Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Shoemaker -- the last chapter?

On the Chevy Chase Community Listserv, the majority and minority letters to the BZA were posted. They are reported here in their entirety. The ANC also recieved official notice of the withdrawl of the submission by the Fund for American Studies.


RE: BZA Application No. 17542 Application of Elizabeth R. Shoemaker Homes, on behalf of The Fund for American Studies, for a SPECIAL EXCEPTION pursuant to 11 DCMR Section 3104 of the Zoning Regulations for a change of a nonconforming use under Subsection 203.1 or in the alternative, pursuant to 11 DCMR Section 3104.2 a VARIANCE from the use provisions to allow a dormitory under Section 201.1, in the R-1-A District at 2701 Military Road, NW (Square 2305, Lot 83).

Dear Mr. Griffis:

At the ANC 3/4 G’s regularly scheduled meeting of Monday November 13, 2006, which was publicized in the Northwest Current, and on the Chevy Chase Listserv (more than 1700 members), the Commissioners of the ANC 3/4G by vote of 5 for to 2 against (a quorum being four) to deny the request for SPECIAL EXCEPTION under Section 3104 and in the alternative denied the request for a VARIANCE under Section 3103.2.

During a meeting with the community, at which more than one hundred nearby neighbors attended, objections to the variance and special exception were raised which included, but were not limited to the following:

1. Ms. Anna Shoemaker clearly expressed her intent when she wrote in her will in 1927, that she wanted to build a home for unmarried, low income women over the age of 60 so they would have a place to live and to be cared for in their own community in their old age. It took decades for her dream to become a reality, but in 1951, The
Elizabeth Shoemaker Home opened on the corner of Military Road and 27th Street. The Home was named for Anna’s mother (Elizabeth). The Home has been an important neighbor in our community, representing an excellent option for our low-income female neighbors when they need to give up their homes and find another place in which to live. It is truly a community facility. For fifty-five years, it has served the community as a quiet neighbor waiting with open doors to welcome those in need. It is so quiet, that most people in the neighborhood had no idea of its

2. The Home’s property was originally zoned for single family dwellings. In 1949, the Zoning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment approved changing the zoning map and use of the home as a residence for elderly woman despite neighborhood opposition. The property’s zoning status was subsequently changed to R-1-A.

3. R-l-A status permits matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses for detached dwellings with a minimum lot width of 75 feet, a minimum lot area of 7,500 square feet, a maximum lot occupancy of 40% for residential use and 60% for church and public school use, and a maximum height of three (3) stories/forty (40) feet. The R-1-A status mentions Embassies, Public Schools and Chanceries, and other
uses for no more than eight (8) persons. There is mention of dorms in R-1 zoning, but only when part of a campus plan of a college or university. This strongly suggests that dorms should be located on a college campus in R-1 areas, where they can be closely monitored by college authorities, and not located in isolated residential neighborhoods as proposed by the applicant.

4. Variance: Petitioner requests a Variance under Section 3103.2. Under that Section 3103.2, three conditions must exist in order to grant a variance:

First: The property must be unique because of its size, shape, topography, or other extraordinary or exceptional situation or condition inherent in the Property. There is nothing unique about the Home’s property. It is very similar to other homes for the aged in the area. It would present no problem for another home to take over the operation of this location as a convalescent/nursing home. Other convalescent homes have expressed interest in obtaining the Shoemaker Home to continue using the Home for that purpose. In the alternative, there is nothing unique about the property that would not lend itself to Single Family Dwellings being built at that location staying within the R-1-A zoning plan.

Second: The Applicant must demonstrate that it will encounter practical ifficulty if the Zoning Regulations are strictly applied. There would be no difficulty keeping the property as a Home for the Aged, or removing the Home and replacing it with Single Family Dwellings. Either alternative would be possible without a variance, and preferable to a dorm at this location. There are other interested parties who would be willing either to take over the Home as a center for senior citizens, or
develop it for single-family houses. There are no practical difficulties here.

