The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Old zoning forces unneeded parking on Dupont building

Developers of a planned apartment building at 17th and O in Dupont Circle are building more parking than they believe their tenants need, because of zoning regulations that mandate often too-high parking minimums.

Photo by bossbob50 on Flickr.

DC's ongoing zoning rewrite will lower the minimums in areas zoning for multi-family development and near transit, both of which apply to the 17th and O project. But they won't change the minimums fast enough for this project, which will have 57 spaces for 185-230 apartments (plus 36 for the church) just a few blocks from Dupont Circle.

The developers, Keener-Squire Properties, could ask for a variance to reduce the amount of parking. However, representative Michael Korns told community members at a meeting last night that they are reluctant to ask for this exception since they are already applying for other variances. The main one, and the most controversial, would shift the bulk of the building to the west to leave more room around the existing church, which owns the property and uses it today as a parking lot.

Lydia DePillis was also at the meeting and focused her article on the above-ground issues, including the opposition and the economic loss to the city from further restricting already-constrained development. She quotes Korns saying, "We're building more vacant parking spaces, because we don't want to listen to people complain about parking."

Afterward, Korns said that at the nearby Hamilton House, on New Hampshire Avenue near N Street, there are 77 parking spaces but only about 55 are rented out at any time. The Chastleton, at 16th and R and managed by Keener-Squire, has 300 units but only 69 spaces; despite this low ratio, they aren't in high demand.

A new 46-unit condo Keener-Squire constructed at 24th and I had only 4 dedicated spaces for 46 units, and sold out quickly even in a bad real estate market, Korns added. But the parking spaces didn't: only 2 of the 4 sold.

Keener-Squire will probably be able to rent out the remaining parking spaces to office workers or residents in the area. But they likely won't make back their investment. Korns said they consider the extra parking just an expense they have to bear. That's too bad, since the funding from the project will help the the First Baptist Church fund repairs and programs. The project also would benefit from more affordable housing than the 8% mandated by inclusionary zoning. Unnecessary parking costs detract from both of these.

The extra spaces will also surely draw some additional traffic. That's one of several concerns voiced by residents of an adjacent condominium. At the meeting, however, the complaints seemed more to be the urban equivalent of "get off my lawn, young whippersnappers": fears that residents will party on the roof, that some of them might be students, and that renters don't care about the community as much (a comment which made ANC Commissioner Kevin O'Connor, himself a renter, jump in with a sharp rebuke).

Relevant policy-makers in DC already decided to lower minimums. The Zoning Commission, which combines mayoral appointees and federal representatives, approved the general concept back in October 2008. That was one of the first pieces of the zoning rewrite, and others have followed since. But the changes won't actually become law until the final language for the entire new zoning code is written and approved.

This fall, the DC Office of Planning hopes to roll out its draft of the new code, which will likely spark a new round of debates leading up to final approval. The longer the process takes, the more buildings will be constructed under antiquated 1958 zoning rules such as this one, which force property owners to dig costly 3rd levels below ground even when they are confident their residents won't need the parking spaces.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

How many of these new (or refurbished) dupont condo's are studio/1 bedroom verse how many are 2-3 bedrooms (that a family with 2 kids could afford)?

24th and I is 90% GWU students and maybe 10% faculty.. cars not so important.

Blaming a lack of affordable housing that a developer will build on parking is a GGW red herring. The only reason developers build the 8% is because they are forced to - and the 8% is almost always the apts right above the trash or the ground level next to the entrance way - the ones hardest to sell anyway.

by greent on Sep 7, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

Oh, and by the way, we just might rent them on the open market for $200/ month so we don't mind.

by ahk on Sep 7, 2011 4:22 pm • linkreport

This developer came to a local Conservancy meeting, and he tried his 'we can't find anyone to rent the parking spaces' ... until a few members pointed out the inconsistencies in what he was saying. He ended up agreeing that yeah, if he opened them up to more than the folks living in the apartment buildings, then he'd have no problem renting them.

Like GGW has pointed out before, the problem really lies with the artificially low price for residential parking permit stickers. Everyone thinks that for $20 a year they're going to find on street parking ... and thus avoid the real cost of owning and storing a car. If we could figure out a way to take this illusion of cheap curbside parking away, you'd see all the developers clamoring to ADD more spaces than the law requires ... because people who really need spaces would really be looking ... and not all thinking 'I can get one of those cheap $20 a year spaces!'. Stop this externality and GGW's claim that more parking isn't absolutely needed and wanted around Dupont will be exposed as the bogus claim it is!

by Lance on Sep 7, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

Incidentally ... for those that were present at the ANC meeting. When this developer came to the Conservancy for review, he said they'd be putting in the minimum spaces required by law for the building PLUS replacing any spaces being displaced by the loss of the parking lot. I.e., He promised MORE spaces than the law required. (And it's recorded in the minutes.) Is he still promissing more spaces than required by law? Or has that changed? If I read David's report above correctly, it sounds like only the minimum required by law are now on the table ...

by Lance on Sep 7, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

So, basically, this developer wants to maximize their money, are building the building, and ignoring the parking issue. I'm sure they would prefer building something below code, or perhaps forgetting to install electricity, expect we have rules for that sort of thing.

