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More Development on Connecticut Avenue? ANC 3C Passes Pro-Density Resolution

by Nena Perry-Brown

Cleveland Park.

UPDATE: The day following the ANC's passage of the resolution outlined below, Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh released a statement on the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments, noting that she requested the Office of Planning change the Future Land Use Map designation for this commercial strip to medium-density residential and commercial rather than the moderate-density commercial/high-density residential mix OP is seeking.

On Wednesday night, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) for Cleveland Park, among other neighborhoods, gave the thumbs up to a measure that could bring more development to a prominent stretch of Connecticut Avenue. 

ANC 3C voted in favor of a resolution urging the DC Council to approve the Office of Planning's (OP) suggestion to increase the density prescribed on the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) for a commercial stretch of Connecticut Avenue. The proposed amendment would adjust the designation upward to moderate-density commercial and high-density residential. 

The resolution is applicable to the two blocks of Connecticut Avenue between Porter and Macomb Streets NW (map), a single-story commercial strip in the Cleveland Park Historic District, considered to be the neighborhood's business district. The stretch includes such amenities and attractions as the Cleveland Park Metro station, the Uptown Theater and Sam's Park & Shop (complete with Target outpost).

The Future Land Use Map does not automatically change what is allowable at a given site, but does make it easier for developers to apply for a zoning map amendment and/or planned unit development. The ANC commissioners who spoke in favor of the resolution cited, among other things, the need to add density to alleviate housing pressures and support retail, and the need for the neighborhood to do its part to create more opportunities for middle- and low-income earning households to move in.

Just as the commissioners voted 6-3 in favor of the resolution, comments by some of the more than 180 attendees were divided by a similar proportion, and the concerns raised by those in opposition ran the gamut. 

Some questioned whether it was appropriate to speculate on additional growth until there is clarity on how a post-Covid world will look. Another Covid-related complaint was that there would be no demand to live in Cleveland Park once WMATA closes the Metrorail station for low ridership (a warning unlikely to be acted on by the transit agency, made before it received federal funding to close a budget gap).

A proposed development along the 3400 block of Connecticut Avenue.

Some said that more residents doesn't necessarily equate to additional business patronage. Despite voting in favor of the resolution, Commissioner Lee Brian Reba cited the shift to online shopping accelerated by the pandemic. "We have to identify where we are in the world today," Commissioner Reba said. "I have not seen any data supporting that high density equals sustainable businesses." 

Others said new development doesn't necessarily equate to affordable housing, and that affordable housing should be treated as its own issue for the ANC to advocate for and address.

"Using the social, racial, and economic justice argument to push this agenda is offensive," resident Mark Rosenman stated. "There are much better ways to advance those agenda, and promoting this kind of a plan as the answer obscures and puts back those other efforts."

Others had more specific concerns, like the need to ensure that any new development abutting the Uptown Theater not exceed the theater in height, or the need to codify that any project that seeks additional density should be compatible with the historic district. But those projects would all need to be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board in either case, a point that resident Bob Ward made in arguing in favor of the resolution.

"Unfettered maximum development up and down the commercial area might be a talking point, but it's just not based in reality."

Many of the younger attendees spoke in favor of the resolution, citing the need for more housing options and their anxieties about whether they can afford to stay in the neighborhood long-term. Commissioner Sauleh Siddiqui offered a perspective sympathetic to those who prefer things stay the same while addressing the futility of hypothesizing about the impacts of the pandemic.

"I moved to Cleveland Park because I like the way the neighborhood feels, so no, I don't want eight-story buildings, and those won't happen," Commissioner Siddiqui said. "But giving ourselves the option to make it happen is the least we can do, especially if we feel like we're faced with uncertainty." Commissioner Siddiqui also noted with surprise that, of the emails he received of residents commenting on the resolution, 56% across the ANC and 66% of those in his single-member district were in favor.

DC's Office of Planning director Andrew Trueblood offered comments about the Comprehensive Plan and Ward 3's lack of affordable housing units produced within the past two years; the ANC plans to write a resolution "demanding" more extensive inclusionary zoning requirements for new developments. 

And while it seemed that most people were firmly entrenched in their perspectives, at least one attendee commented in the chat box that the night's conversation had shifted their opinion to be in favor of the resolution.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/cleveland-park-anc-passes-pro-density-resolution/17900

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