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Georgetown Residents Alliance v. District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment

February 06, 2003


Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment

Before Terry, Ruiz, and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Argued December 6, 2000

Petitioner, the Georgetown Residents Alliance ("GRA"), seeks review of an order of the Board of Zoning Adjustment ("BZA") which upheld a decision of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs ("DCRA") to allow Georgetown University to convert one of its buildings into a child development center. The GRA offers four arguments for reversal. First, it contends that the BZA wrongly interpreted the zoning regulations when it ruled that building permits for the center could issue without a special exception from the BZA; second, it argues that the BZA finding that the GRA did not timely appeal from the issuance of two permits was not supported by substantial evidence; third, it maintains that the BZA was required to give "great weight" to the recommendations of certain Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and failed to do so; and fourth, it claims that the BZA order was defective because it lacked actual findings of fact, in violation of D.C. Code § 1-1509 (e) (1999). *fn1 We reject all of these arguments and affirm the BZA decision.


Georgetown University sought to convert one of its buildings, Poulton Hall, into a child development center for approximately sixty children of the University's faculty, staff, and students. The proposed location of the center was on lot 835, at the corner of 37th and P Streets, N.W., and two adjacent vacant lots, 161 and 162. The proposal did not require any physical expansion of Poulton Hall or construction of any new buildings, but it did call for renovations to the building on lot 835 and for the installation of play equipment, a shed, and a fence on lots 161 and 162.

All three lots are in an R-3 zoning district *fn2 and are within the campus boundaries outlined in the BZA-approved 1990 Campus Plan for the University. *fn3 Under the 1990 Campus Plan, Poulton Hall was approved for use as "mixed use main campus education/educational support." In the past, Poulton Hall had been used for classrooms, offices, a post office, a theater, and, most recently, a printing shop.

In 1995 University representatives met with the DCRA's Acting Zoning Administrator to discuss the proposed child development center. The Acting Zoning Administrator agreed with the University's position that the use of Poulton Hall as a child development center would be an "accessory use" to that already approved under the 1990 Campus Plan and, as such, would not require BZA review or approval.

On May 7, 1996, Georgetown University representatives attended a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission ("ANC") 2-E, which represents the contested area, and asked for the ANC's approval of the plans for the center without further proceedings before the BZA. The ANC, however, believed that the BZA had to grant a special exception before the plans could go forward, and voted unanimously to "inquire into (and protest) the omission of the zoning variance [sic]."

On June 26, 1996, relying on the Acting Zoning Administrator's conclusion that no BZA approval was required, the University applied to the DCRA for building permits to renovate Poulton Hall and for separate permits to erect the fence, shed, and play equipment. On August 19 a representative of the GRA attended a meeting with DCRA Director Hampton Cross to discuss certain defects in the permit applications and the lack of a special exception proceeding before the BZA. Mr. Cross made two rulings at that meeting: that the procedural flaws in the permit applications had to be corrected, and that the DCRA would not issue permits until the Corporation Counsel had reviewed the matter. The University continued to submit permit applications to the DCRA after this meeting, although the GRA understood that no permits would be issued until the Corporation Counsel had been consulted. Eventually, on August 28, the DCRA issued the final permits for construction of a fence, a shed, and play equipment on lots 161 and 162.

On December 27, 1996, Mr. Cross responded to a letter that ANC 2-E Commissioner Byrd had written to the Corporation Counsel. Mr. Cross stated that "after consulting with Corporation Counsel [and] the Acting Zoning Administrator and reviewing the concerns of all parties involved, the [DCRA] has made the decision to issue alteration and repair permits for the proposed Child Development Center."

On January 31, 1997, the DCRA issued the final permits for renovation of Poulton Hall.

The GRA appealed to the BZA, challenging the issuance of all the permits. The BZA held a hearing on the matter, receiving testimony from, among others, representatives of the GRA and ANC 2-E. The BZA also heard extensive testimony from the Acting Zoning Administrator explaining the reasons for her decision. In its final written order, the BZA ruled that the use of Poulton Hall as a child development center was consistent with the previously approved 1990 Campus Plan and that "[s]ince the proposed use is intended to serve students, faculty, and staff of the University, as well as to support the teaching mission of the University, it is a proper University function and does not come within the normal zoning restrictions for a child development center in an R-3 District." The BZA also noted in its order that it and prior Zoning Administrators had approved child development centers on other university campuses in the District of Columbia without granting special exceptions. *fn4

In addition, the BZA determined that, with respect to the permits for lots 161 and 162, the appeal was not timely. The order went on to say that the uses on those lots were accessory uses, allowed as a matter of right on residentially ...

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