Johnson introduces temporary zoning rules for Washington Avenue

Washington Avenue west of Broad Street is in its own world. Its 10 blocks form the northern border of Point Breeze and the southern border of the Graduate Hospital and South of South neighborhoods, but it doesn’t really feel like it belongs to any of those.

The avenue’s north and south sides also fall into two separate planning districts, South and Central, which means creating zoning recommendations for the area has been happening in a piecemeal sort of way. There’s no consensus about exactly how the area should be remapped, and there’s no real timeline for getting it finished.

Meanwhile, development pressure has built on both sides of the corridor, and builders have started seeking approval for residential projects, which require variances from the street’s mostly industrial zoning. And under the current zoning, many properties could be developed into a variety of industrial uses without any special permissions.

On Thursday, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced a new zoning overlay that would prohibit a variety of industrial and vehicular uses in the area bounded roughly by Broad, 24th, Ellsworth and Carpenter streets. Johnson’s office said the bill is intended as a temporary bulwark against certain unwanted uses while his office works on permanent zoning solutions with the Planning Commission and community groups.

Uses that would be prohibited under the overlay include:

  • Detention, correction, and re-entry facilities,

  • Pawn shops,

  • Non-accessory parking lots and garages (parking areas that aren’t attached to businesses),

  • Moving and storage facilities,

  • Junk yards,

  • Strip clubs,

  • Auto body shops, gas stations, car sales lots, and other car-oriented uses.

Lauren Vidas, the president of South of South Neighborhood Association, said the idea of the overlay is to help transition the corridor from a largely industrial area to a strip with a better mix of uses and businesses. She said it was partially inspired by a new project, a self-storage facility that can be built by right, on the south side of Washington at 23rd Street.

“It’s not like this use is bad per se, but it’s not going to make this avenue more pedestrian-friendly and drive foot traffic,” Vidas said.

Vidas said SOSNA has not taken a position on the legislation yet.

Johnson’s office said that storage facilities and repair shops are not the best uses for land on the Washington Avenue corridor, and developers who want to build them should have to present their plans to the community and get a variance from the zoning board.

Tom Donatucci of the Washington Avenue Property Owners Association, which has been working to revitalize the area, said he supports the overlay wholeheartedly. He noted that the legislation doesn’t totally stop the prohibited uses from being built but would require community input on those proposals. He said the Planning Commission has been approaching the Washington Avenue remapping in the right way.

“In the meantime, we’re bleeding a little bit because the process takes time, and the process needs to be done right,” Donatucci said.

Last week, developers presented plans for a 113-unit, mixed-use apartment complex at 24th and Washington to the Civic Design Review Committee. The zoning board had previously approved plans for another residential building at 16th and Washington, but an appeals court recently reversed that decision and sent it back to the ZBA.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal