May 23, 2023
Chair Marnique Heath
Historic Preservation Review Board
1100 4th Street, SW, Suite E650
Washington, DC 20024
Case “Connecticut Avenue Development Guidelines”
Dear Chair Heath,
I am writing on behalf of the Steering Committee for Cleveland Park Smart Growth (CPSG) expressing our strong support for the Development Guidelines prepared by the Office of Planning and the Historic Preservation Office for the commercial areas of Cleveland Park and Woodley Park.
CPSG has participated throughout the planning process and shares its stated goals of maximizing the creation of new housing under the recent changes to the Comprehensive Plan while remaining architecturally compatible to the two distinct historic districts. We believe, on the whole, the OP/HPO draft successfully achieves that balance.
In its consideration of the amendments proposed by the Mayor through the Office of Planning, the DC Council amended the Future Land Use Map proposal for Cleveland Park, reducing the proposed residential density from High to Medium. This was a conscious and proactive decision made by our legislative authority, a compromise agreed to by the Mayor, that is now law. Enactment of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2021 was taken with full knowledge that the commercial areas in Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are within historic districts. The intended density increase, and the subsequent funding of this planning process, has the same legal authority as the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act. It is now up to the agencies to execute the will of the people’s representatives and bring these laws into harmony.
The draft Development Guidelines enumerate a number of tools that can be employed to achieve compatibility in new constructions and additions in the two historic districts while adhering to the denser land use policy. These include setbacks over existing façades; step-downs in rear of buildings that transition to low density residential areas; façade modulation; maintaining the short-width cadence of retail frontage; and the use of compatible materials and design motifs. There is no reason why compatible buildings, using these tools, cannot be built at a FAR of 5.0 in Cleveland Park and 5.5 and 6.0 in Woodley Park. Our District policy makers have already said this is something that should happen. We believe the task of the HPRB is to find the best path for how it can happen. With a notable exception outlined below, the Guidelines map out a well considered approach.
One development scenario shown in the Guidelines is on the southernmost leg of the Park & Shop at Connecticut Avenue NW and Ordway Street NW (page 30). We believe this example shows an overly conservative use of the space to meet the housing objective. The Park & Shop property is nearly 50,000 square feet of land sitting directly atop the Cleveland Park Metro, and the proposal is to build on just 8,500 square feet of it. Extending construction north over the flat roof of the Park & Shop and building on the parking lot, certainly on the corner in front of the example in the non-contributing section, are areas where far better use of this land can coexist with the preservation of the “L” and the store fronts. We simply cannot allow an overly-strict administration of the Preservation Act to deny the desired land use policy the Future Land Use Map calls for.
From a broader policy perspective these two commercial areas along Connecticut Avenue are ideal places to increase the housing supply, which is why the law was changed to allow it. Allowing more homes in these areas works toward enhancing sustainability, economic vitality, and equity. More homes will make the neighborhood more attractive to prospective residents seeking to live a sustainable lifestyle. Additionally, added density in these two areas will require a higher level of affordable housing set-asides based on recent changes to the zoning code.
The ability to add greater levels of affordable housing is important from a historical perspective. Woodley Park and Cleveland Park are neighborhoods that were founded as white enclaves through the use of both economic and race-based exclusions and government policy such as the whites-only local schools. You would not know this from reading the flawed historic district nominations of these two districts. Neither address the intentional history of exclusion. Indeed, the Cleveland Park nomination lauds its initial developer with this Panglosian description, “Cleveland Park is a significant example in Washington D.C. of the development of a streetcar suburb created by an enlightened and benevolent real estate developer who fostered a sense of pride in the community. [emphasis added]” Missing is any reference to this “community” as being all white or the restriction imposed by minimum housing costs and racially exclusive covenants. How enlightened and benevolent – words used in writing the nomination in the 1980s – would the developer’s actions seem to the non-white residents of the District? We look forward to efforts to revisit these nominations to tell a more complete, if painful, history or these neighborhoods. More background on this aspect of the Cleveland Park neighborhood can be found in our “Excluded from the Start” presentation found on our website.
We hope Board members take this perspective into account and recognize the reasonable approach to future development the OP & HPO draft takes. It is a very workable approach to meeting multiple policy objectives, which definitely prioritizes architectural compatibility.
Bob Ward, Chair
Cleveland Park Smart Growth Steering Committee