Advisory neighborhood commissioners rejoice, developers beware: Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh is considering introducing legislation to give ANCs a chance to weigh in on matter-of-right residential buildings.

Currently, ANCs provide input on building projects that require a change to or exemption from the zoning code, as well as certain large commercial and mixed-use projects that trigger a so-called Large Tract Review. Cheh’s bill, if she decides to move forward with it, would extend Large Tract Reviews to residential buildings above a certain size—-she’s thinking maybe 100,000 square feet—-even if they meet all the zoning requirements.

The idea came up at a D.C. Council hearing on Wednesday, at which representatives of ANC 3G and the 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition raised objections to a 263-apartment building planned by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises at—-you guessed it—-5333 Connecticut Ave. NW, in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. The problem for the neighbors is that the project conforms to the city’s zoning regulations, at least according to the developer, so the ANC is granted no official input in the process. For projects that require zoning amendments or exceptions, ANC resolutions must be given “great weight” by the zoning authorities.

Now, Cheh is thinking about introducing legislation to “allow the ANC to be a vehicle for community concerns, and maybe make recommendations to whatever agency gives permits.” Cheh acknowledges that on projects like this one, though, “their recommendations or concerns might not have any relevance to the permits.”

“They object to the aesthetics of an all-glass building,” Cheh says of the Chevy Chase project. “But even if they sent that concern to [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs], it wouldn’t be relevant.”

Even still, Cheh feels that some of the conflict surrounding the Cafritz project could have been avoided if Cafritz had been required to consult with the ANC before moving forward.

“It would have gone so much better, even though there wouldn’t be a veto, to lay the groundwork, to do something like this,” she says.

Cheh says she already discussed the possible legislation with the Council’s general counsel to see if it might be considered “an incursion into zoning prerogatives” and was assured that it wouldn’t be.

Even so, it’s not likely to be popular with developers, or with DCRA. If ANCs are given a formal platform to object to elements of by-right residential projects, DCRA will be forced to respond point by point to the objections. If the ANC then disagrees with the response, it can submit another letter explaining its disagreement, which DCRA will again have to refute—-even if just to explain why the ANC’s objections aren’t under DCRA’s jurisdiction. It’s an extra layer of bureaucracy that threatens to slow down the process and make developers warier of undertaking matter-of-right development in neighborhoods with particularly vocal ANCs.

Update 4/9: Cheh just now introduced the “Large Tract Review Process Amendment Act of 2013.” It applies to matter-of-right residential developments larger than 150,000 square feet. The full bill is below.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery