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Washington Canoe Club v. District of Columbia Zoning Commission

December 30, 2005

WASHINGTON CANOE CLUB, ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ZONING COMMISSION, RESPONDENT, AND PRESIDENT AND DIRECTORS OF GEORGETOWN COLLEGE, INTERVENOR.



Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Zoning Commission (ZC30-03).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nebeker, Senior Judge

Argued September 7, 2005

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, FARRELL,Associate Judge, and NEBEKER,Senior Judge.

Petitioners seek review of a December 11, 2003 Order (No. 02-30) of the District of Columbia Zoning Commission(the "Commission"). That order granted the directors of Georgetown College ("the University") and the National Park Service ("NPS"), (collectively, the "Applicants") a map amendment, special exceptions and variance relief for the purpose of building a boathouse; that structure to be located in the northwest quadrant of the city along the Potomac River shoreline for use by the University's crew team.*fn1 The petitioners contend that the Commission erred when it granted the Applicants' request for a special exception. In addition, the petitioners assert that the Commission misapplied the standards set forth in Palmer v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning Adjustment, 287 A.2d 535 (D.C. 1972), when it granted area variances. We disagree and affirm.

I.

The Applicants submitted an application to the Commission for a map amendment from unzoned to W-1, the lowest density existing zone classification permitted for boathouse use. The Applicants also submitted a petition requesting several text amendments to the W-1 classification that would be required to allow development of the boathouse under this zoning classification.

The Office of Planning ("OP") in its report to the Commission suggested that the Property be assigned an entirely new zoning category, the Waterfront Open Space Zone (W-0), the most restrictive available waterfront district zone, that required a 100-foot setback from the waterfront. The Commission adopted the new W-0 classification with the consent of the Applicants. As a result of the change in zoning classification, the Applicants were required to file a separate application for a special exception for boathouse use and a setback variance because of the Property's narrow configuration. The Applicants also sought to eliminate parking requirements because the Property would not require public access by motor vehicle.

The Commission provided public notice of the boathouse project and conducted three public hearings on the applications during the spring and summer of 2003; it compiled a record consisting of over 2000 pages of evidence. At a public meeting on July 31, 2003, the Commission took preliminary action to approve the application which would classify the Property as W-0; this, in turn, led to the ultimate issuance of the detailed and thorough order of December 11, 2003 approving the zoning classification, special exceptions and variances which would allow the Applicants to build the boathouse on the Property.

II.

Although the petitioners recognize that a boathouse would be an appropriate use in a W-0 district provided that a special exception is granted, they assert that the construction of this particular boathouse on the Property would have an adverse impact on the adjacent property because of its size and design. The petitioners believe that the Commission did not adequately address the detrimental impact of the boathouse on the ability of the CCT's users to safely navigate the trail at its most congested point or consider the negative environmental damage to the WCC and the surrounding parklands.

When reviewing an order of the Commission, like decisions of other agencies, we give great deference to the agency's findings supporting the decision. We do not reassess the merits of the decision, but instead determine "whether the findings and conclusions were arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion, or not supported by substantial evidence." Dupont Circle Citizens Ass'n v. District of Columbia Zoning Comm'n, 355 A.2d 550, 560 (D.C.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 966 (1976). "Substantial evidence is relevant evidence which a reasonable trier of fact would find adequate to support a conclusion." George Washington Univ. v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning Adjustment, 831 A.2d 921, 931 (D.C. 2003).We are not permitted to re-weigh that evidence or substitute our own judgment for that of the agency. Dupont Circle Citizens Ass'n, supra, 355 A.2d at 560-61. Likewise, we give the same consideration to a zoning regulatory agency order granting an area variance. See Wolf v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning Adjustment, 397 A.2d 936, 942 (D.C. 1979).

The Board of Zoning Adjustment (the "Board") is authorized "to grant special exceptions, . . . where, in the judgment of the Board, the special exceptions will be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the Zoning Regulations and Zoning Maps and will not tend to affect adversely, the use of neighboring property in accordance with the Zoning Regulations and Zoning Maps, subject in each case to [certain] special conditions . . . ."

11 DCMR § 3104.01 (2003). A boathouse qualifies as a special exception in a W-0 district provided that it satisfies certain criteria.*fn2 When evaluating whether these criteria are satisfied, the Commission is required "to determine whether a reasonable accommodation has been made between the [applicant and the surrounding properties] . . . ." Glenbrook Rd. Ass'n v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning Adjustment, 605 A.2d 22, 32 (D.C. 1992). However, "the applicant is not charged with considering every option that any party in opposition might conceptualize." Don't Tear it Down, Inc. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Hous. & Cmty. Dev., 428 A.2d 369, 379 (D.C. 1981).

Nor is the Commission required to give greater weight to one party's views as opposed to another. See Citizens Ass'n of Georgetown, Inc. v. District of Columbia Zoning Comm'n, 402 A.2d 36, 47 (D.C. 1979) (holding that "[t]he agency is not legally required to explain, ...


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