Greater Greater Washington

Don't be silent; speak up for a better zoning code

The DC Zoning code shapes the form of our city and influences how walkable, inclusive and transit-oriented it is. Yet the code hasn't been comprehensively updated since 1958.

Priorities have changed a lot since 1958and that's why it's so important to get involved in this effort to create the framework to help us ensure the gains we've made in recent years continue far into the future.

Do you agree? Join with Pro-DC, a project of Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and sign the petition for an updated zoning code.

The text of the petition is below:

We strongly support updating the outmoded DC zoning code. We urge the Zoning Commission to revise DC's 1950s-era zoning regulations and help to take a great city with great neighborhoods and turn it into an even more vibrant, walkable, and inclusive place.

Simply put, our zoning code written in 1958 is not befitting what a modern, dynamic city like DC, nor does it respect the form of our treasured historic neighborhoods. Our current zoning code is based on dated concepts of what a city is and how it should grow and has no emphasis on sustainability. 50 years of accumulated amendments have made the code far too complicated and hard to navigate. We need to modernize our zoning code to better accommodate the needs of current and future DC residents.

Specifically, we would like to see real progress made in the following areas:

  • Better options for homeowners to create an accessory dwelling unit without a long and burdensome process. More residents will be able to rent out a basement or garage to help pay the mortgage, give a young person the opportunity to live in the neighborhood, and let seniors age in place in their own homes.
  • Recognition that parking minimums require more parking than people need and damage the historic and walkable form of many neighborhoods. Easing parking requirements in downtown areas and along busy transit corridors will help to create more walkable, vibrant neighborhoods and provide more accessible housing options for more people.
  • Reasonable allowances for local corner stores in residential areas. The ability to walk just a short distance to local, neighborhood-friendly amenities enriches our neighborhood fabric.
  • A simplified zoning code with clear rules that can be followed by your average resident. We want to make sure the zoning code is accessible to everyonenot just land use lawyers.
The previous zoning code tried to force people to live in one type of community in vogue at the time but which radically departed from DC's historic form. A new zoning code will let DC grow in a sustainable way that doesn't create new traffic or parking problems, but meets the needs of current and future residents.

Thank you for your consideration of these positions. We look forward to working with you for a more vibrant and inclusive city in the years to come.

Sign the petition today and speak up for a better DC!

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Aimee Custis is a policy wonk by training and an advocate by profession. In addition to serving as the managing editor of Greater Greater Washington, by day Aimee manages communications at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Also a photographer, she photoblogs at aimeecustis.com

Comments

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"Simply put, our zoning code written in 1958 is not befitting what a modern, dynamic city like DC, nor does it respect the form of our treasured historic neighborhoods."

Cognitive dissonance alert!

I'm not convince that our current zoning laws, or the ones that will emerge from this proposed process, are better than nothing.

Walkability, inclusiveness, vibrancy, etc, are all great goals, but does zoning contribute to any of those? It seems more like a cudgel used to prevent anyone from building at best, and enshrining rent-seeking into law at worst.

by Michael Hamilton on Aug 9, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

@Michael, even if you're right, zoning is not going away anytime soon. In the interim, we should speak up for a zoning code that works better rather than one that works worse, and signing the petition will probably help with that.

by Dan Miller on Aug 9, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

Voice isn't worth that much in a political system.

How many elections have you changed?

by Michael Hamilton on Aug 9, 2012 9:23 pm • linkreport

@Michael

If you think no zoning is the best option, look no further than Houston. They're the only major city without zoning and it's not a coincidence that they are one of the least walkable and vibrant cities. Houston, while a successful city in its own right, is basically the exact opposite of the goals you mentioned.

by Falls Church on Aug 9, 2012 9:27 pm • linkreport

Houston may not have zoning, but they have tons of restrictions like parking minimums, setback requirements, distance between buildings, etc. that effectively act to produce the same effects as zoning.

@Michael,
No zoning is not an option at this point, and this plan makes those walkable options more viable in more places than the current zoning code.

by MLD on Aug 10, 2012 8:14 am • linkreport

@Dan

You are correct -- what is being proposed is not an improvement. The Office of Planning has found a way for young folks to move into neighborhoods they couldn't afford, bring their bikes and live in a back yard. The Georgetown Current has a story on the front page about a long-term corner market that is causing a horrible rat infestation. It makes sense that some residents aren't interested in new corner stores.
What is being foisted on the residents of the city isn't zoning it's social engineering.

by Karl on Aug 10, 2012 8:39 am • linkreport

Houston also has an abundance of flat land with no natural barriers to development. I'm sure that Houston's other restrictions and codes are an impediment to density in places, but they don't make up for the lack of zoning - it's no coincidence that Houston has one of the most robust housing markets in the country.

@ Karl

I can't see how a lack of zoning or less restrictive zoning can be more "social engineering" than a strict zoning code. How is letting the chips fall as they may "social engineering"?

by onelasttime on Aug 10, 2012 8:52 am • linkreport

"it's no coincidence that Houston has one of the most robust housing markets in the country"

Actually I think it is a coincidence.

They've had busts in the past when oil was weak - recently oil has been strong.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 10, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

@onelasttime

There is nothing in what is being proposed by the Office of Planning that is about "letting the chips fall as they may."

by Karl on Aug 10, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

Voice isn't worth that much in a political system.
How many elections have you changed?

Elections? Hard to say. Policy...well, there's this.

by David C on Aug 12, 2012 10:27 pm • linkreport

The Office of Planning has found a way for young folks to move into neighborhoods they couldn't afford, bring their bikes and live in a back yard.

Bring bikes!??! Oh the horror! Because everyone knows that bikes lead to murder.

Karl, what you've described is freedom. Freedom to rent your property, freedom to open corner markets. Isn't freedom the opposite of social engineering?

by David C on Aug 12, 2012 10:30 pm • linkreport

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