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Every building doesn't need to be the same

Bruce DePuyt and I talked Tuesday about the Babe's project, a planned 55-65-unit apartment building one block from Tenleytown Metro which will not have underground parking and whose residents will not be able to get resident parking stickers.

A lot of people are nervous about this proposal, but it really should be a no-brainer. The Office of Planning report said that there are 560 parking spaces available for rent nearby. In just the garage at Cityline at Tenley (the building with the Container Store), there are 110-120 spaces going unused each night, and 50 during the day.

That means that even if almost everyone brought a car and just rented a space, everything would be fine. There's a strange legacy assumption that everyone who parks would need to either park in their own building or on the street, but there are actually a lot of garages in Tenleytown.

Plus, Douglas Development is explicitly planning to market the building to people who don't want to have cars. The Container Store at Cityline only sells containers. That doesn't make it a bad store because it doesn't also sell furniture or clothing. If you want containers, go there. If not, shop somewhere else. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with having a building for people mostly without cars, and other buildings and houses and neighborhoods can serve people with different needs.

Bruce was worried that someone with a car would want to buy a unit from an initial owner (actually, it's an apartment building, not condos, but I forgot to mention that on the segment). Regardless, I pointed out that some apartments in some buildings have decks, or more bathrooms, and others don't. People choose where to live based on the available amenities, and not every apartment, condo or house has to serve every need for every person.

This is a simple economic concept, but it seems to escape many people, like Council­member Jack Evans (ward 2), who was on the show before me. Bruce asked Evans about the proposal. Evans made the odd argument that a building designed for people to ride transit one block from the Tenleytown Metro is a bad idea because there isn't a Metro station in his own neighborhood of Georgetown.

Evans said,

I think it's a major mistake to do that in the District of Columbia. The reason being that the Metro system, the bus system does not work well enough to get people around in the city. I live in Georgetown. There is no Metro. For me to get around I'm taking buses, transferring, it takes me a long time to get anywhere.
This thinking reflects one of the most common cognitive errors we see in policy debates. People extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else. If I need to drive, everyone must. If I need a certain size apartment, everyone must. Therefore, the government must force the market to build those things.

We don't all need the same type of housing. Some people do need, or want, large suburban houses with big yards and 4 bedrooms and 2-car garages. We have a lot of those. Other people would rather save money and time and buy or rent a small unit without parking if it lets them live near the Metro.

Our zoning need not force everything into a single mold. That's what 1960s planners tried to do, and we know it was a failure. With the agreement to withhold residential parking permits to residents of this building, there's no way it can negatively effect anyone else. That means there's no reason to forbid Douglas from constructing the apartments they think the market demands.

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. 


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speaking of over-extrapolating, this is in an article in today's Examiner about the potential traffic impacts on Fairfax of adding a school in Arlington to a site which borders Fairfax:

Any additional traffic in the area, she said, will make traveling more difficult, and for someone like her who has medical issues, that could be dangerous.

"What happens when it's cold and rainy?" Hafer said. "And I'm diabetic, so I'm deathly afraid that [attacks] I've experienced in the past will happen again, but that I'll be stuck in traffic."

It's a crazy belief, really, that your medical condition should dictate how to build a road network or site civic assets.

by Richard Layman on Nov 8, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

Of course, again, this isn't a case of parking minimums. It is a case of a potentially unenforceable agreement between a developer and an ANC to prevent certain residents from ever getting street parking. Or hell, visitor parking.

Dave's point on "People extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else" is very valid and I would certainly say it applies here. In spades.

by charlie on Nov 8, 2012 10:52 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman
Diabetic drivers need to be very careful. They can get shock while driving and get into an accident. It seems to me that diabetics especially need an alternative to driving - walking and public transportation. Since diabetes is on the rise, making walking and pub transportation available will be even more important. I really think that she needs not to think less traffic, and more about getting out of her car since she's "deathly afraid of the [attacks]..." It's kind of irresponsible, actually.

by dc denizen on Nov 8, 2012 11:01 am • linkreport

Wow, Jack Evans, nice logic there.

Clearly since there is no transit in rural Montana, people in New York City have to drive everywhere because it takes too long to get places otherwise!

