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W3HJ Responds to Zoning Case 22-25 on Rule changes

Contact: Gail Sonnemann, gsonnemann@gmail.com, 202-286-0845


To: District of Columbia Zoning Commission Office of Zoning

441 4th Street NW #200 Washington, DC 20001


Subject: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Case # 22-25


Housing Justice Advocates Challenge Zoning Rule Changes


March 18, 2024


Dear Chairman Hood and Zoning Commissioners:


Ward 3 Housing Justice (W3HJ) works to expand affordable housing in

Ward 3 and to enhance the participation and influence in government

processes of those who are housing burdened. We are taking this

opportunity to comment on the text amendments, ZC Case 22-25, that

have been published in DC Register as proposed rulemaking prior to final

consideration by the Zoning Commission.


The text amendments conflict with efforts to make the zoning process more

transparent and participatory. The text amendments will deprive the public,

including ANCs, with the necessary information to participate fully in zoning

processes. It is not enough for the Zoning Commission to assert that

current regulations allow participation when the regulations do not

adequately notify the public about the topic or subject of a proceeding. The

22-25 text amendments indirectly deny access by not informing.


Specifically, the Zoning Commission would deny notice to government

agencies, suspend physical notices on the subject property, omit

substantive descriptive information on notices, and exclude notice to

tenants within 200 feet of a subject property and previously affected

ANCs. The only reason given by the Zoning Commission is that inclusion

would cause process delays and be burdensome and complex. W3HJ

finds that the benefit of ensuring all potential stakeholders a seat at the

table outweighs minimal delays and is not at all burdensome or complex.


Other approved amendments increase our impression that the Zoning

Commission does not want public participation and prefers an insider’s

process, with applicant’s attorneys and the Office of Planning dominating

proceedings and alone influencing the outcome. Of particular concern are

approved amendments that would allow applicants to bypass meeting with

ANCs before a set down meeting with the Zoning Commission and allow

OP to file map and text amendments without notifying ANCs and property

owners within 200 feet of the subject property prior to set down. The

implication is that the Zoning Commission does not want ANCs to be aware

of applications that could affect their constituents. ANCs should be fully

informed and encouraged to submit set down comments to advise the

Zoning Commission on whether to accept an application and schedule a

hearing.


The Zoning Commission has compounded its decisions to limit notice by

excluding non-parties from filing motions for reconsideration and rehearing.

In effect, the Zoning Commission is squeezing the public at both ends of

the zoning process. The Zoning Commission is completely excluding the

public when it considers successful applicant’s motions to change the

conditions of a zoning order that could include affordable housing

commitments.


The perception that the Zoning Commission wants to limit public

interference with its proceedings is most clear in its resistance to public

pressure to codify a Racial Equity analysis requirement. The Zoning

Commission refers to this analysis as a tool, implying that it is not a

significant factor in its deliberations. The Council clearly intended Racial

Equity analyses to influence zoning decisions in all cases, including the

zoning matters handled by the Board of Zoning Adjustment, which the

Zoning Commission exempts from considering Racial Equity in its

decisions. We urge the Zoning Commission to elevate Racial Equity

analysis as a regulatory requirement to signal to applicants that reversing

decades of discrimination and displacement – often through zoning

processes – will be actively pursued.


W3HJ urges the Zoning Commission to put aside concerns related to

delays and burdens on applicants, which influenced the 22-25 amendment

decisions, and instead consider the consequences of erring on the side of

streamlining applicant’s requirements. The public has a right to be fully

informed and participate in zoning proceedings and indeed the Zoning

Commission has a responsibility to evaluate public impacts, benefits, and

outcomes, including how decisions will affect Black and Brown

residents. Zoning decisions cannot be deemed legitimate and authentic

without a fully informed public participating in all zoning matters and with a

regulatory foundation that ensures Racial Equity as a fundamental zoning

purpose.


Thank you,

Margaret Lenzner, on behalf of Ward 3 Housing Justice

3530 Newark St NW, Washington DC 20016

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