The Buchanan School Redevelopment BZA Case

On Tuesday, June 2nd, the ANC 6B Planning and Zoning Committee will hear Insight Property Group's application to the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment, which manages most small- to medium-scale zoning cases in DC. Here's a brief overview of the case and the types of "relief" that Insight is requesting. Recall that "relief" means an exception from what is allowed automatically (or "by right") under DC zoning code. BZA cases are typically standard exceptions, which are built into the zoning code. That doesn't mean they're granted under all cases, but it means there's an accepted process.

First, some site orientation. Insight is planning to redevelop the entire Buchanan School site, but this BZA case only affect the houses on the western half of the property, as shown by the blue outline in the image below. The flats in the original school buildings and the larger row houses along D St. aren't covered here. 

Proposed site plan for the Buchanan School project. The BZA case covers the units outlined in blue.

Proposed site plan for the Buchanan School project. The BZA case covers the units outlined in blue.

Insight group is seeking four areas of relief, which will allow them to build this project on land that will remain zoned R4. The four areas are:

  1. A special exception for lot widths of 16' on 19 townhome lots
  2. A variance for minimum lot area on 9 lots
  3. A variance for lot occupancy (69%) on the northwest-most lot
  4. A variance to allow two townhomes on a single lot (the houses running along 13th St)

Insight is asking for one special exception and three variances. A special exception is a relatively modest type of relief, and the burden of proof is commensurately lower. (See DC's guide here.) A variance is a stronger departure from the zoning code, and the burden of proof is higher. Areas 1-3 are things the ANC see relatively often, especially #3 (which is typically a special exception). These three, if approved, allow Insight to build the homes along D St. as proposed.

The fourth area is less common, and getting approval here would allow Insight to construct the homes along 13th St and the mews (the interior houses on the east side of the new alley) by placing two homes on a single lot. DC code allows this with zoning relief, and we see many homeowners do this to put a live-in carriage house on their property, often using a covered walkway to connect the two structures. Here insight will build two houses on one lot but then sell each house under a separate deed.

Insight held a community meeting to walk through the BZA application on Thursday, May 28th at the Hill Center. At the ANC meeting Tuesday, Insight will need to explain why they believe they should be granted these four types of relief, and the Planning and Zoning Committee will decide what to recommend to the full ANC. After the ANC review, the BZA (board) will review the case and ultimately determine whether to approve the application.

If you'd like to observe or participate in the process, come to the P&Z meeting on June 2nd at 7pm at the St. Coletta School near the Armory on Independence Ave.

Previous posts on the Buchanan School redevelopment:
Introduction to the Buchanan School plans