By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Plans to redevelop a gas station at Georgetown’s eastern gateway can move forward after the Zoning Commission gave its approval to the complicated application on Monday.
EastBanc’s proposal for the Valero service station at 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is relatively modest: seven apartments above ground-floor commercial space, envisioned as a restaurant with outdoor seating. The developer’s angular brick design already won conceptual design approval from the Old Georgetown Board.
But complications arose in the zoning case. The EastBanc property is irregularly shaped, wedged in the triangle between Pennsylvania Avenue, M Street and Rock Creek Park, and fairly small at just under 7,500 square feet. Part of the lot had never received a zoning designation.
Then EastBanc’s effort to go through the planned unit development process — in which a developer offers community amenities to offset the impact of waiving zoning restrictions — was held up as the Zoning Commission debated whether to allow such PUDs on properties this small.
On Monday, commissioners first approved their long-debated change to the zoning regulations that allows a PUD on lots as small as 5,000 square feet in certain zones that are designated for dense development. But they accepted a compromise measure advanced by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (Adams Morgan) and dropped plans to reduce the minimum lot size in zones that cover certain blocks of row houses or small commercial buildings.
ANC 1C, the Committee of 100 for the Federal City and some other community organizations had raised concerns that allowing a PUD to have a small lot size would encourage speculators to snap up a couple of adjacent homes or other small properties — and then use the PUD rules to build a tall building that would be an affront to a community’s low-density character.
Responding to such concerns, the Zoning Commission earlier this fall rejected a broader proposal regarding PUDs — retaining existing minimums for low-density zones. Monday’s decision protected three additional zones where critics pointed to threats of big projects replacing small buildings on nearby streets. The Committee of 100 cited examples of potentially vulnerable areas around the city where they feared such PUDs were possibilities, including low-rise commercial strips in parts of Adams Morgan and the 5100 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW in the Palisades.
Zoning commissioners agreed to retain existing minimum lot sizes in the three additional zones. “I honestly found the comments we received for the record to be a little bit troubling,” commissioner Peter May said on Monday.
The idea of changing the District’s PUD regulations stemmed directly from the EastBanc project, which is located in a zone where properties had to be at least 7,500 square feet to qualify for a PUD. The Valero site is 7,413.
The Zoning Commission’s Monday decision did reduce that minimum to 5,000 square feet, followed by a speedy 3-1 approval of the project itself with little discussion. But the approval had been held up for months as commissioners grappled with how to establish a citywide precedent — a process that left some wishing they’d just made a one-time exemption for EastBanc.
“We want to thank this applicant for patience as we went through this exercise,” commission chair Anthony Hood said after the vote. “Sometimes it’s good to be patient and figure out how we’re doing things.”
EastBanc president Anthony Lanier said in an interview yesterday that his firm hopes to break ground on the Pennsylvania Avenue project in mid-2017, with the Valero station remaining in operation until the last possible day. Once underway, he’d expect construction to take about 18 months, wrapping up in late 2018 or early 2019.
Lanier added that he’s pleased to be largely through the approval process. It will require a second Zoning Commission vote — typically a formality unless there are outstanding issues with an application — and final approval of details like the facade materials from the Old Georgetown Board.
Lanier added that he’s particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a ground-floor restaurant at the prominent location. For pedestrians coming west on Pennsylvania Avenue or M Street, he said, “this will be the first chair for someone to sit down when they come to Georgetown.”
This article appears in the Dec. 21 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.