From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email at Tom[AT]borderstan.com and follow him on Twitter @Tomonswann.
Mila Clothing store owner Zahir Rahimi recently sent out a plea for support for a zoning variance for his store to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, and also appeared before the U Street Neighborhood Association at their monthly meeting last week.
Rahimi explained that he plans to close his 3,500-square-foot store at 2015 14th Street NW due to changing demographics in the neighborhood. His plans to lease the property are complicated by the decades-old Uptown Arts-Mixed Use Overlay District centered around the 14th and U Streets NW intersection.
Rahimi says the only tenants interested in his space are restaurant owners, so he hopes to obtain relief from the Board of Zoning to lease his space to a restaurant.
In a nutshell, the arts overlay limits the amount of eating or drinking establishments to 50% of the ground floor retail on a block within the Uptown Arts District. The goal of the overlay is to “encourage retail, entertainment and residential uses that require pedestrian activity; an increased presence and integration of the arts and related cultural and arts-related support uses.”
When first conceived, the overlay had a limit of 25%. When that cap was reached the limit was raised to 50% in an effort to spur development along 14th Street.The problem now for landlords like Rahimi is that the 2000 block of 14th Street where Mila is located has hit the 50% limit. The strip is home to Busboys & Poets, Marvin, Gibson, Blackbyrd and Lost Society, to name a few.
The zoning decision is sure to be closely watched by both residents and developers. The area comprising the Uptown Arts District is undergoing rapid change with major development on nearly every block. Most of the larger projects in the pipeline are mixed-use — ground-floor retail space and residential units on upper floors — which make the retail spaces prime locations for restaurants and bars. It is now common in the neighborhood for developers and restaurants to commit to leases long before projects are complete, rather than face being shut out if no zoning variances are approved.