhood advisory commission. Not unusual in local regulatory situations, opposition is limited to a small number of Gladys Kravitz types in an adjacent condo building. Of note, the ringleader is the boyfriend of a BZA board member, with both men sharing a unit in the building. (The boyfriend has recused himself from voting on the matter.)
That’s where the story gets interesting, and may explain why some board members have expressed an unwillingness to grant the same parking relief recently approved for several projects, including one nearby.
The oft-unusual universal support of relevant agencies and entities recommending approval combined with prior BZA blessing of others with no compelling variable distinction and without credible or coherent board proffer in this instance, is troubling. It would seem that developers might be well advised to light votive candles hoping that a regulatory board with immense power not include someone with a personal connection in a public matter involving their project.
Ironically, the city intends to downwardly revise parking requirements for housing developments in transit-bountiful locations. Transparent is the dysfunction of a government incapable of consistently implementing public policies designed to benefit local residents and achieve larger goals. Likewise any inability to enforce the proposed conditions, expressed as a concern. Claiming lofty objectives requires the competency to manage the details.
The controversy doesn’t involve the modest apartment sizing – a market-driven trend proving popular with a variety of diverse demographics less interested in large housing spaces and more concerned with convenience and adversely affected by affordability.
More compact and less costly housing are desired by many single adults, younger residents and older “empty nesters” with modern lifestyles. They seek proximity to vibrant streetscapes brimming with socialization options – fundamentally altering the way some residents perceive and utilize their living spaces.
It’s only a mixed-message-sending D.C. government that appears confused about what it wants.