Friday, February 17, 2006

Charter news

From Robert Crane's FOCUS newsletter.
Zoning Commission Passes Emergency Regulations Limiting Charters

The D.C. Zoning Commission this week voted unanimously to implement new regulations restricting by-right location of public schools in residential zones. The regulations, passed on an emergency basis, are effective immediately and can be left in place for up to 120 days.

The mayor'’s Office of Planning developed the revised regulations after Ward 6 council member Sharon Ambrose took up the cause of a group of neighbors protesting the plans of AppleTree Early Learning PCS to locate on their mostly residential street in N.E. The neighbors, who also filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the District from issuing building permits on the property, claimed that allowing the 50-student preschool to locate on their street would "“destroy the historic residential character of the neighborhood."

Under the regulations existing at the time AppleTree bought the building, the minimum lot size required for by-right location in the R-4 neighborhood was 4,000 square feet and the required lot width was 40 feet. The new regulations raise these figures to 9,000 square feet and 120 feet, respectively. Schools, like AppleTree, that do not meet these new requirements must seek a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment, a process that can take a year with no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

The new regulations also affect the other residential zones. In R-1 zones, minimum lot size has been doubled, to 15,000 square feet. R-2 and R-3 lot requirements, previously 4,000 square feet, are now 9,000 square feet. And in R-5 zones, which previously had no minimum, the lot requirement is now 9,000 square feet. The 120 foot street-frontage requirement applies to all zones.

Although the regulations ostensibly apply to all public schools, including DCPS schools, in reality they serve as a barrier only to public charter schools which, unlike DCPS, are growing and desperate for new space. Small charter schools like AppleTree are most likely to be affected by the changes.

The changes to the regulations do not apply to the many other uses that may locate by right in residential zones, including churches, embassies, hospitals, sanitariums, private clubs, fraternities, sororities, boarding houses, museums, Sunday school buildings, and mass transit facilities.
The Washington Times has an editorial up about the Apple Tree charter situation here.

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