With the D.C. government facing declining school enrollments and increasing office-space rents, one seemingly logical course is to convert abandoned classrooms to office space. That’s just what’s happened at Lincoln Park’s Thomas B. Bryan Elementary School, much to the neighbors’ consternation.
The two-building school complex at 1325 Independence Ave. SE hasn’t seen any classes since 1991, when its students moved to Payne Elementary and the structures were converted to school administrative offices. That use ended in 1993, and the buildings were transferred to the mayor for sale; instead, in February 1995 the Bryan East Annex became the new home for a Department of Human Services (DHS) welfare services center that had been unexpectedly evicted from a nearby site.
Arguing that the move was an emergency, the city did not provide the required notification to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission or get a certificate of occupancy for the building. It also failed to apply for a zoning variance for the new use. The property is residentially zoned, and one developer consulted by the Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals suggests that the land could hold about 50 market-rate town houses.
In July 1995, the city applied to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) for a special exception to use both buildings as a “community service center’’ without specifying a particular use for Bryan West. Not until Nov. 29, less than a month before the BZA hearing, did the city reveal its intention to move three citywide DHS offices to the Bryan complex from 1 Judiciary Square, thus making room for offices that would be relocated from the Wilson Building during its renovation.
The BZA halted those plans with a March 6 decision that was, in the words of Bryan School Neighborhood Association Chair Brian Furness, “a mixed bag.’’ According to the ruling, the welfare services center can occupy the east annex for three more years, but the city cannot move additional offices to the buildings. “Leaving offices there hinders finding a neighborhood-friendly solution,’’ such as residential development, argues Furness, who says his organization is considering an appeal of the BZA decision.
Sheraton Showdown: A Few Details Most of the coverage of the Sheraton Washington Hotel’s proposed expansion has focused on the long-standing schism between the Woodley Park hostelry and its residential neighbors, which dates to a major expansion that began in the mid-’70s. Less noticed has been the sheer scale of the planned additions and the precedent they might set for other Connecticut Avenue hotels.
Arguing that the hotel needs to revamp its convention and seminar space to attract a more upscale clientele, the Sheraton has made its case for adding 30,000 square feet of meeting rooms in almost lurid terms. Sheraton attorney Phil T. Feola warned that without the expansion “the hotel will have to reach out to transient groups…and to discount travel groups in order to fill its rooms.’’ These less-than-desirable guests, he argued in a letter to the BZA, will be “people who have driven here in their cars or arrived by tour bus.’’ The “cost to the reputation of the hotel, the appearance of the neighborhood, and the economy of District of Columbia’’ cannot be calculated, he cautioned.
Increased car and bus traffic has long concerned the Sheraton’s neighbors, so Feola’s argument may sway some Woodley Park residents. But how much more auto traffic will be encouraged by the hotel’s proposed new 220-space parking structure, which at 85,338 square feet will be almost three times as large as the expanded meeting space? And if the 30,000 square feet of new meeting space is what will redeem the Sheraton, then why do the proposed additions total 200,000 square feet—almost seven times the much-cited 30,000-square-feet figure?
Like several other large Connecticut Avenue hotels, the Sheraton is in a residential zone. Opponents of the hotel’s expansion argue that the Sheraton’s plan requires an actual rezoning, which is beyond the power of the BZA, and that approval of the expansion would send a message to the Sheraton’s Kalorama/Woodley Park competitors. As land-use activist Ellen M. McCarthy told the BZA last month, “the Ramada has already been allowed to expand. The Shoreham has recently been sold and is anticipating major reinvestment. If you grant this variance to the Sheraton, you will have essentially changed the zoning in half the cases in which it applies, and it is unclear how then it will be possible to turn down the Shoreham, or the [Washington] Hilton, when it returns for the next round of improvements, to keep up with its competitors.CP