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DC Court of Appeals Reverses Approval for Blagden Alley Micro-Units

by Nena Perry-Brown

DC Court of Appeals Reverses Approval for Blagden Alley Micro-Units: Figure 1
A new rendering of the Blagden Alley micro-unit project.

In September 2015, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) granted SB-Urban and Rooney Properties full relief from parking requirements for a planned micro-unit project in Blagden Alley.

However, in response to a lawsuit from a group of neighbors, the DC Court of Appeals issued a ruling late last year rejecting this relief and remanding the development back to the BZA for reconsideration.

Relief from parking requirements can be granted on the basis of three factors: the extraordinary or exceptional condition of the property, practical difficulties that may arise from strict enforcement of the zoning regulations, and that the relief will not be substantially detrimental to either the public or to the zoning plan.

An additional zoning stipulation allows parking relief for historic buildings in cases where providing the required spaces would undermine efforts to preserve the appearance or integrity of the structure; however, any relief granted in this case should only be as much as needed to alleviate any difficulty.

DC Court of Appeals Reverses Approval for Blagden Alley Micro-Units: Figure 2
Exterior

The BZA’s ruling stated that the project was exceptional due to its use of two separate lots, it having features that larger lots in that Square do not share, and its irregularly-shaped and narrow parcel along a historic alley. However, the appellate court found these points to lack sufficient explanation or rationale to justify the site being identified as “exceptional”.

Additionally, assuming that the developers proved that the parking regulations would interfere with the historic preservation of the site, the court found that there was no evidence that the BZA considered any alternative levels of relief prior to granting a full exception.

Ed Horvath, a homeowner who lives near the proposed micro-unit development, was one of many neighbors who testified before the ANC 2F, HPRB and the BZA in opposition to the developers’ requests. Horvath told UrbanTurf that the community has supported other previously-proposed developments on the site, but that the density of this project combined with the lack of parking provisions caused some discord among neighbors.

“I’m pleased with the Appeals Court decision; I think that it makes a number of points that not just apply to this case, but to others in terms of granting relief to properties with historic preservation designation,” Horvath shared. “I think that there’s a lot of interest in this across the city and a lot of developers were looking at this as a blank slate to move ahead and I think this may give them pause.”

The two sites at 91 Blagden Alley and an adjacent parcel at 917 M Street NW (map) would have delivered two residential buildings with 123 units connected by a pedestrian walkway. The Blagden Alley building would involve the restoration of and an addition to a historic garage to allow for 79 units, while the newly-constructed 9th Street building would deliver 44 units.

According to the zoning standards in effect at that time, 62 parking spaces would have been required. The developer had also used an address for the project that would restrict future residents from applying for residential parking permits.

UrbanTurf will monitor the next steps for this project as it is remanded back to the BZA.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc_court_of_appeals_reverses_approvals_for_blagden_alley_micro-units/12026

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