It is a great question when GGW asks "is there going to be dedicated bike parking?" It is a silly one when GGW asks "Let's change rules that developers apparently don't care very much about anyway and call that smartGrowth."

by charlie on Sep 7, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

Charle. I love your comment. It got me imagining how if this current generation of 'smart growthers' is successful, the next one will be writing articles supporting the developers' claims that 'I'm only putting electricity in there because otherwise the neighbors will complain. Most people nowadays would rather limit their carbon footprint anyways ... and live in the dark ... and eat MREs ... " And 'some' folks will probably take them seriously then too! LOL

by Lance on Sep 7, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport


Not only bike parking, but what about requiring a bike sharing station for new, large developments? Jurisdictions often require that developers (commercial or residential) supplement the surrounding infrastructure as a prerequisite for granting approval.

by wr on Sep 7, 2011 6:46 pm • linkreport

Blame Jack Evans! Surely you can find a way! Ha!

by Greg on Sep 7, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

OMG ... I just read Lydia's article.

She's like the Michele Bachmann of DC's so-called smartgrowthers ... telling 'em everything they want to hear. While coming off to the rest of us as more than a bit self-serving and certainly less than someone looking to understand and balance all views. I mean come on, she actually thinks that building costs determine what a place will rent for? Hmmm ... She should tell that to all the people who had to go through foreclosure because they couldn't sell what their homes for what they had cost them. (I.e., It's renters and buyers who determine what gets paid in the end.) And a developer being asked to deliver more ameniities like adequate off-street parking, and actual breathing room for the new AND old residents, isn't going to affect what people looking to have adequate off street parking and breathing room are going to be willing to pay. Let's not demand that everything be built to the lowest common denominator so that everyone can afford everything everywhere.

Maybe next Lydia will promise her people (and the tourists) $1 Circulator rides to visit the museums around the Mall. Oh wait, she's already delivered on that promise! ;)

Michele ... er ... I mean Lydia for president in 2012!

by Lance on Sep 7, 2011 10:08 pm • linkreport

@Lance, I think you overstating the case. Does she tell her followers news they like to hear? Yes, a bit. But I find most of her reporting ok.

What is very dangerous is to start believing in developers. They aren't your friends. And they have very little interest in what your neighborhood will look like in 20 to 25 years. That's where traditional neighborhood activists can be useful.

The "no parking" rule seem to me an excuse to let developer build something quickly without digging out a parking garage. You see that a lot in Europe.

Hamilton House parking -- 225 a month.
Chastleton: parking for sale at 45 or 50K.

Me thinks the problem is they are pricing parking a bit too high.

by charlie on Sep 7, 2011 11:10 pm • linkreport


I don't know the economics of these particular deals, but my understanding is that below-grade parking costs about $45 to 50k in DC to build.

If we require, via regulation, that such parking be built but that developers lower the sale price according to your suggestion that the parking is being "pric[ed] . . . a bit too high," aren't we just subsidizing more private parking at below-cost prices and encouraging more cars be stored in the area?

by Joey on Sep 7, 2011 11:24 pm • linkreport

(Clarification: I wasn't meaning to assert that we "require" that the price be lowered. More that, were the developers to follow your suggestion to lower the price below $45 to 50k, I'm asking if that isn't subsidizing private parking.)

by Joey on Sep 7, 2011 11:27 pm • linkreport

Instead of writing a long, detailed rebuttal to Lance's comments, I'm going to save time and space here and just say I think, support and believe exactly the opposite of just about everything he says.

by MrTinDC on Sep 8, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

Again, developers seeking to build less off-street parking than the law requires (or none at all) should covenant that the building will not be eligible for residential parking permit stickers (RPP). This is what Arlington County does in transit oriented zones and some PUDs have agreed to in DC. If the developer won't agree, it pretty quickly exposes the 'parking minimums are too high' argument as bogus, rather than the transparent ploy that it is to push externalities (ie, parking) onto already overcrowed public streets.

BTW, raising RPP annual fees -- particularly progressively higher fees for second and third vehicles -- should be a no-brainer.

by Bob on Sep 8, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

I don't think this building will be better because it has more parking than the new zoning regs require or because it covers a smaller footprint than the market will bear. This is a perfect example of bad policy creating bad design. Developers may not be our friends (I don't particularly care for the demagoguery) but they aren't our enemies either. Especially when it's a community church that's involved. They're businesses and business people. I think Republicans call them job creators.

by David C on Sep 8, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

"I don't particularly care for the demagoguery"

Yeah, that's rich.

I'm still confused on the number of spaces. GGW's original article said they would build 93 spots, and now they are saying 57.

What I also don't see is an explanation of why this building would be so bad with either 93 or 57 spots. There is a veiled reference to traffic, but I can't imagine that in either case the influx of new cars will break Dupont.

by charlie on Sep 8, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

It's 57 spots for the apartments, plus the church wanted to maintain the 36 spaces that they have in the lot now, so there will be 36 church spaces in the garage.

by David Alpert on Sep 8, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

That's right, David. 39% of the spaces in the underground parking lot will go to the church and won't produce any revenue. Nor will the dedicated elevator for the handicapped that will go from the parking lot into the church. But all of those non-revenue producing spaces and the elevator go into the cost of construction and upkeep.

Perhaps that's why they're not figuring to make any profit on the lot.

by Mike S. on Sep 8, 2011 11:51 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us