Thursday, November 16, 2006

Shoemaker House part two

In a continuation of the saga of the Shoemaker House from a previous post, to no surprise, the ANC 3/4G passed a resolution against the proposal for The Fund for American Studies to gain a zoning exception for an intern residence in Chevy Chase.

What was a bit of a surprise is that while the vote was 5-2, the ANC is going to send two different letters to the BZA, one for the majority, and one for the minority opinion.

ANC 3G Commissioner and Vice-Chair Jerry Levine posted the following to the Chevy Chase Community Listserv which was co-signed by Chair Robert Gordon:

We support the sale of the Shoemaker Home to the Fund and the applications of the Fund to the BZA for a special exception or variance to permit student dormitory housing on the site for the following reasons:

1. The Home has the clear right to contract to sell the property to the Fund and the Fund is now the sole party having exclusive sale rights to the property. The Fund must operate the property in accordance with all zoning requirements but in order to conduct its student program, it is requesting a special exception or variance to continue the current multiple dwelling use. The contract between the Home and the Fund is the only contract before the ANC, so that alternative prospective or proposed uses of the property for single family homes or any form of elderly services (or for that matter, any other alternative uses), are irrelevant to the pending proceedings.

2. The property already has a nonconforming use and under zoning regulations, that nonconforming use may be changed to another permitted use, such as the student housing one proposed here, so long as it does not adversely affect the present character or future development of the surrounding area. We are mindful and respectful of neighbors' concerns, but we do not believe that the use of the site for student dormitory housing can automatically be assumed to adversely affect the surrounding area. Moreover, the building on the site will be used on an "as is" basis without the need for reconstruction.

3. Under zoning regulations, the proposed use may not create any deleterious external effects such as noise, traffic, parking and loading considerations, illumination, vibration, odor or design and siting effects. In this case, we do not believe that there is any actual evidence (as opposed to speculation) that the proposed use will fail any of these regulatory standards.

4. The site and proposed use may either be considered a "dwelling", "apartment" or "neighborhood facility" within the intent of the zoning regulations, and in any case, the site and use would qualify, in our view, for a variance as to this requirement, to the extent legally necessary.

5. There is ample basis for granting a variance in this case because the property is unique in the sense of having an exceptional or inherent condition. The existing 27 bed elderly facility, designed for multiple living units and common space meals, can be easily converted to a 54 student configuration utilizing the same existing "as is" structure without the need for substantial renovation. Without the requested relief, if zoning regulations were strictly applied, the purchaser of the property would encounter the practical difficulty of not being able to operate the student housing dormitory that is essential to the Fund's program.

6. The requested variance also would not, in our view, result in substantial detriment to the public good or the zone plan. Potential adverse effects on the area seem to us to be speculative and/or minimal. Very few homes are close to the site. Any use of the patio area will be at the rear of the site and deliveries will be made to back of the property. The students will be spending most of their time away from the property attending classes or internship positions and in any event, while on the property, will be professionally supervised. The Fund has agreed to a set of strict conditions for the students and their residential use of the property, including a ban on most all cars, alcohol, loud parties, overnight guests and the like. Minimal impacts on public transportation and traffic are expected. A neighborhood liaison committee will be established to deal with any potential problem areas that might arise vis-a-vis the neighbors or neighborhood, and police and other remedies are available if needed.

7. It appears to us that to date the Fund has proceeded in good faith by adopting a set of clear and strict policies that will reasonably assure that the Fund and its students living on the property will be good neighbors to the community.

8. The students will bring vibrancy and diversity to the neighborhood. We do not think it fair to presume that the students will misbehave and fail to adhere to the conditions established by the Fund for their dormitory occupancy. We therefore see no significant reason to deny these students the opportunity to live in the terrific Chevy Chase neighborhood.

It will be interesting to see how the BZA takes this case - if they consider they potential actions of the future residents, or the legalistic explanations as presented by Levine and Gordon.

To be continued....

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