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
 

First Look at the Buchanan School Development

Update: See the Insight Property Group Powerpoint Presentation

On Tuesday evening at the Hill Center the Insight Property Group presented the initial plans for their proposed redevelopment of the Buchanan School site (known to many in the neighborhood as IGU). The site sits on the western end of the block bordered by E, D, 13th (Peter Bug Way), and 14th streets southeast, across from the Watkins Field.

Buchanan School p roject site in Hill East

Buchanan School project site in Hill East

The team is proposing a residential-only project, which will include a range of housing sizes and configurations. The plan is to retain the historic 1895 Buchanan School buildings, demolish the more recent additions on the north side of the site, and construct new row houses around the perimeter of the site along 13th and D St and along the interior of the site.

Proposed site plan for the Buchanan School redevelopment

Proposed site plan for the Buchanan School redevelopment

The original school buildings will be converted into 40 condominiums, ranging in size from studios, to 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units. For the condo portion of the project the developer will provide 14-16 parking spaces, meeting the parking requirements under DC zoning rules. Ground level units will include patios and window wells. 

Preliminary design for the Buchanan School buildings

Preliminary design for the Buchanan School buildings

The row home portion of the project has two components. On the northeast corner of the site the developer plans to construct nine townhomes "by right" (with no zoning relief). These homes will be 3+ bedroom units with roof terraces, backyards, and parking spaces. The homes will have the option of having elevators, as well.

On the remainder of the site the project will include 32 three-story townhomes, ranging from 16 to 20 feet wide. The houses will be 3+ bedrooms and all will have parking spaces and roof terraces. The designs are still preliminary, but the goal is to varying the townhome styles to better fit into the Capitol Hill style of homes.

The 32 townhomes on the western end of the Buchanan School site.

The 32 townhomes on the western end of the Buchanan School site.

The western townhomes viewed from 13th and D St SE

The western townhomes viewed from 13th and D St SE

Between the western townhomes and the school buildings will be a mews, which combined with walking paths will run the length of the block north to south and serve as a connector between E St and D St that is open to the public.

View of the mews from the north.

View of the mews from the north.

View of the mews from the south

View of the mews from the south

Between the two rows of townhomes on the western side of the site will be an alley, which will provide vehicle access off of 13th St and community space, similar to many small alleys across Capitol Hill.

Alley view between the two rows of townhomes on the western side of the site.

Alley view between the two rows of townhomes on the western side of the site.

The developer will need zoning relief for the 32 proposed townhomes on the western side of the site. They will be applying through the Board of Zoning adjustments to allow two townhomes on one lot, higher lot coverage, 16' wide lots, and nine lots smaller than 1,800 square feet. Applying for the needed zoning relief means the developer will come before ANC6B, likely over the summer.

The proposed project schedule has initial demolition beginning in May, with construction starting January 2016. The anticipated project completion date is March 2018.

Project images provided by Insight Property Group.

Come learn about the Buchanan School (IGU) Plans

The large building known to most in our neighborhood as the International Graduate University has a storied past, although since I have lived on the Hill it has more or less lived a quiet, somewhat reclusive (and thankfully well-kept) existence. In the coming years, that's likely to change.

The Insight Property Group is planning a major redevelopment of the site, which will involve building a combination of flats and row homes on this large piece of residentially-zoned (R-4) land.  They're referring to the project as the Buchanan School, which is the name of the original DC public school that occupied the building until it closed in 1992.

Unlike other recently-announced projects, such as Watkins Alley, this will not be a PUD, since the developers are not asking for substantial zoning changes. But in term of scale this will likely be comparable to Watkins Alley, and it will be a major change for my block of Capitol Hill.

Insight will present their plans to the public at a community meeting on Tuesday, April 21st at 7pm at the Hill Center. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the project, ask questions, and find out how to keep up to date as things move forward.