Third: The Applicant must show that the requested variance will not result in substantial detriment to the public good or the zone plan. The Zone Plan calls for Single Family Dwellings. It does not call for dormitories. The homeowners who purchased their homes across the street and next door to the Elizabeth Shoemaker Home did so with the knowledge of the quiet neighbor the Home represented for 55 years. They did not purchase their homes with a dorm in mind.

5. Special Exception: Under Section 2003.1, the applicant requested a special exception to permit a change in a nonconforming use. First, under the Zoning Regulations, it is unclear if there is a nonconforming use, because the zoning regulations provide that a use lawfully in existence at the time of the adoption of the zoning regulations “that would hereafter require special exception approval from
the BZA shall not be deemed a nonconforming use.”

Secondly, in reviewing about 20 BZA decisions over 40 years, we discovered that the BZA has used Section 2003.1 to allow deminimus use changes such as grocery store use to grocery store plus delicatessen. There was not a single case that came close in magnitude to the proposed zoning swap proposed by the applicant.

In addition, Section 200.2 of the Zoning Regulations states that “. . . nonconformities may not be enlarged upon, expanded, or extended nor may they be used as a basis for adding other structures or uses prohibited elsewhere in the same district. Clearly converting a 27-bed nursing home to a 60-bed college dormitory is a substantial increase in use. In addition, the applicant will be adding classroom and lecture uses.

Finally, Section 2003.2, the purposed use must not adversely affect the present character or future development of the surrounding area, the proposed use must not create any deleterious external effects, such as, but not limited to, noise, traffic, parking and loading considerations, illumination, vibration, odor, and design and siting effect (2003.3). And when located in a residential district, the proposed use should be either a dwelling, flat, apartment house, or a neighborhood facility (2003.5).

The peace and quiet of this neighborhood will suffer detriment from the moving in and moving out on a semester basis of 54 to 60 young adults, the nightly coming and going of young adults at this location, and the additional seminars and parties the Fund will sponsor, as described in its application, during which alcohol will be served, especially during the summer when many of these events could be held outdoors.

Mass transportation ? already overcrowded and limited ? will be impacted by 54 to 60 students waiting to board a bus at the same time in the morning. These students will be competing for the limited space on public transportation with current homeowners in the area.

There is no college campus in the vicinity, and public transportation to local colleges is not at all direct. It will take more than an hour in each direction for students to reach Georgetown University from the Home and return each day. Arriving at internship locations not located near public transportation from this location also will be difficult, leading to students driving themselves in their own cars. Parking spaces are limited in this area, and students, their friends and families, lecturers and guests of Fund-sponsored parties will be using those spaces. Though
the Fund has stated that they will discourage students from bringing their cars to Washington, there is no way to enforce this assurance. Streets in this area of DC are not zoned, and there would be no way to enforce this prohibition. Neighbors would suffer the loss of their parking spaces to the students, lecturers, and attendees at the parties organized by the Fund.

Daily deliveries for the dorm will be made to the rear of the property, according to the Application (page 4), however the driveway at the rear is very steep and winding ? unsuitable for delivery trucks. All deliveries would be made to the front of the Home as they have been in the past, further disturbing the neighbors.

The Applicant states (page 5 - 6) that “The Applicant’s proposed use is similar in nature to the previous use as convalescent/nursing home. . ..” There is no way one can say that the residents within a convalescent/nursing home are in any way similar in nature to young adult college students. The populations of each group are unique and in no way similar.

This area is zoned for single family dwellings, and, other than homes for senior living, and day schools, there are no other facilities that would disturb the peace and quiet of this neighborhood. There are no college campuses in the area that would justify a college dorm.

