Upzoning Not Approved for Penn Branch Shopping Center—Yet

by Nena Perry-Brown

Upzoning Not Approved for Penn Branch Shopping Center -- Yet: Figure 1
Newer rendering of Penn Hill looking northeast

Earlier this year, UrbanTurf reported on Jair Lynch’s plans to redevelop the Penn Branch Shopping Center at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Branch Avenues SE (map). On Monday night, the Zoning Commission declined to approve the upzoning required to allow this development to move forward.

Upzoning Not Approved for Penn Branch Shopping Center -- Yet: Figure 2
Newer rendering of Penn Hill looking northwest

In response to the requested map amendment, which would rezone the 3.57 acres from MU-3 and R-1-B to MU-4, commissioners were hesitant to grant outright approval at risk of how a by-right MU-4 development could negatively impact neighboring residents. A few commissioners recommended that a customized zone be created that will include development guidelines that are particular to the location and surrounding concerns.

While the current application only entails the map amendment, Jair Lynch and retail partner Rappaport Companies have been discussing a vision for the site that would enliven the retail already on-site; add nearly 57,000 square feet of commercial space, including a smaller grocer; add over 20,000 square feet of office space and more than 100 mixed-income apartments in a new second building above underground parking. A location of Planet Fitness has already been confirmed as a future service provider at the location.

Upzoning Not Approved for Penn Branch Shopping Center -- Yet: Figure 3
Newer rendering of Penn Hill looking southeast

Many community stakeholders implored the Commission to approve the upzoning in order to expedite improvements and add new retail and amenities at the shopping center. However, long-time homeowners behind the site off Branch Avenue expressed concern over how the maximum heights could diminish their enjoyment of light, air and privacy.

An MU-4 zone supports moderate-density development with a maximum height of 50 feet. The maximum height of the existing one- to two-story commercial building on the site would be measurable from Pennsylvania Avenue. The developer also envisions construction of a mixed-use residential building, with a height measurable from Branch Avenue, behind the existing property.

Upzoning Not Approved for Penn Branch Shopping Center -- Yet: Figure 4
Newer aerial rendering of Penn Hill

Community members and neighbors also raised issues regarding the proposed name change from Penn Branch to Penn Hill, how development would compromise the structural integrity of their homes, and assertions that the developer’s outreach efforts have been underwhelming, particularly for the closest and most elderly residents.

Ultimately, the Commission requested that the developer make more concerted efforts to engage with the community, especially those residents on O Street in the shadow of the shopping center. A follow-up hearing is scheduled for November 13th.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/upzoning_not_approved_for_penn_branch_shopping_center_--_yet/13083

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