Status of D.C. Agencies Handling Commercial Real Estate Development Issues as of March 23

This post is part one in a series that will examine the effect of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on the Washington, D.C. commercial real estate development community. 

Whether you are in the middle of construction or at the beginning of project due diligence, COVID-19 will impact all agencies in the District. Indeed, with many District of Columbia agencies teleworking, covered by limited staff, or closed altogether, owners, landlords, and developers may feel that they are in unchartered waters as they work to navigate the regulatory, entitlement, and permitting process.  

To help alleviate confusion and to identify which agencies are plugging along, and where backlogs may be created, below is a summary status of critical agencies in the District as of March 23.

  1. D.C. Government Generally
    Mayor Bowser adjusted the District of Columbia’s operating status in response to COVID-19. All non-essential agency events, gatherings, and meetings are postponed through March 31. District of Columbia Public Schools has extended distance learning until April 27, but there is no word yet on other agency operations.
  2. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)
    As of close of business on March 20, DCRA, the District’s permitting agency, remains open for business physically and remotely. Most sub-offices are working primarily from home. Fortunately, Director Ernest Chrappah promised residents in February 2019 that he would transform DCRA and enhance digital and online services. Under the Director’s leadership, many online services are operational, alleviating some of the pressure associated with the teleworking situation. Online services are extensive and include, for example, obtaining Home Occupancy Permits.
    Importantly, DCRA’s doors DO remain open to process some permits in person, but that does not mean business-as-usual. The building has put into place protections and restrictions and what can be done online must be done online.
  3. Office of Planning and the Historic Preservation Office
    Both agencies are working remotely 100 percent. I have found staff to be extremely responsive via email and telephone.
  4. District Department of Transportation (DDOT)
    DDOT is operating primarily remotely. The Dtops permit system and DDOT PDRMS are running smoothly. I engaged with DDOT staff last week with productive Microsoft Team video conferencing. Unfortunately, two delays are currently anticipated: (i) Public Space Committee is not holding hearings; and (ii) with no school in session, traffic counts cannot be taken.
    As part of DDOT, the Public Space Committee meets monthly to review and render decisions on a variety of types of permit applications for the use and occupancy of the public right of way that do not fall within the regular permitting process, such as sidewalk cafes, over-height retaining walls, over-height fences, and security bollards. Given that this Committee only meets once a month, a two-month delay will create a backlog in the system. The second DDOT delay was identified by Gorove/Slade Associates, a professional engineering and planning firm. Projects that require entitlements or TDM Plans will be delayed if a traffic/parking count or study is required. These transportation studies must be conducted while public schools are in session – thus parking counts cannot be taken until students return to school. This will be another potential source of delay.
  5. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB)
    Based on the information that we have received, HPRB is working on how to accept new applications if the DCRA building closes. Per the Office of Planning’s website, the previous filing deadline to secure the April 23 hearing date is now extended to April 3 (it was previously March 27). We do not know whether that hearing will take place, but it remains on HPRB’s calendar. The March HPRB hearing has already been postponed.
  6. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
    Most of the DHCD team is working remotely, including the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) team. The IZ team will continue conducting lotteries as units become available for occupancy and reviewing income certification packages as they are received. They are working hard but realize that some developers, sales, and leasing agents may not be working or may be on reduced schedules or working remotely, so some delay is anticipated. And as a reminder, sales and leasing agents have discretion to extend timeframes. Some of the community based organizations (CBOs) are working remotely as well.
    It is also anticipated DHCD review of IZ covenants and Certificate of Inclusionary Zoning forms could be delayed. This could result in a delay in building permit issuance, as most multi-family buildings require DHCD sign off on the IZ paperwork.
    Email is the best way to communicate with DHCD.
  7. Zoning Commission & Board of Zoning Adjustment
    For information on the Zoning Commission and BZA, see Friday’s blog post.
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Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

Cozen O’Connor has represented residential, commercial, retail, and industrial builders in the development and redevelopment of building lots and millions of square feet of real estate. Our team handles every aspect of the zoning, land use, and development approvals process, from obtaining building permits and variances to negotiating stormwater management and traffic plans.

Head of the DC Zoning Group & Blog Editor