The Committee of the Whole will hold a public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act on Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building.
Tuesday’s hearing focuses on the Framework Element (FE) of the DC Comprehensive Plan (CP). The CP is the District’s primary land-use and planning document. The FE is the “definitions” section where terms are laid out.
There has been a great deal of conversation and even anger expressed at the District’s Office of Planning (OP) about the process followed during the revision of the FE as well as the revisions themselves. The OP undertook an updating of the document last year, including an extensive comments period during which many individuals, ANCs and other civic groups provided input.
At that time those parties understood that a commitment was made that the revised document would be presented in its entirety to the public for review. Many are upset that OP chose not to provide a 60-day public comment period, and the Comprehensive Plan Framework Amendments (Bill 22-663) is now before the Council.
Importance Emphasized by Court Cases
The importance of the CP has been emphasized by a series of zoning cases heard by the District Court of Appeals, said Commissioner Mark Eckenwiler (6C04) at the March 14th meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6C.
Eckenwiler said that the court had rejected multiple development projects based on a perceived disagreement between the CP, in particular the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) element of the FE, and the decisions of the District Zoning Commission.
Eckenwiler said that OP was revising the FE in part to address what OP says is a misreading by the court of the purpose of the maps. “They are not zoning maps,” Eckenwiler said in describing the position of OP on FLUM, “they are not meant to specify particular binding rules. They are to provide the informing principles that then get embodied in the specifics of the zoning regulations and the zoning map.”
Opposition to FE Revisions
Opposition to the revisions comes from multiple groups, including the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. Those organizations argue that the emphasis on the CP as suggestive rather than prescriptive place the authority of the Zoning Commission above that of the CP, weakening the central planning law and consequently court challenges to development.
The Committee of 100 argues that the amendments also replace definitions with descriptions, allowing for more freedom of interpretation by developers and the Zoning Commission. At the March 13th ANC 6C meeting, one representative said that development should be guided by the market and planning together, but changes to the FE give an advantage to the market and developers.
ANCs Weigh In
ANC 6C voted to support the changes to the FE, with a few caveats including asking OP to strengthen language about safety goals for pedestrians and cyclists and requesting that in its discussion of security and terrorism, the FE should acknowledge lack of control of much of the public space in the District. Eckenwiler noted that affordable housing, climate change, the adoption of clean technology and the need to ensure the District remains inclusive and diverse were woven throughout the amendments. In March ANC 6B also sent a letter expressing general support.
Other commissions expressed opposition. In the letter approved at their March 8th meeting, ANC 6A said that “the opposition of ANC 6A to the proposed plan is based on the lack of proper process in developing and reviewing the revised comprehensive plan, and our fear that the language currently in use will weaken DC’s zoning regulations and lead to potential chaos in development activities.”
Chairman Mendelson has said that this hearing will serve as a way for the public to voice their comments and concerns about the FE. Once it is introduced to the Council, the Council may amend and make changes as it sees fit based on public testimony and feedback.
Those who wish to testify are asked to email the Committee of the Whole at [email protected], or call Sydney Hawthorne at (202) 724-7130, and to provide your name, address, telephone number, organizational affiliation and title (if any) by close of business Friday, March 16, 2018. A live video stream of the hearing is also available.