Friday, May 25, 2007

Cosi and the Overlay

Cosi, the coffee house/lunch spot in so many Washington area neighborhoods, saw an opportunity to expand its chain into Cleveland Park. A vacant space once occupied by Blockbuster Video in the Park and Shop development atop the Cleveland Park Metro seemed to be the idea location for the next opening. However, the proposal has hit a snag.

Cleveland Park, in addition to Woodley Park, Capitol Hill and a portion of H Street NE are subject to a Neighborhood Commercial Overlay District which "permits design and use provisions to encourage viability, attractiveness and continuation of neighborhood commercial areas". The DC Zoning Commission (PDF) defines this overlay as"

1302.5 Restaurants, fast food restaurants, delicatessens, carry-outs, and similar eating or drinking establishments shall be subject to the following limitations:

(2) These uses shall occupy no more than twenty-five percent (25%) of the linear street frontage within a particular NC Overlay District, as measured along the lots that face designated roadways in the particular district;

Over the past decades, the definitions as enforced by the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affiars (DCRA) has been fuzzy. What constitutes a food establishment? How is the 25% of linear street footage measured?

With question one, in Cleveland Park, do Yes! Food Market and the Uptown Theater count?

With question two, how are "upstairs" and side lot footages counted?

The questions have been posed repeatedly by the Clevleland Park Citizens Association in varying resolutions as well as ANC 3C.

When Indique first proposed coming into Cleveland Park, there were many posts in support of the food establishment despite the Overlay.

That brings us back to Cosi. A recent post on the Cleveland Park Listserv posits these same questions that have occurred over the past decades about the Overlay:

...the overlay zone, under which Cosi's application was denied, is an anachronism. It's time to repeal the overlay zone.
Created 18 years ago, the overlay zone was designed to prevent traffic, parking and other problems by keeping that part of Connecticut Avenue from becoming an "entertainment destination." But it's the many restaurants in Cleveland Park that help make this a lively, vibrant and fun neighborhood. And new restaurants help old merchants: More people walking through the
neighborhood means more business for our non-restaurant stores.

So is an overlay meant to encourage a variety of businesses working, or is it creating artifical barriers to desired new businesses?

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