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Dupont Circle Citizens Association v. District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

April 12, 2018

Dupont Circle Citizens Association, et al., Petitioners,
v.
District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment, Respondent, and St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish, et al., Intervenors.

          Argued June 27, 2017

          Petition for Review of a Decision and Order of the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA-19133)

          Douglas C. Melcher for petitioners.

          Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, Lor en L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, and Richard S. Love, Senior Assistant Attorney General, filed a statement in lieu of brief for respondent.

          Phil T. Feola, with whom Allison C. Prince and Cary R. Kadlecek were on the brief, for intervenors.

          Before Fisher and Beckwith, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          Beckwith, Associate Judge

         St. Thomas' Episcopal Parish, a church in Dupont Circle, sought an area variance in order to build a combination church and residential building, and the Board of Zoning Adjustment granted that variance. Two neighborhood associations-collectively, the petitioners here-challenge the Board's order, arguing that the Parish has not met the requirements for an area variance. We vacate the Board's order and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         On September 1, 2015, the Parish submitted an application to the Board of Zoning Adjustment requesting an area variance in order to construct a building exceeding the lot occupancy requirement. The site is located in a Special Purpose District where the zoning regulations at the time provided that a building devoted to residential use could not occupy more than 80% of the lot. 11 DCMR § 532.1 (2015).[1]

         The Parish has occupied its current site on Church Street, N.W., where it intends to build the proposed project, for more than 120 years. In 1970, the main church building was destroyed by fire. Since then the church has operated out of the only remaining structure on the property, the Parish Hall, while maintaining a private park open to the public where the main church once stood. The project the Parish proposes to build is an addition to the Parish Hall which, though one building for zoning purposes, would comprise two distinct elements: a new church and a multifamily residential building. The four-story church element, located on the western side of the property, would include a sanctuary, classrooms, meeting space, and a large lobby that would also function as a "ruins gallery" displaying the remains of the original church. The residential element, located on the eastern side of the property, would incorporate the Parish Hall and contain approximately fifty-six units in seven stories. An underground parking garage would serve the whole property.

         The project as proposed would comply with all applicable zoning regulations except that the first four floors would exceed the maximum lot occupancy of 80%. The first floor of the entire project would occupy 86.7% of the lot, although required setbacks would decrease lot occupancy on the higher floors. Because the Parish Hall is a contributing building to the Dupont Circle Historic District, it cannot be altered without permission from the Mayor or her agent. The project would remove a small part of the rear of the Parish Hall-an undertaking the Historic Preservation Review Board has approved. The remaining portion of the Parish Hall already occupies 19.2% of the lot.

         The Board held an evidentiary hearing at which the petitioners, who had been granted party status, participated. After announcing its decision to grant the variance, the Board issued a written decision concluding that "the contributing nature of the Parish Hall" was an exceptional condition that would create a practical difficulty in complying with the existing lot occupancy regulations. The Board further concluded that this practical difficulty warranted variance relief, and that the requested relief would not be substantially detrimental to the public good or the integrity of the zone plan.[2]

         The petitioners timely petitioned for review of the grant of the area variance, and the Parish and its developer, J. River Church Street, ...


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