The definition of a community facility includes those facilities that contribute to the benefit of the community. This dorm will bring no significant benefit to the community. Had this property been offered to the public for sale, it could have been sold for single family housing. This would be revenue producing land in the way of property taxes, income taxes, and revenue for our schools. It would be a short term disruption from building noises and truck and van traffic, but once the houses were
built, we would have limited disruption to the community and would remain
within the R-1-A zoning plan. This dorm and its students will not be adding to the community good. They will not be taxpayers or voters in our community. They will be enjoying the use of what our taxes offer, but they will be adding strain to the services offered the community e.g., trash collection, water use, energy use, police protection, public transportation, and others without contributing one cent to this pool of public services. It will not be a community facility.

Specific crime sometimes associated with Dorm life could be present in a neighborhood where it was not before. There are four-times the numbers of officers assigned to the Georgetown dorm area as there are in all other non-dorm areas. The Police Service Area (PSA 201) officers are limited in number. More officers would need to be hired to handle the additional student population concentrated in this single family dwelling zoned area.

6. Property value around The Shoemaker Home may be devalued. When we buy a home, we have certain expectations for the community in where we are purchasing our home. When those living across the street and next to The Shoemaker Home bought their homes, they knew what they were buying. They understood that there would be an occasional ambulance coming to the building, but other than that, they were not expecting any noise, and they have not experienced any noise from the home for the past 55 years. They knew about St. Johns and that school children would be present
during the morning and afternoon hours, and that there would be occasional football and other sport games, but that was the known and the expected. All noise and disturbance from that facility is over prior to bedtime. When they purchased their homes, they did not expect to beliving across from a dormitory. This use is neither permitted by the zoning plan, nor expected in the community and would change significantly the make-up of our neighborhood. Future purchasers of these properties
would have very different assumptions about the community in which they would be living. This could seriously decrease the value of these neighboring properties.

7. In their application, the Fund promises not to alter the exterior of the property:

The Applicant states (at page 4) that the “. . . proposed use will not require any alternations to the Property. Except for exterior upkeep of the building and landscaping, the building will maintain its current appearance.” In later documents, Applicant states under the heading Prohibition on Expansion of Building (flyer attached to this letter) that “[t]he existing building shall not be extended or expanded without further approval of the Board.” This statement merely commits that they will not expand the facility until such time as they decide to expand the
building. We have experience with this type of non-committal statement in our community. In recent years, Ingleside, the Methodist Home, Knollwood and Sunrise have all expanded their operations in our neighborhood.

8. Finally, according to Section 2003.5: “when located in a residential district, the proposed use should be either a dwelling, flat, apartment house, or neighborhood facility.” A dwelling is defined by the zoning regulations as a one-family dwelling. An apartment house is any building in which there are three or more apartments. An apartment is defined as one or more habitable rooms with kitchen and bathroom facilities under the control of the occupants of the room. A flat is a two-family house. A neighborhood facility is a small neighborhood store. The applicant
contends that a dormitory is not strictly a dwelling or apartment house. We agree. The applicant further contends that a dormitory is a cross between a dwelling and an apartment house. WE disagree. We don’t believe that you can average two buildings under the zoning regulations and come up with a third that is different in use and structure and claim that you have met conditions contained in Section 2003.5.

In summary, in its application, The Fund states that (page 5) “No substantial adverse impact or detriment to the public good will result if the variance to allow the requested lot occupancy is granted.” ANC 3/4G strongly disagrees with this statement for all of the reasons stated above. Such use would seriously change the residential nature of our community, and is not permitted under the R-1-A zoning plan. We believe there is overwhelming neighborhood sentiment to continue using the Home as a community based-residential facility for seniors. Doing so also would conform with the Draft DC Comprehensive Plan which emphasizes the substantial increase in the demand for senior housing anticipated for the years ahead.

For the above reasons, ANC 3/4G recommends denial of the application of The Shoemaker Home for either a special exception or variance.

ANC 3/4G appoints Commissioner Samantha Nolan to represent this ANC at any and all hearings relating to this application for special exception and/or variance.


Robert Gordon
ANC 3/4G


JERRY LEVINE (NOVEMBER 13, 2006) re: Sale of the Shoemaker Home (the “Home”) to the Fund for American Studies (the “Fund”) 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

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-à-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.

November 13, 2006

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