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When is a structure with five- and seven-bedroom apartments and bathrooms featuring multiple shower and toilet stalls a regular apartment building and not a Community Based Residential Facility (CBRF)? When the city’s Board of Zoning Administration (BZA) rules it is.

And therein lies the tale of a new eight-story building planned for the 1300 block of N Street NW by Luther Place Memorial Church. The church says it’s constructing housing for moderate-income people, or perhaps for seminarians and visitors; opponents in the neighborhood, where Luther Place has long been controversial, say the building will be an expansion of the N Street Village homeless shelter that the church already maintains. If so, the church needs BZA approval, for which it did not apply.

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Arguing that Acting Zoning Administrator Gladys Hicks had improperly issued a building permit for the project, the Logan Circle Community Association (LCCA) appealed to the BZA. At a Dec. 14, 1994, hearing, several LCCA witnesses testified that the new building is clearly designed for “congregate supported housing.” According to Christopher Reutershan, a developer and neighborhood resident, Luther Place told the federal department of Housing and Urban Development that CBRF programs currently in other buildings would be transferred to the new structure. Hicks, however, said that the applicant is obligated to tell the truth about its plans for a proposed building, and that the church’s statement thus had to be accepted at face value.

The BZA ruled this month that the project could move forward, and LCCA has now decided to proceed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. According to LCCA attorney Andrea Ferster, D.C. zoning regulations do not allow apartments to be mixed with institutional uses in the same building. In ruling that the large apartments will not be used for CBRFs, she says, the BZA accepted a “fiction.”

Planning on Change President Clinton has named Margaret Vanderhye to the National Capital Planning Commission, the board that reviews federal development proposals within the D.C. region, as well as local zoning cases that affect the “federal interest.” Vanderhye replaces current Commission Chairman Glen Urquhart, generally considered a rubber stamp for building plans.

Vanderhye, who has served on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Northern Virginia 2010 Transportation Plan and the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission, was suggested by Virginia Lieutenant Governor Don Beyer. A native of the Chicago suburbs who extols that city’s tradition of planning, the McLean resident calls the new position “a wonderful opportunity.”

The new appointee says she’s never heard of Wilkes Artis Hedrick & Lane, the powerful local zoning-law firm that’s frequently involved in controversial development cases, but a few of her comments might lower the temperature a few degrees at the firm’s offices. “Economic development [arguments are] too often a crutch,” she says, “used for doing things without thinking out what all the consequences are.” Vanderhye also worries that D.C. is being hollowed out by local development policies. “You do not want to lose the character of a place that makes it special,” she notes.