On Tuesday I was listening to a DC Council hearing Mary Cheh was having about environmental effects and transit in DC. She started talking about dedicated bus lanes and immediately started with "I don't think that would be appropriate for DC." Uhh, why not? Seems like the same mentality of "well I don't do this so clearly it doesn't work for anyone else!"

by MLD on Nov 8, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

dcdenizen -- thank you.

MLD -- dedicated busways in DC don't make sense because they could interfere with Uber.

by Richard Layman on Nov 8, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

Nice appearance and corresponding article.

Charlie, not sure your point makes sense. DA made the point that there are several different housing modes which one can choose from. Evans saw it from only one perspective and refuted the possibility of others feeling differently.

by H Street LL on Nov 8, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

As a nearly 30-year diabetic, I take issue with this author from the Examiner using it as part of her argument. Maybe what Hafer needs to do is learn to control her diabetes better. To have such poor control that she is at risk of passing out behind the wheel should be a sign to her. Funny enough, driving less and walking and biking more would help in that regard.

by rdhd on Nov 8, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

The difference between amenities like a balcony and a bathroom is that it is not supplemented with "the commons". In other words, if I only have one bathroom, I'm not going to start pissing in the park. Car storage is different. And if you stop the analysis here, you might side with the NIMBYs. But let's continue: why would it be a problem that Babe's residents are using the public streets to park their or their guests' cars? Because the current residents are already doing that and they don't want to share!

The amount this would affect a current resident is directly proportionate to the amount that they are already doing what they fear the new residents might also do. If they would do as they say, they would be providing adequate off street parking for themselves and their guests. The very fact they don't explains why they're afraid of others following suit.

The reality is that the compromise to deny residents RPP status is perfectly adequate to address these hypocritical concerns.

by TM on Nov 8, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

This thinking reflects one of the most common cognitive errors we see in policy debates. People extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else.

Really? And Welcome to the world of GGW, where people extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else.

by HogWash on Nov 8, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

two things,

1. the whole ANC not giving out RPP's is not directly related to the idea of "its a good idea to not require parking with a building". It's a political necessity for this building but it doesn't really affect any other parking free buildings that may be built elsewhere.

2. This thinking reflects one of the most common cognitive errors we see in policy debates. People extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else.

Really? And Welcome to the world of GGW, where people extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else.

Again, this is an argument for diversity so yes the entire premise of this article undermines your comment. Same goes when we talk about bikes (or buses or speed cameras or anything). Expanding options and providing for modes (or lifestyles) is the opposite of trying to impose a worldview unless you are invested in the status quo. And not to words in David Alert's mouth but that generally seems to be his theme which has been consistent. He's not responsible for what some other commenter believes.

by drumz on Nov 8, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

So Council member Evans was making an argument for re-routing the Blue Line to Georgetown, M Street, NJ Ave, H Street? Build that line and Georgetown is no longer cut off from the Metro system. Maybe someone should ask him if he would support the Blue Line re-route, if that emerges from the Metro long range analysis process.

by AlanF on Nov 8, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

And not to words in David Alert's mouth but that generally seems to be his theme which has been consistent. He's not responsible for what some other commenter believes.

Maybe so but this is his blog. And the people on his blog often extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else's. So while he surely can't be held responsible for what the rest of us say, the comments are generally (maybe a bit more here) consistent w/every other blog.., people extrapolate

That was my point.

by HogWash on Nov 8, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

Actually, years ago GGW published an image of an old WMATA expansion map from the wall of CM Evans' office, that included what is now called the separated blue line.

He probably is supportive. Just doesn't see any reason for he himself to push the issue.

Whereas I think it's probably what should be considered DC's #1 economic priority.

by Richard Layman on Nov 8, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

Ok, I'm not going to get sucked into an argument about other commenters. We've all probably put our experiences on others. We should recognize it and if you're called out on that either defend yourself or change your thinking.

So yeah, not every building needs parking. Especially this one that we're talking about in Tenleytown.

by drumz on Nov 8, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

@rdhd - +1

by Tina on Nov 8, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

Ok, I'm not going to get sucked into an argument about other commenters.

Unlike many here, I don't see every instance where people disagree as an "argument." So there is realistically nothing for you to get sucked into. You've already admitted that we all put our experiences on others...which again...was my point. Not sure what about that you think was appropriately argumentative.

by HogWash on Nov 8, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

"Unlike many here, I don't see every instance where people disagree as an "argument." "

do you have anything to say on

A. The "Babes" project

B. Parking minimums

C. Council member Evans

Anything other than a discussion of GGW and its commentors?

