Who is Peter May, and why is the National Park Service anti-urban?
It would seem logical that a representative of the National Park Service would support sustainable, eco-friendly development. Of course, the National Park Service frequently confounds logic when it comes to traffic, parking and development, such as when they prevented WMATA from building Farragut North and Farragut West closer together as a transfer station, their opposition to tolls, rejection of more limited hours on Beach Drive, or Cherry Blossom Parkway proposal (ok, not really on that last one). NPS continues to confound my hopes for good policy with the comments made by their representative on the Zoning Commission, Peter May.
May is Associate Regional Director for Lands, Resources and Planning for NPS's National Capital Region. He's one of two federal representatives on DC's Zoning Commission, and often attends National Capital Planning Commission meetings as representative for the Secretary of the Interior.
At the recent parking zoning review, May was the only member of the Zoning Commission to advocate for higher parking requirements than the Office of Planning proposed. And on Tuesday, the Zoning Commission considered the Addison Square project, which will replace the Kelsey Gardens apartments along 7th Street between P and Q in Shaw. This is across from the O Street Market plan and is about the same height (9 stories). The ANC supports the project, as does the Office of Planning. Nevertheless, May announced that he was "not comfortable with the density" of the project.
May also raised some other stylistic objections, which may be valid problems with the site's design. The other Zoning Commissioners concurred with many of May's comments, though less about the height. As with DC's many bizarre rules that give federal representatives undue influence, it's ridiculous that the National Park Service is meddling in DC's decisions about how tall buildings should be when those buildings aren't near national parks. More importantly, having more housing along 7th Street supports NPS's mission to "preserve and enhance important local heritage and close-to-home recreational opportunities" by adding new residents near parks that they can enjoy.
There's a broader debate among environmentalists over smart growth. Many environmentalists realize that by adding housing in cities, we reduce our overall carbon footprint and alleviate development pressure on wilderness land. Others don't appreciate the nexus between our land use decisions and ecological sustainability. Sometimes I'm not sure National Park Service staff are environmentalists at all, with their apparent enthusiasm for using their parks as commuter highways. But if the dedicated civil servants of the Park Service do believe in the environment, they seem to be missing the point altogether. May's dislike of density cuts against good public policy, good environmentalism, and everything else a planner for our national parks should support.
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