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Logan Micro-Unit Project Delayed Again by Divided BZA

by Lark Turner

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An earlier rendering of the development, facing Church Street NW. Peter Fillat.

Brook Rose and Gregg Busch have spent the better part of a year arguing they should be allowed to build a 37-apartment micro-unit building on the property at 1456-1460 Church Street NW (map), which is fronted by three historic buildings they plan to preserve.

Preserving those buildings means they can’t dig under them to build parking, and they’ve presented evidence suggesting building parking on the site is not only impractical, but impossible. That’s why they’ve decided to build micro-units targeting a carless crowd. Their plan has received support from DDOT, ANC 2F, the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Office of Planning. But it has stalled in front of the Board of Zoning and Adjustment (BZA) because after months of delay, board members were unable to reach a quorum to decide on the building’s parking issues earlier this spring.

Opposition to the project has been most vigorously voiced by Paul Mesterhazy, a resident of the adjacent Metropole building whose unit is “right behind the development,” as he testified in front of the BZA on Tuesday. Mesterhazy’s partner, Jeff Hinkle, is a member of the BZA, but has recused himself from the decision. In a meeting about the case earlier this spring, the board was divided on the parking issue, at 2-2, with Chair Lloyd Jordan dissenting, before it decided to appoint a temporary replacement for Hinkle to help decide the case. That led to Tuesday’s meeting, where Busch and Rose made an extensive case on the parking issue specifically. They were opposed by an attorney for the Metropole and three Metropole residents whose condos face the property.

A transportation specialist hired by the developer said Tuesday that without any mitigation, the project would contribute about a 1 percent increase in traffic to the area. With mitigation, they believe there will be no increase to the area’s traffic.

Parking concerns are paramount in the District, which has a confusing policy for awarding Residential Parking Permits (RPPs). DDOT has said its policies regarding RPPs are under review. But the BZA has previously granted parking exceptions to similar projects in very dense neighborhoods, including a 56-unit Madison Investments building at 14th and Wallach Place near U Street that was awarded a special exception to build the project without any parking in October 2013.

The BZA requests for the building at 14th and Wallach Place were decided that same month. In another case, decided in February, Lock 7 development pledged to prohibit RPPs, proposed installing a screen in the lobby that would help residents reach public transportation, as well as give the first residents of a building $100 rebates toward a car or bike share. In the decision meeting, Jordan asked them to extend the $100 car or bike share rebates to all new tenants. Hinkle said he had concerns about the parking exception, but that those were mitigated by the property’s accessibility to public transportation. The exception passed with a 4-0 vote; one seat on the board was vacant.

In comparison, Busch and Rose have pledged to include two Zipcar spaces at their development, lease two spaces in a nearby garage that are available to be reserved by residents’ guests, pay for car share and Bikeshare subscriptions for all residents for the duration of their leases and provide two extra parking spaces for resident use in the back of the building. Though DDOT is widely believed to be working on a plan that will help developers enforce RPP restrictions, Busch and Rose have said that until then, they will submit Freedom of Information Act requests to ensure their tenants are in compliance with lease restrictions prohibiting them from getting an RPP.

On Tuesday, the developers presented evidence that showed a similarly-sized building with 18 units instead of the 37 proposed would not make enough money to secure financing. Jordan decided to delay a decision on the development on Tuesday, citing a need for the Metropole’s opposition to have time to respond to that evidence.

The project has clearly led to differences of opinion among the board with Hinkle’s recusal. Jordan has dissented most vocally. Conversely, board member Peter May has argued that the developers’ plan would actually reduce vehicle density in the neighborhood. A building with fewer units and no RPP limitations would add to the area’s traffic and parking problems, he stated in a previous meeting. On Tuesday he said he had a “very strong” opinion on the project and wanted to ensure he would be available at the vote next month. May’s turnaround is especially interested since he previously voiced pointed disagreement over aspects of the project’s design relating to the roof structure, and relented once the developers changed their design to more fully comply, in May’s opinion, with the spirit of the Height Act.