I think that a COUNCIL member, an influential one, who is supposed to be thinking about the needs of the city, is narrowly looking at things from his own experience, is a concern.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

Yes, HogWash, I really appreciate your input, but we have some pretty clear rules that we want the comments to be about the issues being discussed. I'd also ask you to please focus your comments on the substantive issues going forward. If you just want to attack GGW, I'd have to ask you to please go over to themail and do it there.

by David Alpert on Nov 8, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

but we have some pretty clear rules that we want the comments to be about the issues being discussed.

And here I was believing that the type of thinking where WE extrapolate our own experiences to everyone else isn't helpful in policy debates was actually an issue being discussed.

Maybe I should've done w/AWITC did and just talk about how a specific person's narrow mind should be a concern for DC voters. I'm assuming that's a more substantive debate since IT obviously is w/in the guidelines.

by HogWash on Nov 8, 2012 5:13 pm • linkreport

yes, Hogwash, you should discuss the political leader who is the subject of the post. Not your fellow commenters.

Ive been on other message boards, and discussing other commentors is widely seen to be disruptive. Discussing public figures, on the other hand is not. I think you can easily imagine why that is.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 8, 2012 5:30 pm • linkreport

AWITC, although I directed neither of my posts towards you, you seem to have an itch for attacking whatever I (a fellow commentor) say...which obviously isn't disruptive because it's against HogWash. And that's ok, because I've grown accustomed to the goal posts being moved. Here, I included myself in the acknowledgment that we all extrapolate and its still a problem for you, even though there is absolutely nothing critical about that. Had I made some sort of value judgment, I could've understood why.

Discussing public figures, on the other hand is not. I think you can easily imagine why that is.

Untrue. I believe that referring to them (well maybe one) as narrow-minded wouldn't be particularly productive. I'm sure you can easily imagine at least one CM who fits that bill.

by HogWash on Nov 8, 2012 6:53 pm • linkreport

I'd like this back-and-forth to end now, please. I will delete further comments from either AWITC or HogWash that talk about what the other person has said, believes, means or otherwise is about someone's commenting behavior instead of about Babe's and/or parking. Everyone's made their points, so let's stop with this tangential issue now. Thanks.

by David Alpert on Nov 8, 2012 7:00 pm • linkreport


Big problem and lies from DDOT.

The problem is that any resident of a block can get an RPP sticker even if their address is in a commercial zone. And residents of buildings in a commercial zone-only block can petition to get into the RPP zone of the surrounding neighborhood.

After goldfish pointing this out I contacted DDOT and was told the same. Trouble is, DDOT also went before the BZA and testified that a new 125-unit building in my block would not be eligible for RPP stickers 18 months ago. (my assumption was because it's address is commercial). Some DDOT heads need rolling over this and the Council needs to take corrective action asap.

It's critical because you can't expect residents to not oppose new buildings with low or no parking if those units can get RPP stickers.

Lowering or eliminating parking minimums is critical and DDOT has sabotaged that effort.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 8, 2012 9:05 pm • linkreport

I would think it would be possible to solve the parking problem by obtaining a permanent easement for parking in the "Cityline at Tenley" garage, unless, of course, that parking is taken by the zoning requirements for the Container Store space. The problem is if the owner of that commercial space probably does not want to encumber their own property with easements.

As far as restricting on-street permits, I don't think it is practical or fair to obtain consent from every present *and future* tenant or owner to refrain from requesting parking permits. This is especially burdensome for renters because they typically do not perform a title search or understand the nature and scope of parking restrictions as applied to certain individuals.

It is just too easy for individualized parking restrictions applied to tenants to be unfair and inequitable.

That leaves a complete revision of city parking regulations, establishing different classes of parking rights and private transit rights according to availability of public transit. If this is changed for one location, then it should be part of an overall zoning scheme or perhaps a temporary experiment with a termination date.

by unitacx on Nov 11, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

unitacx- We had always assumed that apartment buildings in commercial zones were ineligible for RPP stickers. After all, most of them only have parking meters out front. But now DDOT is giving RPP stickers to buildings in commercial zones. That upsets the whole applecart and makes it hard to get reduced parking in those buildings if their tenants can park on the street.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 11, 2012 9:20 pm • linkreport

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