THE NUMBER OF EXCEPTIONS AND VARIANCES SPEAK TO THE FACT THAT THIS DEVELOPMENT IS TOO MASSIVE FOR THE LOT
Sunrise, a large for-profit developer of senior facilities, wants numerous exceptions and variances to the zoning regulations. The sheer number of exceptions and variances speaks to the fact that this development does NOT belong in this location.
Sunrise wants variances or exceptions to the following:
an exception to locate a continuing care community at the site at all;
in increase in the allowable number of stories;
in increase in how much of the lot can be occupied;
a retaining wall three times the height of what is allowed and elimination of a side yard set-back;
a waiver to the mandate that 50% of the lot must be pervious.
To be on this R-1-B lot at all, the Board of Zoning Adjustment must find that special circumstances warrant that a 'continuing care retirement community' be allowed on the site at all. This special exception can be granted ONLY if the specific location is deemed appropriate and "does not create a condition objectionable to the neighbors." A senior assisted living facility requires such an exception under the “continuing care retirement community” exception of the District’s zoning regulations.
The granting of these variances and special exceptions would be a taking from the residents of the neighborhood, all of whom purchased their homes in the neighborhood with the knowledge that the zoning was R-1-B. The neighbors relied on the fact that such residential zoning meant that high density, commercial use would not be allowed. To grant Sunrise's requests would be a betrayal of the interests of the residents of the neighborhood, and is taking from them their right of quiet enjoyment of their property, and value of their property.
The site at 3920 Alton Place is not appropriate for granting this 'special exception.
THE NUMBER OF STORIES EXCEEDS THE REGULATION
The church on the site is allowed no more than three stories and a sanctuary no higher than 60 feet. The three-story limit applies to churches and any other entity on this lot.
Sunrise wants a four-story building that would go as high as 66 feet. Compare this to the adjacent two-story single family homes only a few feet away. The facility would tower over these homes, interfering with their peaceful enjoyment of their homes and interfering with their privacy. The church would, according to current plans, actually not even occupy the top two stories, so the additional story exceeding the zoning regulation would only be utilized by Sunrise - not the church. This is not acceptable.
THE FACILITY WOULD OCCUPY FAR MORE THAN THE ALLOWABLE PERCENTAGE OF THE LOT
The Church/Sunrise development would occupy 58% of the lot despite the church occupying only 14.5% of the building, according to most recent plans. 85.5% of the building would be occupied by the Sunrise facility.
Here is what the regulations say:
Only 60% of the lot can be occupied if this were solely a church.
Only 40% of the lot can be occupied if Sunrise were the sole use.
Limitations on lot occupancy are to give neighbors breathing space – trees, grass, landscaping, sunlight – between them and other residents or any non-residential use, as well as support the natural environment.
THE RETAINING WALL IS THREE TIMES AS HIGH AS ZONING REGS ALLOW
Sunrise requests a wall three times higher than zoning allows. Sunrise requests a wall that is more than 13 feet high versus the 4-foot wall that the zoning regulations allow. This wall would hold back the soil to allow the truck ramp to go down more than 13 feet below ground, and would be next to single-family homes with small children.
SIDE YARD SETBACK WOULD BE ELIMINATED
Sunrise wants to eliminate the mandatory setback from the property line that they share with the National Park Service. The facility would be directly on this property line.
MANDATORY PERMEABILITY OF THE LOT IS NOT DEMONSTRATED
Under Zoning regulations, at least half of the lot must be permeable in a single-family residential neighborhood.
THE SUNRISE/CHURCH DEAL: SHOVING TWO USES ONTO THE SAME LOT.
The church that currently resides on the lot will only occupy a small part of the first and second floors of the four-story building. In fact, in its most recent plans, Sunrise is occupying an astonishing 85.5% of the facility with the church occupying a mere 14.5%.
We are not aware of any other precedent where a commercial entity, such as Sunrise, has used zoning applicable to a church on a lot zoned for single family homes.
There are various financial arrangements between Sunrise and the church that have not been disclosed. The pastor is on record wanting "a grand facade" for his church. Meanwhile, Sunrise - a commercial, for-profit company is trying to take advantage of the zoning relief that DC provides to churches.
Sunrise would require at least 20 trucks a week for deliveries, a 7-ton shuttle bus multiple times a day on a site surrounded by streets where through trucks are banned, and would generate a significant increase in car traffic of staff, visitors, and church-goers in a quiet neighborhood.
THE CHURCH HASN’T BEEN A GOOD NEIGHBOR
In 2009, the Board of Zoning Adjustment issued an Order for a for-profit school to vacate the premises. The school was operating on the property and paying rent to the church.
