Information about the Washington D.C. Future Land Use Map (FLUM), a binding Small Area Plan, and other FAQs
Howard Divinity School is private property. Can’t Howard do whatever they want with their property? No. Howard University and the developers must follow the laws and zoning of Washington, D.C. Just as an owner of a row house can’t suddenly decide to add five stories and make it a condo, or a church can’t decide to become a nightclub, the Howard Divinity property must comply with the district’s zoning regulations.
HUSD is currently zoned for institutional purposes, which means that Howard and the developers can develop the institutional infrastructure of the site. They could build more university buildings, or maybe even some kind of housing for their students. But they can’t build apartment buildings on the site unless they request a change in the zoning to at least moderate density.
Which is why they are requesting an amendment to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and the comprehensive plan.
Why are these amendments to the comprehensive plan such a big deal? The developers who have an interest in HUSD- ZOM (https://www.zomliving.com/) and FGLA (https://www.flgallc.com/) are requesting changes to the DC Future Land Use Map (FLUM), which represents anticipated future development potential in the city’s comprehensive plan. Changing that potential zoning status is called “upFLUMing.”
Howard and the developers are requesting that the FLUM and thus the Comprehensive Plan be changed to recommend moderate density residential development on the property.
What does that mean? It means they could construct buildings of up to six stories- 62 feet high. That is taller than the top of Mays Hall.
Of course, the FLUM change only gives Howard University and the developers the option of applying for a rezoning of the property (in the zoning parlance, it’s called applying for a map amendment). But Howard and the developers have made very clear they want to build to a higher density on the site, and ZOM and FGLA have spent a lot of money to get those FLUM changes on the council agenda.
But upFLUMing isn’t the same as upzoning- is it? No. But once the FLUM and comprehensive plan are amended, the property is not yet upzoned, but it probably will be soon.
Because in practice, once the future density is included in the comprehensive plan via the FLUM, when a developer requests increased density, the Zoning Commission is only required to consider whether the request is consistent with the comprehensive plan. If it is “not inconsistent” they typically approve the request. And once the upzoning is approved by the zoning commission, it is a “matter of right” for the developer to build to the approved density.
But surely the Zoning Commission listens to the affected communities over the interests of developers? To date the Zoning Commission has rarely, if ever, rejected a developer’s upzoning request if the request was consistent with the comprehensive plan.
We’ll SUE! Good luck. The upFLUMing process was created to diminish the threat of successful lawsuits over zoning changes.
One of the first things a judge does in these cases is compare the upzoning request to the comprehensive plan. If the request is consistent with the plan, then unless the Zoning Commission has committed procedural errors, there is probably no argument that the Zoning Commission is misreading the rules governing zoning changes.
So in effect, the changes to the FLUM and the comprehensive plan are a fast track to higher density development? Yes. This is why Howard developers, ZOM and FGLA, are so eager to get their amendments to the comprehensive plan approved, and why they never told Brooklanders that they were requesting these changes.
What is the alternative? The only chance for the community to have binding input in their neighborhoods is through a Small Area Plan.
So what is this Small Area Plan that Brooklanders are asking for?
A Small Area Plan (SAP) is a binding community-driven process that must be taken into account when developers request re-zoning of the upFLUMed property. According to the law:
Decisions on requests for re-zoning shall be guided by the FLUM and GPM maps read in conjunction with the text of the Comprehensive Plan as well as Small Area Plans pertaining to the area proposed for rezoning. (See 2504.5 of Bill 24-01.)
Other communities have asked for and been granted a Small Area Planning process.
What is the process like and what things can be negotiated during a Small Area Plan?
The Brookland/CUA Small Area Plan took about 18 months. It was quite intensive with multiple supporting studies. Every Small Area Plan is different and depends on the people involved and what their priorities are. Here are some of the things that came out of the Brookland/CUA process:
– Streetscape improvements, sidewalks, lighting and new street trees
– Street and sidewalk connections to Metro Station
– Preserve and integrate community open green space (e.g., Brookland Green and north of Metro Station)
– Work with residents to program activities (e.g., Monroe St Farmers Market)
– Building façade step backs to preserve views of the Shrine
– Visual and noise buffers from train tracks
– Coordinated retail strategies for the benefit of 12 th Street
– 12 th Street storefront improvements
– Help small local businesses identify financing support
– Integrate the Met Branch Trail; implement pedestrian bridges across tracks
– Develop car-sharing programs in all new developments
– Enliven 12th and Monroe with a community gathering spot
– Transportation, pedestrian, bicycle, parking, and transit improvements and timing, all-way stops, bus shelters and seating, sidewalk bulb-outs, bike lanes and bike racks
Those were just some of the amenities that the community felt were important and now, thanks to the Small Area Plan, we get to enjoy!
What about community input? Greater Greater Washington, the 5B ANCs, and Ward 5 for All say the developers have to listen to the neighbors. In the end, the only BINDING process that requires developers to involve the community in the decisions on the nature of the properties they want to develop is a Small Area Plan. Otherwise, as long as the zoning commission determines the upzoning is not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, the developer has NO OBLIGATION to pay any attention to anything the neighbors, the community, the ANC, or even the ward councilmember has to say about what goes onto their property.
Sure, the developers might have meetings and charettes with neighbors, but in the end, without a Small Area Plan, they don’t have to do anything. Once the properties are upFLUMed, the train has left the station. The only chance a community has to have a significant impact on the nature of the development is to demand a Small Area Plan.
Why are other communities like Chevy Chase, Pennsylvania Ave East and Congress Heights getting binding Small Area Planning, while Brookland is not?
We don’t know! We know that a Small Area Plan is the only binding process that ensures our voices are heard, and that is why we are urging the council to oppose these FLUM changes or, at a minimum, put them on hold until a Small Area Planning process can be put in place. You can reach out to Councilmember McDuffie and request that he oppose these FLUM changes until a Small Area Planning process has been completed.