It has been a while since we learned anything new about the ongoing legal battle between the 901 Monroe Development and the “200 Footers” – a group of residents who filed a court case seeking to overturn the Office of Planning’s decision to allow the development. We listened in on the oral arguments of the court case on April 11th, and at that time, it was difficult to tell how the case would be decided. What we found interesting while listening to the case proceedings was that the issues cited by the 200 Footers really rested with the Zoning Commission, not the development team. However, the Zoning Commission was not there to defend their decisions, and the defendant’s side was represented by the developer’s attorney. On Thursday, May 16th the verdict was released. I am no attorney, but after reading the decision a few times, it seems to me that it is a bit of a mixed bag.
The argument the 200 Footers made was that the Zoning Commission’s approval of the development was “inconsistent and…irreconcilable with the District’s Comprehensive Plan”. In my opinion, the 200 Footers lost the case, as the court “reject[ed] as meritless the petitioners’ contention that no further proceedings are necessary and that the court should simply reverse the Commission’s order and that the developer’s application be denied” and “reject[ed] the petitioner’s claim that the proposal approved by the Commission is invalid on its face as irreconcilable with the Comprehensive Plan”. Of course, not everyone saw the decision as a setback for the 200 Footers. Caroline Steptoe, ANC Commissioner for ANC 5B 04, sent an email about the decision to her constituents with the following text in the body of the email:
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 200 FOOTER PROPERY OWNERS WHO FILED LEGAL ACTION AGAINST THE ZONING COMMISSION REGARDING THE 901 MONROE STREET/COL. BROOKS PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT !!!!!!!…The DC Court of Appeals ruled this matter must go back to the Zoning Commission…HOORAY TO THESE 5B04 200 FOOTERS IN THIS FIRST LEGAL ROUND!!!
However meritless the court found the 200 Footers claims, the court did feel that there are some issues that need “additional findings of fact and conclusions of law”. Because of this, the case was remanded back to the Zoning Commission to “further consider…address… and to explain its conclusion”. These issues are:
- The development is considered “moderate density mixed use”. The Zoning Commission is asked to resolve the dispute regarding how much of the property is designated for moderate density mixed use, and how much is designated for low density residential use. The 200 Footers claim that only 37.5% of it is actually approved for moderate density mixed use, while the Office of Planning claimed the amount is over 50% during the development approval process. Once this is clarified, the Zoning Commission has to determine if the development plan is still consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.
- The Zoning Commission has to explain whether the development is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan in regards to four policies in the plan – Teardowns, Zoning of low and moderate density neighborhoods, Managing non-residential uses in residential areas, and Neighborhood conservation. Combined, these four policies favor preserving existing structures. I wonder what can be done about this issue at this point being that the entire property has already been razed, so there is nothing left to preserve.
- The Zoning Commission has to make a finding as to whether the property should be designated as a Neighborhood Conservation Area, and if it does, determine if the development plan is still consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Neighborhood Conservation Areas are supposed to be “modest in scale”.
Other than an additional delay to the development project to answer these questions, and a kind of slap on the wrist to the Zoning Commission for not being thorough, I don’t know what other implications there are. It seems unlikely to me that the Zoning Commission or Office of Planning would change their mind about allowing the development to proceed. But, I am just speculating here and am not an expert in these things by a long shot. What do you guys think?