CSG Testimony: Support ZC 23-25 Chevy Chase DC rezoning

Mr. Anthony Hood
Chairman, Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, NW, Suite 210S
Washington, DC 20001

RE: Support Zoning Case No. 23-25 – Proposed Zoning Text and Map Amendments for new Chevy Chase Neighborhood Mixed Use Zones 

Dear Chair Hood:

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG), the leading non-profit organization in the D.C. region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all.

We wish to express our support for the proposed zoning changes to Chevy Chase DC’s main street. We have participated in and tracked closely the entire process – the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map, the Housing Equity Report, the Small Area Plan, the “Our RFP” public process for the library site, and this rezoning proposal. 

Proposed zoning changes fulfill guidance for a more inclusive, inviting Chevy Chase

These proposed changes, though modest, are still meaningful in advancing the District’s and community’s goals to create more affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods, and at the same time, build a better Chevy Chase, with a state-of-the-art library and community center. The proposed zoning changes bring the zoning into alignment with the Comprehensive Plan, and address the priority of racial and housing equity by opening up new possibilities for affordable housing in this exclusive, affluent, high-priced, well-resourced neighborhood. 

Given that only about 1% of DC’s dedicated affordable housing exists in Rock Creek West, and none exists in the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan area, these changes are meaningful. We are concerned that the zoning changes could be too modest — especially the new restriction on lot occupancy for the library site. Of particular concern is the The NMU-4/CC2 zone constricting the lot occupancy to 60% in order to allow for more ground level open area to be used for public and recreational spaces. We recognize that the Office of Planning has made multiple revisions -and downsizing – of the zoning capacity in order to address concerns voiced by various members of the community. We urge the Zoning Commission to resist additional constriction of what will be possible to create a feasible mixed use, mixed income development at the library site. To further cut down the possibility of affordable homes on the public site will perpetuate the history of exclusion that has resulted in the mostly affluent, mostly white neighborhood of today. 

Proposed zoning addresses quality public realm

The proposed mixed-use zones are designed to implement the various planning studies approved by ANC 3/4G and the DC Council, all after extensive public engagement. The ANC resolution on the small area plan explicitly asked the Office of Planning to create a design-oriented ‘form-based code’ that would implement the outcomes of those planning studies. The OP Setdown Report explains how the zoning responds to that and other requests by the community via the ANC. We support this approach, with the caveat that we are concerned that the potential for affordable housing will be inappropriately truncated for the public site and fail to make the most of this rare opportunity to provide a substantial amount of deeply affordable housing in this high-opportunity neighborhood. 

Nearing the end of a long road of public engagement

The planning and public engagement process has been extensive. This includes: The Comprehensive Plan and its Rock Creek West Element, the Housing Equity Report and the Future Land Use Map, all the contributions made by ANC3/4G committees and task forces, and the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan, and the “Our RFP” process conducted by DMPED to discuss the future of the library site. 

We have also collaborated with a number of local activists and groups to raise awareness about the opportunity to shape a more inviting main street and a more inclusive neighborhood with affordable housing, especially at the library site. We have supported and convened forums, shared information about plans and planning for the area. As part of our outreach and education efforts for the zoning changes, we worked with community partners to provide a guide to the zoning changes to make them more accessible to the public. View this document here

We are hopeful that we can adopt these new zones and zoning changes to provide certainty for the redevelopment process to build a new library, community center, public space, and at least 100 units of affordable housing at the civic site.

Failing to do so after so much process over several years, for such a modest improvement would be a win for that status quo of no affordable housing in this high-resource, mostly white neighborhood. 

Quoting from our partners, the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND): 

Over hundreds of years, this [racist] structure has permeated our very way of life… – even housing. Redlining, racialized zoning and covenants, subprime mortgages, and disinvestment in black and brown communities are just a few of the ways in which this system has created barriers to opportunity over the course of decades. 

After years of preparing the update to the DC Comprehensive Plan, housing equity report, and Chevy Chase Small Area Plan, we are eager to see this rezoning enacted to foster mixed income housing opportunities along this part of Connecticut Ave., especially at the civic site. 

Rezoning this main street and giving sufficient room through a new zone at the civic site to accommodate both public uses, and affordable, mixed-income housing will demonstrate the District’s and community’s commitment to inclusion and racial equity in Ward 3. Including affordable, mixed-income housing through these zoning changes fulfills the intent of the Chevy Chase Small Area Plan, the Comprehensive Plan, and the DC housing equity goal to add 1,900 affordable homes to Rock Creek West Planning Area by 2025. This form-based zoning also improves the quality of life for the community and will foster a more walkable, vibrant main street. 

Thank you for your consideration. 


Cheryl Cort
Policy Director