Letter From Linda K. Argo, Director DCRA, About Uptown ARTS Overlay District

Last week week we had a huge discussion about “no New Building Permits or C of Os will be issued to eating and drinking establishments in MidCity (14th and U Streets, NW)”. The Director of DCRA, Linda Argo recently sent out a letter to clarify the situation. She writes:

“Also, it is very important to note that the Office of Planning is finalizing recommendations to the Zoning Commission to increase the 25% cap on eating and drinking establishments, as well as how the cap is calculated. These proposed amendments will be submitted to the Zoning Commission by April 26, 2010.”

Word on the street is that the increase could go up to 50%.

See full overlay map here – Uptown ARTS Overlay District

Full letter after the jump.

Dear Councilmembers, ANC Commissioners, business owners, and residents:

Because there has been much confusion recently on the issue of zoning overlays, below is a short summary of the zoning regulations applicable to the Uptown ARTS overlay district along the 14th and U Streets, NW corridors.

The Uptown ARTS overlay district was created by the Zoning Commission in 1990. It caps eating and drinking establishments at 25% of the total street frontage in the overlay district. The DCRA Office of the Zoning Administrator simply enforces the overlay district’s cap; it has no legal authority to modify or override any zoning restrictions contained within an overlay district.

DCRA has completed a preliminary inventory of the eating and drinking establishments within the overlay district, and we believe the 25% cap on total street frontage has been reached. I’ve attached a draft spreadsheet with our calculations of the linear frontage of each eating/drinking establishment within the boundaries of the Uptown ARTS overlay district. If you have any questions about the linear street frontage calculations, please contact Zoning Administrator Matthew LeGrant at [email protected]

Also, it is very important to note that the Office of Planning is finalizing recommendations to the Zoning Commission to increase the 25% cap on eating and drinking establishments, as well as how the cap is calculated. These proposed amendments will be submitted to the Zoning Commission by April 26, 2010.

I also need to make clear that although the Zoning Administrator must, pursuant to the zoning regulations, deny applications for a certificate of occupancy for any business seeking to open an eating or drinking establishment after the overlay district reaches the 25% cap, the applicant can seek a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. If the Board of Zoning Adjustment grants the special exception, DCRA will issue the certificate of occupancy and the business may open.

For your reference, I have attached a PDF of the Uptown ARTS overlay district. Please note that the 25% cap applies only to eating or drinking establishments located along the lots fronting on 14th Street (between slightly north of N Street and Florida Avenue) and U Street (between 9th and 15th Streets).


Linda Argo

28 Comment

  • Good news

  • Great news. But the key question is: how long until they can actually implement the change to the zoning regulations? I bet it takes months.

    This is a text book example of bad government.

    If the government’s intent was to change the zoning regulations to raise the cap on restaurants beyond 25%, then they should have begun this process long before they hit the 25% cap.

    The situation now is that new development along 14th and U Streets is stalled out while we wait for the government to change the regulations. I am sure there are several businesses who have leased but not yet applied for a building permit or C of O who are stuck in limbo.

    • The Zoning Commission could change the regulations on emergency basis by the end of the month.

      • First I’ve heard about this. There is no indication that this is the route that the DCRA is taking here.

  • Horrible news. More bars and restaurants is not good for DC, and not good for U Street.

    • Eventually market forces will dictate options other than bars and restaurants. Until then, why stare at depressed and ugly boarded up commerical areas?

    • Wah. I think others disagree.

    • I can’t understand how more bars and restaurants are worse than vacant properties. I can understand concerns about noise and the type of bar/club/restaurant, but that’s another matter which the ANCs have done an admirable job of keeping on top of.

  • There is a choice C to the A and B of bars or empty storefronts. It requires the city and the population standing up to property owners holding out for ridiculous rent levels, but it’s there.

  • terrible news for those that actually live in the neighborhood as I do!!! i am convinced there is no planning at all involved in this neighborhood and nobody abides by the rules anyway….policy stays open well beyond their posted hours and are driving their neighbors crazy with the noise! bars do not make a neighborhood desirable i assure you, but well curated stores/galleries/independent businesses do. I am sure everyone is excited about Room and Board coming to the hood, but where are all of theses knuckleheads going to park, they have not allocated any parking for their patrons, absolutely ridiculous for the people that live nearby.

    • As someone who lives on U Street, I think this is great news for the neighborhood. More new restaurants would be a great asset to the community.

      A 40% or 50% cap will allow new independent restaurants to open in our neighborhood, allowing long vacant storefronts to be made productive and providing the foot traffic that retail needs to survive.

  • yay this means more incentive to open bars and restaurants east of 9th street and on RIAve!

  • I am genuinely curious about people who live on 14th or U street and are upset about the extensive nightlife and scant parking.

    Did you move here before those developments? Or did you move here afterward, but hope that they would change? Or . . . something else?

    • I moved to the area about 6 years ago, before most of the development that you see on 14th and U today existed.

      I am a big fan of the increased variety of dining and drinking options in the area.

      I also think that the transformation of the neighborhood is incomplete. There are a lot of vacant storefronts on 14th and U Streets. I think that a 50% cap on restaurants will afford about the right mix of restaurants and retail in the neighborhood.

    • I live there and am very happy about the increased restaurant availability. I would support upping the cap to 50%.

    • I lived in the neighborhood in ’92-’93. There was already Black Cat, Metro Cafe, Polly’s, State of the Union, Republic Gardens and probably a few others. You would have to be blind to the world not to figure out the area was on nightlife-based resurgence. I think that some folks moved in as some of the upscale furniture shops and galleries were starting to move to the area and were hoping the neighborhood would head more in that direction instead. I find it a lot like people who buy a home near an airport, then complain about noise from the jets.

  • Sorry – off topic, but my cat just walked across my keyboard and hit some key that shrank all the typeface on this site! Anyone know what key it might have been and how to undo it?

  • v, hit ctrl and – or + to make text bigger or smaller.

  • That worked! Thanks.

  • Why is it called an arts overlay?

  • For some perspective, U Street has been a lively entertainment, nightlife and dining district since the 1920s! The Lincoln, Howard, and other theaters lined the street in their heyday, side by side with jazz clubs, speakeasies and restaurants. Trolleys clanged their way down the street, competing for space with cars, and pedestrians. The sidewalks were crowded and the noise level must have been comparable to today (except for those Rumbler sirens!). Strictly limiting the number of bars and especially restaurants and food establishments of any kind totally goes against the historic nature of this district.

    • what percentage of storefronts do you think held alcohol or food serving establishments back in 1920?

      • 0%, at least legally, given Prohibition.

        As for the argument about moving in and expecting it not to be loud, I call B.S., there is a difference between moving in and expecting it to be what it is presently, with room for some future growth under the law. People shouldn’t have to expect that developer dollars would bribe the city into changing the law and increasing the parking problems, crowds and noise by 25%. The complaints are legit.

        • someone moving into the u street corridor without expecting it to continue developing is seriously naive.

  • You need to improve your reading comprehension. I said that the expectation should include room for future growth under the law. What it should not include is a drastic jump by the stroke of a pen.

  • from Left for LeDroit:
    “The 25% restriction only applies to businesses within the subset of 900-1400 blocks of U St NW and the 1300-2200 blocks of 14th St NW; so a potential restaurant on 9th St NW would be able to proceed without seeking BZA relief.”

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