The Zoning Commission heard testimony on the effort to redevelop Park Morton this week, with an outcome likely at the end of January.
This week, the Zoning Commission heard testimony on the related Planned Unit Development cases for the Park Morton “Build First” site at the Bruce Monroe site (ZC16-11) and for the existing Park Morton site (ZC16-12). The hearings occurred on Monday, December 5th and Thursday, December 8th, respectively with hearings on both nights beginning at 6:30 pm and running 4-5+ hours. In addition to the applicant and ANC1A, the Bruce Monroe Park Neighbors and Park Morton Residents Council were granted party status in Case 16-11 and the Park Morton Residents Council was granted party status in Case 16-12.
No votes were taken at either hearing. Testimony for ZC16-11 is closed, and submission for ZC16-12 will close at the end of business on December 12th. Additional details/information requested by the Zoning Commission needs to be filed by January 10th, parties will have until January 18th to respond, and January 30th has been scheduled for the Commission to take action on both cases.
While both cases are discrete, it was well understood that the two cases are closely linked and often times testimony in one case referenced the other. The testimony for both the Bruce Monroe case and the Park Morton case was strongly in favor. While there was no notable opposition to the redevelopment of the site on Morton Street, there was notable testimony in opposition to the development planned for the Bruce Monroe site including the aforementioned Bruce Monroe Park Neighbors which has party status in the case. Those wishing to watch the testimony in both cases can do so. Video for both cases is available (ZC16-11 opening statements and testimony here; closing arguments here — ZC16-12 here). Prior to the Commission making a decision on the Bruce Monroe site, they’ve requested that the development team meet with the Bruce Monroe Park Neighbors group and attempt to address their concerns.
Questions from Commissioners were encouraging, and seemed to drill down into details that would improve the project or provide better documentation so that the expected amenities would actually be provided. Perhaps the most important questions along these lines for community members had to do with the creation of the new 1 acre park at the Bruce Monroe site. While there was recognition that the park would be a significant amenity, the park itself is not included in the PUD application. To this end, the Commission has requested that appropriate language be included that documents as much detail as possible about the park such as size, location, and any other decisions that have been made. One Commissioner also suggested that perhaps language could be included that would require that the park be constructed and completed prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the buildings. There was also a request for more details on which entities would be responsible for creating and maintaining the park. At this time, the thoughts on this are that it would be a shared responsibility between the Department of General Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the developer.
Commissioner May, in particular, drilled down into the architectural details of both applications. Notably, May and other commissioners commented that they would like a different brick used at the Bruce Monroe site, as white brick tends to get dirty quickly and didn’t really relate to the surrounding community. Commissioner Miller suggested that red brick be considered instead. There was also a sense that the rowhouses planned for the Bruce Monroe site could be more architecturally compatible with the neighborhood, and requested that the developer respond to that.
Testimony in opposition to the development at the Bruce Monroe site ranged from requesting that the buildings be shorter, expressing dissatisfaction with the community engagement process, claiming a lack of ANC representation (Commissioners Brown and Nguyen recused themselves due to conflicts of interest), and advocating to use the entire site as a permanent park.
While the long term use of the Bruce Monroe site has been a hot button issue in the community since the Bruce Monroe School was razed in 2010, Zoning Commission Chair Anthony Hood summed it up succinctly. While questioning Buwa Binitie of Dantes Partners early in the evening on Monday, Hood stated:
I believe when Bruce Monroe [school] was torn down, that I think everyone in this city knew that there was some type of development [that] was going to happen there. So that’s no surprise. I’m sure that even the new neighbors, I think when you bought into the neighborhood you knew there was going to be some type of development in the area.