Thursday, August 16, 2007

When "Matter of Right" Isn't

Many of the development issues surrounding Wisconsin Avenue proposals have centered around the PUD process, with many in the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights community beating the drum on "Matter of Right" development versus the PUD (Planned Unit Development) proposals which allow developers to exceed "Matter of Right" zoning provisions in exchange for neighborhood amenities. Such amenities can include support for local non-profits or schools, inclusionary housing, etc. Even with all of its flaws, the PUD process enables community input on a wide variety of issues including density, amenities and even aesthetics.

With this background, some discussion on local listservs have raised the issue of the "Matter of Right" development at the former Outer Circle Theater site. The theater has been demolished to make way for Commerce Bank, with provisions for curb cuts enabling a drive-through window. Such 1950's planning amenities have been forsaken in such outer suburia locale such as Leesburg, and yet become viable in NW DC because of an ANC which has decided to take no action because the proposal is "Matter of Right" under current zoning.

Curb cuts are unsafe for pedestrians.
Curb cuts disrupt traffic on Wisconsin Avenue.
Drive-through windows encourage more vehicular traffic.
One-story banks on a busy corridor will hardly generate pedestrian traffic and activity as a destination.

In an era where ANC 3E has consistently complained about increased traffic on Wisconsin Avenue, where it has complained about needed pedestrian safety, why would it make no noise on this proposal?

Because it is a low-rise, low impact development, potentially ugly building which the bank can build as a matter of right.


1 comment:

Wash Uffizi said...

Spot-on commentary. Tenleytown has lost a somewhat pedestrian-friendly community amenity, Circle Theater, and is due to replace it with facility that will generate more traffic and less pedestrian activity.

The ANC 3E's default vision for Wisconsin Avenue seems to be commercial strip sprawl: low density, single use, and automobile oriented. But that vision is obsolete; it dates from the distant murk of post-WWII suburban ideals.

Meanwhile, even corridors as exburban as Route 50 in Loudon County are moving toward mixed use and pedestrian orientation. ANC 3E is lagging behind not only the rest of Ward 3, but many of DC's outer suburbs as well.