See other articles related to: parking, micro-units, micro units, logan circle

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/despite_efforts_logan_micro-unit_building_delayed_again_by_bza/8512

3 Comments

  1. a1muslm8@yahoo.com said at 4:27 pm on Tuesday May 20, 2014:

    Huh?
    What are you talking about?
    It took me all of two seconds to search for the 14th and Wallach Place project (BZA case 18632) on Urban Turf and find an article that stated that the project was approved in October, 2013 by the BZA. It took me about another 5 minutes to find the meeting transcript from the BZA’s October 29th meeting where the decision was 3-0 with Mr. Hinkle not present and not voting? Is this article remotely accurate, or are you mixing projects up? Further, Chairman Jordan’s deliberation on October 29, 2013 for BZA case 18632 begins with “This is a case which is, you know, probably very, very borderline for me.” Doesn’t really sound like a ringing endorsement for that project either, does it?

  1. Lark Turner said at 5:21 pm on Tuesday May 20, 2014:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for pointing that out. We mistakenly compressed a sentence referencing a third project also requiring a parking variance and offering mitigation similar to the Madison Investments case, which the BZA also ruled in favor of. Jordan’s comments on both were very similar; the only major difference is the BZA ruled favorably within the same month on the Madison Investments project. We’ve updated the post.

  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 6:33 pm on Tuesday May 20, 2014:

    In many respects, I like the project, but the thing I don’t get about this is why the BZA isn’t slamming the applicants for a “self-created hardship.”  When these applicants bought the 3 rowhouses, they knew (or could easily have learned) the costs and difficulties associated with parking.  The “inability to make enough money to secure financing” can only be because they paid too much for the site for the 18-unit scenario to work out.  It’s not as if the 18-unit scenario has no income—it’s just that it has less income than micro-units, presumably not enough to justify the price these developers paid for the site.  But presumably enough to justify a lower (and still quite remunerative to the sellers) site acquisition price. 

    Site acquisition costs cannot be divorced from any other financial calculations of the economic viability of a project.  The BZA has not generally considered that a too-high site acquisition cost is a legitimate reason to grant a variance.  They generally consider it hubris, and that granting variances in such situations sets bad precedent.

    To me, the parking seems to be a red herring. For “contributing structures to historic districts,” the threshold for additional parking is when there is an addition which increases the Gross Floor Area (FAR) by 50% or more; and the parking requirement due to the increased GFA is 4 spaces or more.

    So the existing 3 rowhouses with an addition of 49% of the existing GFA can be cut up into any quantity of apartments (micro or otherwise) without any additional requirement kicking in.

    If the addition goes over 50% of the existing GFA, then there can be up to 8 units within the addition (regardless of its GFA) without additional parking requirements kicking in.  (That’s taking the 4 spaces increase and multiplying by 2, since the zone district, C-3-A, requires 1 parking space per 2 apartment units.) The 8 units in the addition could be any size (either a loophole in DC zoning, or a reasonable “let the market decide,” you can judge for yourself), which means that the overall building could be the same size as the currently-proposed one.  (Add a few more units, so that a variance, although required, is only a couple of spaces, and presumably you’re at the 18-unit scenario.)

    Of course, the per-square-foot return on the larger units would be lower.  Moreover, it’s self-limiting: at a certain unit size/price point, almost all buyers demand parking. But part of the rationale for the historic exemption was to allow “historic” buildings to be redeveloped, including additions and changes of use, but with limiting (but flexible) factors to keep the lid on substantial additions.  HPRB may guard the historic gates, but this requirement was intended as backup.

    It’s possible that 37 micro-units would actually create a lower parking burden than a smaller number of larger units.  But, even if true, is that really the issue, or is it cover for the simple fact that the developer overpaid for the site? 

    The BZA has told many a developer that their “hardship is self-created.”  Why not this time, I wonder?

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