OP proposing neighborhood-based zoning
The DC Office of Planning presented early draft recommendations to the Low & Moderate Density zoning working group last Thursday. Their approach revolves around a basic idea: the current zones (R-1A, R-1B, R-2, etc.) are too inflexible, imposing a one-size-fits-all approach on very diverse neighborhoods.
As OP discovered through a building typology study they conducted, each neighborhood has widely varying lot widths, setbacks, heights, lot coverages, and more. Only about half of the lots in DC conform to width requirements; in other words, whole neighborhoods are made up of houses whose lots are illegally narrow. If there is one vacant lot amidst a row of houses, it's currently illegal to build a house just like the rest. That's silly.
At the same time, the zoning in many areas allows more height than the prevailing buildings, leading to ridiculous eyesores like this and this. Each current zoning category weds building size with unit density: the lowest density zones allow only single-family, detached houses and the higher zones allow higher density row houses, but there are no zones to allow, say, multi-family detached houses, four-story row houses that are limited to two units per building, or many other combinations one could devise.
OP's solution is to enable each neighborhood to determine the parameters of their own zoning by setting a number of variables, such as:
- Maximum height
- Lot width
- Building width (for detached and semi-detached buildings)
- Minimum and maximum front setback from the street (or, when both are equal, a "build-to line" that ensures a row of houses all line up in front)
- Maximum building depth (to ensure some open space in the rear)
- Number of units per building
- Whether corner stores can locate in residential areas, and with what restrictions on hours, noise, garbage, etc.
- ... and more.
The biggest question is how each neighborhood will determine its own rules. Will the ANCs decide, or will there be a vote? Will members of the public submit comments to OP or the Zoning Commission? How will we balance the interests of the majority of residents against a possible vocal, self-interested minority? What about investor-owned properties, whose owners have a vested interest in increasing rental income without as much consideration for the quality of life in the neighborhood? On the flip side, how can we ensure newer residents have a voice as well as long-time residents?
The decisions we make about process will significantly influence the outcome. As someone interested in the dynamics of the political process, this should be fascinating; as someone who writes about zoning, this should provide a nearly bottomless source of good material. It should be exciting!
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