Neighbors at the time objected to the amount of traffic generated by the church renting out the parking lot to commuters not affiliated with any of the schools while having multiple schools operating out of the building. The Board of Zoning Adjustment told the church to stop renting out the parking lot, and to create waiting rooms for parents rather than use Alton Place for drop off and pick ups.
As part of the current proposal, Alton Place, a narrow street, is once again being thought of as a place for drop off and pick up. The truck ramp entrance and curb cuts for a circular drop off and pick up would be located on Alton. This would take over most of the rest of the short block and impede pedestrian use of that side of the street.
Traffic would increase, and there will be major parking issues
PARKING ENTIRELY INADEQUATE FOR THE SIZE OF THE DEVELOPMENT
Zoning regulations require 103 parking spaces for the proposed development of the 250-seat church and the 86-unit assisted living facility. Sunrise wants to reduce this requirement to 66 spaces in the underground garage.
It is unclear how the church or Sunrise will share this parking, given the 24/7 activities of the facility and the parking that the church requires.
The 75 daily staffers plus other caretakers, medical personnel, visitors to the Sunrise residents, and church participants would likely illegally park on the adjacent residential neighborhood streets.
INCREASED TRUCK TRAFFIC ON STREETS THAT BAN THROUGH-TRUCK TRAFFIC
Sunrise estimates the following truck traffic:
Multiple times a day, a 7-ton shuttle would be coming and going on streets that ban through-trucks above 1 1/4 tons.
Over the course of the week, there would be truck traffic:
trash trucks 3-4 times a day
delivery trucks 2-3 times a week
other vendors multiple times a day
Fedex and UPS 10-15 times a day
This data is based on Sunrise data and observations at comparable Sunrise facilities.
The policy behind "no through trucks" is to reduce the volume of trucks on small, residential streets.
Creating a truck hub on Yuma and Alton streets - quiet, residential streets - isn’t observing the spirit of the "no through trucks' prohibition.
EMPLOYEE / STAFF / MEDICAL PERSONNEL TRAFFIC AND PARKING ISSUES
As noted, Sunrise is asking to reduce parking to 66 spaces. In other Sunrise facilities, employees are not allowed to park in the garage. Sunrise will have ~75 employees working various shifts 24/7, with the majority of staff arriving at 6 am feet away from nearby homes, as well as leaving and arriving between 11 pm and midnight for the late shift generating noisy traffic when the neighborhood is quiet.
It is unclear where all the people associated with Sunrise would park.
TRAFFIC GENERATED BY VISITORS TO THE FACILITY, CARETAKERS, AND SENIOR RESIDENTS WITH CARS
The facility would be occupied by 121 individuals, some of whom will have cars. Additionally, there are visitors to the facility, caretakers, and private aides that generate additional traffic to the facility.
Again, these individuals generate heavy traffic in a residential neighborhood with lots of children and pets.
CHURCH TRAFFIC AND PARKING INCREASES
The development calls for a 250-seat church. 250 people generate traffic on Sunday but also throughout the week.
The 66 proposed parking spaces for this kind of traffic is wholly inadequate; cars would illegally park on residential streets limited to residents.
The church has a history of renting to tenants who generate a lot of traffic.
AMBULANCE AND FIRE TRUCK TRAFFIC INCREASES
Sunrise estimates that a similar facility nearby had 10.2 ambulance trips (mean) from DCFD per month.
Sunrise does not specify other ambulance services arriving at the facility nor have they provided numbers for fire trucks so the total number of fire and ambulance trips is unclear.
These incidents will generate noise at all times of the day in a residential neighborhood. It is unclear whether additional ambulance demands would cause delays to other residents of the neighborhood.
The character of the historic neighborhood would be destroyed
The Tenleytown residential neighborhood is comprised of pre-Civil War historic homes on Grant Road. These houses would be within 200 feet of the development.
Other historic homes include The Rest, which dates to the 1700s and the Curran House, built in 1890. The Grant Road homes are on the DC Register of Historic Places. Most other homes in the neighborhood are nearly 100 years old, and were part of Armesleigh Park. Today, the Tenleytown neighborhood between Wisconsin Avenue and Reno Road is populated entirely by single-family homes.
Disturbingly, Sunrise asserted that they will hire a structural engineer to test for “the maximum threshold of vibrations” for nearby homes, to see how these homes would fare next to expected 2-year construction with pile driving. This is evidence that this project is out of place in this residential neighborhood.
An oversized, massive development encroaching on the the neighborhood is wrong and should be rejected.
The Rest, believed to be the earliest house in the Tenleytown neighborhood, can be found on maps in the early 1700’s.
The Rest, located on 39th Street, is two houses over from the Yuma side of the development lot. It is a historic landmark and is listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites.
Photo credit: Devry Becker Jones.