Watergate W., Inc. v. D.C. Bd. of Zoning Adjustment

815 A.2d 762 (D.C. 2003)



The District of Columbia Court of Appeals must uphold decisions made by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) if they rationally flow from findings of fact supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. In other words, the court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the BZA so long as there is a rational basis for the BZA's decision. If the BZA is interpreting its own governing statute and regulations, moreover, the court gives its construction particular deference.


A university sought to use a former hotel, off campus, as a dormitory. Respondent Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) granted the university a certificate of occupancy to use the former hotel as a dormitory. Petitioner, owner of cooperative apartment building across the street from the former hotel, sought review of respondent’s decision. Petitioner contended that university uses are not permitted in residential zones as a matter of right, and that the university was required, under 11 DCMR § 210, to obtain a special exception to use any building, and demonstrate to respondent that its proposed use was not likely to cause offense to neighboring property. The appellate court affirmed respondent’s decision.


Could an appellate court substitute its own judgment for that of respondent Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) when respondent’s decision had a rational basis?




Respondent's decision had a rational basis. The former hotel was in an R-5 zoning district, and, under D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 11, § 330.5(g), property in an R-5 district could be used as a dormitory as a matter of right. D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 11, § 210.1, requiring a university to obtain a special exception from respondent to use a building as a dormitory, only applied on campus. The requirement that the university submit a plan for developing its campus as a whole, under D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 11, § 210.4, did not restrict it from owning and using off-campus buildings. The university's comprehensive plan, submitted in compliance with that regulation, was to alleviate the diminution of housing stock outside the university's campus. The former hotel's conversion to a dormitory did not affect the local housing stock, so this use was not inconsistent with that concern. Respondent gave the advisory neighborhood committee's concerns "great weight”, as required by D.C. Code Ann. § 1-309.10(d)(3)(A) (2001).

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