As Zoning Rewrite Unfolds, Public Dissent Rises

DC’s Office of Planning and Zoning Commission Resist Explanation for Massive Zoning Overhaul

Record Shows Startling Lack of Participation by DC Civic/Citizen Groups; ANC’s Mocked by OP Responses

Press Contact: Albert Gomez,, (443) 821-7526

As the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) process unfolds, Zoning Commissioners have thanked the Office of Planning for their outreach to the public.

At the most recent ZRR hearing on September 21, 2015, Zoning Commissioner Michael Turnbull (who lives in Virginia) stated,

“… the Office of Planning as they have stated, has been very proactive in going out and helping [the public]. And I think they’ve, gone beyond, I think, in many instances as to report to the community as to the state of this ZRR.”

However, the public record for one of the most significant citywide policy changes in DC history, depicts a much different reality for DC residents contending with the massive ZRR.

ZRR: Dismissal of ANC’s

Recently submitted resolutions by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, particularly those located in historically-black communities, give a distinct sense of disparate treatment in the explanation of and participation in the ZRR process.

ANC-7B resolved that they,

“… are concerned that both offices, the OP and the ZC, would not conduct the necessary outreach … to properly inform, explain, and discuss with all ANC’s these new proposals [in the ZRR].” The 7B resolution continues, “ANC-7B supports the call for more time to review the final language of the ZRR in light of the [missing] redline documents and maps.”

ANC-5B resolved,

“We believe that if Georgetown’s ANC-area was provided this type of direct assistance from the DC Office of Planning over the years leading up to final decisions regarding the ZRR, then ANC-5B expects the same in order to call the ZRR review process even-handed transparent policy making here in the District.”

ANC-8E resolved that,

“Changing fundamental zoning rules without substantiation and proof that the changes won’t adversely impact our communities fails the Implementation Element of the DC Comprehensive Plan and the result will be a pure-luck gamble with the future of ANC-8E neighborhoods, as well as neighborhood throughout the City. This is a critical failure of the ZRR, which we vehemently oppose.”

All of the recent ANC resolutions ask for a time extension on the ZRR of at least three months so that the Office of Planning can provide the information being requested as well as further guidance so that these ANC’s can respond meaningfully.

However, documents published to the ZRR record in the past two weeks show Office of Planning staffers mocking ANC concerns with dismissively curt statements like, “Thank you for your comment.”  See Exhibits 1092, 1093, and 1097 in Zoning Commission Case #08-06a.

ANC’s have been pointing out for some time the persistent uneven manner of engagement by the Office of Planning during the ZRR review.

In early 2014, Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson went as far as to say that the Office of Planning’s ZRR process has “broken the public trust.”


ZRR: Startling Lack of Comment by Civic/Citizen Groups

Out of nearly 100 active civic and citizen associations in the District, less than 20 submitted comments about the ZRR.  Only one East-of-the-River civic group had the ability to comment in time.  The ZRR record closed on September 25, 2015.

Of those groups, several themes emerged in comments as were reiterated by the Federation of Citizens Associations,

“– these regulations make much development allowable as a matter of right, which results in neighbors having no input or rights . . .

– the proposed regulations give great leeway to developers thereby leaving little to negotiate to attain more affordable units . . .

– the proposed zoning regulations do not make zoning simpler and are inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan as adopted by the District Council.”


ZRR: Lack of Inclusive Planning

At a meeting held on September 21, 2015, Zoning Commissioners quickly dismissed many requests that more time be granted to allow the public to review and comment on the ZRR, and at that same hearing, the Zoning Commission ruled out translation of the ZRR, denying the many requests by language access advocates seeking to include the participation of DC’s limited-English speaking communities in the ZRR process.  Click for request letter.

Despite weeks of correspondence from language access supporters, DC’s Office of Zoning along with attorneys for the Zoning Commission (from the Office of Attorney General) have resisted sending the written opinion that says the ZRR is “not legally required” to be translated.

The final language of the ZRR was published in the DC Register in late May 2015, totalling close to 1,000 pages of code changes.

The DC Zoning Commission has set a meeting for November 16, 2015, to further deliberate on the ZRR.


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