Wheeler v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning, 12632.

Citation395 A.2d 85
Case DateNovember 28, 1978
CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District

Sari B. Marmur, Washington, D.C., with whom Jason Newman, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for petitioners.

Edward E. Schwab, Asst. Corp. Counsel, for respondent. Richard W. Barton, Deputy Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for respondent. Respondent adopted the brief of intervenor.

John F. McCabe, Jr., Washington, D.C., with whom Norman M. Glasgow, Washington, D.C., was on the brief, for intervenor.

Before NEBEKER, YEAGLEY and FERREN, Associate Judges.

NEBEKER, Associate Judge:

Petitioners have asked us to review a grant by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (the Board) of a special exception for the construction of a professional office building at 1901 N Street, N.W., which is in a special purpose district.1 Petitioners fault the Board's decision for failing (1) to make adequate findings of fact, (2) to have sufficient evidentiary support for the findings of fact and conclusions of law which were made, and (3) to give "great weight" to the issues and concerns raised by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). For the reasons stated below, we find that the Board fulfilled the statutory requirement for granting a special exception, and we affirm its order.

I. The BZA Proceedings

A public hearing was held May 17, 1977, on the intervenor's application for the special exception. The intervenor presented two expert witnesses who testified that the requirements of D.C. Zoning Reg. § 4101.422 were met. An official from the Municipal Planning Office (MPO) testified and submitted an MPO report recommending approval of the application. In addition, after the hearing, the D.C. Department of Transportation submitted a favorable report.

Several witnesses, including two ANC representatives, testified in opposition to the application. The specific points raised by the ANC representatives were (1) that the proposed building would threaten the stability of the special purpose district, (2) that it would not be in harmony with nearby buildings, (3) that traffic congestion would significantly increase, (4) that area parking would be affected adversely, (5) that dangers to pedestrians would increase, and (6) that the building would have other undesirable physical characteristics.3

The Board issued an order granting the special exception on August 16, 1977. Petitioners' motion for reconsideration, claiming that the Board failed to give "great weight" to the issues raised by ANC, was denied September 16, 1977. This petition for review followed.

II. Adequacy of the Findings

The first deficiency in the Board's order, according to the petitioners, is that the findings of fact are inadequate to support the grant of the application. Petitioners contend that the Board did not make findings of fact at all — but rather merely recited the required statutory language. Petitioners fault the Board for making only generalized reference to the record, without indicating the evidence it found persuasive.

The Board is required to supplement its decision in a contested case with findings of fact. Those findings must "consist of a concise statement of the conclusions upon each contested issue of fact." D.C. Code 1978 Supp., § 1-1509(e). In addition, D.C. Zoning Reg. § 8202.64 requires that "full reasons" be given for each decision. We recognize that neither repetition of the statutory language nor a simple summary of the evidence satisfies these requirements. See A.L.W., Inc. v. D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, D.C.App., 338 A.2d 428 (1975); Palmer v. D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, D.C.App., 287 A.2d 535 (1972). Nonetheless, we find the Board's findings to be sufficiently detailed so as to provide this court with the "basic [and] underlying"4 a reasons for the conclusions entered by the Board in making its decision. We thus are able to assess "the rationality of an evidentiary support for" the Board's order. See Kopff v. D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, D.C.App., 381 A.2d 1372 (1977).

Harmony with existing nearby uses was a contested issue at the hearing.5 The Board found such harmony with specific reference to the "facade . . . and . . . other architectural details which make [the building] compatible with area residential dwellings." In addition, comparative reference was made to nearby buildings of the same height as the proposed edifice as well as to others put to similar office and office-supported use. Our role does not include making a contrary aesthetic judgment.

The findings regarding dangerousness or other objectionable traffic conditions6 are similarly detailed. In addition, the Board incorporates in its conclusions the conclusions and rationale of the Department of Transportation.

In addition to the claimed general inadequacy, petitioners argue that the findings are statutorily incomplete because the Board did not make an explicit finding on the question of whether the building would promote neighborhood stability. Although petitioners claim that the stability of the character of the special purpose district was an issue at the hearing, the mere fact petitioners presented testimony on this point does not make it an issue which the Board is required to resolve. To the contrary, the structure and purpose of the Zoning Regulations are such that once the Board has determined that an application satisfies D.C. Zoning Reg. § 4101.42,7 it follows as a matter of law that the application is consistent with the designed purpose of the special purpose district.

Section 4101.1 of the Zoning Regulations details the purpose of the special purpose district:

The Special Purpose District is designed to stabilize those areas adjacent to the C-4 District which contain office, other Central Business District supporting uses, as well as desirable sites for residential buildings. Offices, apartment houses, hotels, and controlled parking facilities are to be encouraged therein and the district will be generally restricted to the periphery of the C-4 District. [Emphasis in original.]

The subsequent subsections of the regulations were designed by the Zoning Commission to implement this purpose. Thus, "stability" as such is not an issue — rather it is the expected result of the Board's adherence to the regulations. See generally note 10 infra.

III. Substantiality of the Evidence

Having determined that the Board made adequate findings of fact, we next consider whether those findings and the conclusions of law which follow therefrom are "supported by and in accordance with the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence." D.C. Code 1978 Supp., § 1-1509(e).

Petitioners' arguments on this question amount to the assertion that the Board's findings were unsupported by the evidence because conflicting evidence was presented, and there was nothing to indicate why the Board found some evidence more persuasive than other evidence. "Substantial evidence" repeatedly has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938); Kopff, supra at 1387; Wallace v. District Unemployment Compensation Board, D.C.App., 294 A.2d 177 (1972). Thus, the fact the record contains some evidence which is antithetical to the Board's conclusion does not mean the decision is unsubstantiated.

The Board is required to support its findings with "`more than a mere scintilla' of rationally connected evidentiary support." Kopff, supra at 1387. Our review of the findings and the record reveals that the Board has fulfilled this requirement.

IV. "Great Weight"

Petitioners also contend that the Board failed to carry out the mandate of D.C. Code 1978 Supp., § 1-171i(d), the pertinent part of which provides:

Each [Advisory Neighborhood] Commission so notified . . . shall forward its written recommendations . . . [to] the appropriate agency. . . . The issues and concerns raised in the recommendations of the Commission shall be given great weight during the deliberations by the governmental agency and those issues shall be discussed in the written rationale for the governmental decision taken. [Emphasis added.]

Subsequent to the Board's action in this case, this court elaborated on the meaning of the "great" requirement in Kopff, supra at 1384:

It means . . . that an agency must elaborate, with precision, its response to the ANC issues and concerns. . . . to deal with it in detail, without slippage. . . . That is, the agency must articulate why the particular ANC itself, given its vantage point, does — or does not — offer persuasive advice under the circumstances.

"[G]reat weight" implies explicit reference to each ANC issue and concern as such, as well as specific findings and conclusions with respect to each. [Emphasis in original.]

Petitioners contend that the Board's summarization of the six8 ANC concerns in one finding did not "elaborate, with precision," a response to each concern as Kopff requires.

At the outset, we note that counsel for respondent admitted at oral argument that the findings would read differently had they been written after the Kopff decision. However, while recognizing that the findings fall short of the Kopff "great weight" standard, both respondent and intervenor argue that the Board's findings, written without the guidance of Kopff, substantially comply with the "great weight" requirement.

We note that Kopff did not modify or overrule a previously applicable rule of law. Kopff merely interpreted, albeit for the first time, a law in effect at the time of the BZA hearing and decision. We are concerned, however, that for administrative decisions...

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