Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Sober new laws


Photo by Kevin H. on Flickr.
Limits on liquor protests draw protest: A comprehensive liquor license reform bill could limit who can protest a license, but is running into protests over the change. Other changes legalize Sunday takeout sales and "growlers." (Post)

McDonnell might raise VA gas tax: Govenor Bob McDonnell said Virginia might start adjusting its gas tax for inflation. A similar plan died earlier this year without the support of McDonnell and Virginia House Republicans. (Examiner)

Height limit defense: Kaid Benfield votes not to change the height limit, largely because he feels DC is fine as it is, there are existing opportunities for infill development, and it could be a slippery slope toward less livable super high rises. (Switchboard)

Residents don't want bus lot : A group of southern Fairfax residents is suing to stop WMATA from moving a bus lot from Old Town to their neighborhood. They say it's a conflict of interest that 2 members of the Board of Supervisors, which approved the change, sit on the WMATA Board. (Patch)

The toll not paid: Nearly 1/3 of ICC motorists without an E-ZPass never pay their toll, adding up to $670,000 in six months. Maryland may have to start using more aggressive methods used by other states to get the tolls paid. (Post)

NYC riders get allied: A new grassroots rider advocacy group, called Riders Alliance, is launching in New York. (Streetsblog) ... Do we need one here?

Trolls beware: The Justice Department and FTC might start going after patent trolls who sue over patents but don't make anything. This could be very good news for transit agencies whose real-time arrival information was often the target of such suits. (WBJ)

And...: Four Mile Run will get a better connection to Potomac Yard. (ARLnow) ... More cyclists wear cameras to record collisions and close calls. (WJLA) ... Performance parking comes to H Street. (Hill Rag) ... Chevy Chase may get a shuttle to Bethesda. (Gazette)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

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The money quote from the Post article on liquor license reform is here:

“These changes are a step backward in alcohol regulation,” said Abigail Nichols, a Dupont Circle activist who lives near several nightclubs. “There is a structure that implies a bar is not appropriate in all places, at all times, but implementing that is very, very difficult without protest.”

Apply this way of thinking, that a small group can hold up any changes, to most of the issues that are discussed on this blog. Rational discourse and logical planning be gone - the loudest and crankiest wins.

by fongfong on Nov 20, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

Great news from McDonnell on gas tax.

I suspect we will see similar problems with the Virginia HOT lanes. If you don't have an ezpass, you can login in withing some period of time and pay the toll plus a small fee. After that, who knows? granted, the problem in MD is just that the toll authority can't collect, but is that much different than the Virginia model?

Kaid Benfield hits a grand slam.

by charlie on Nov 20, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

I read that Benfield article yesterday on Atlantic Cities. It's a lot of words to basically say "let's ignore the issues at stake and just keep things as they are because I like it that way"

ok.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

Kaid's article was shallow at best, looking only at the issue of resident experience. Cities are more than great places to walk people, they are supposed to be centers of commerce and DC continues to see its business model become weaker and weaker and weaker.

As far as the Gas Tax, that is great news, I wish the GOP would allow for jurisdictions to also decide on individual gas taxes and collect ALL of the difference in that rate locally for our own projects which the state no longer helps fund. Instead the rise in the gas tax will likely mean NOVA will help fund more Coalfields Expressway projects all the while begging for 150 million towards a transit system that could serve tens of thousands of people.

by Tysons Engineer on Nov 20, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

Drumz,

Spot on. Benfield's argument is disappointingly full of fallacies.

Such as:
-DC doesn't need to grow because it once housed 800k people.

Well, you might want to look at the shrinking household size since 1950 for your answer there. Proposing a policy that all DC residents revert to Leave it to Beaver nuclear families probably won't get too far.

-It's OK because the DC area is rich and well-educated.

I'm still struggling to see how that justifies restricting supply.

-DC doesn't need tall buildings for affordability because NYC and SF have tall buildings and are also expensive.

Well, of course this isn't really about heights, this is about increasing supply. And NYC and SF (among others) do indeed have strong restrictions on supply. No one is proposing to increase height without also increasing density (e.g. supply). So what's his point, again?

-Denser doesn't mean taller

No, it doesn't - but denser does mean denser. If you want DC to get denser without getting taller, are you willing to upzone all of DC's single-family home areas to allow for 5-10 story development? If not, then do not bring up Paris.

by Alex B. on Nov 20, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

Yes, please change the liquor laws so that a few disgruntled suburbanites can no longer hold a neighborhood hostage. Jack Evans presents yet another reason why people should not have voted for him.

by aaa on Nov 20, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

So many more beyond that, looking at tree cover and determining its the building height that affects tree cover in a city rather than any number of issues.

The same argument is used for density on a city by city basis looking at the total area which can include any number of non-residential uses.

AGAIN conflating design with building height and picking a bunch of tall buildings he doesn't like.

He argues against mega projects which is fine but that's not the same as saying the height limit has a net beneficial effect for the city.

And we should talk more about vistas but its silly to say that they're sacrosanct. They're externalities and need to be accomodated in certain ways but its just not honest to declare something off-limits.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

"It's OK because the DC area is rich and well-educated."

I'm still struggling to see how that justifies restricting supply.

Yeah, when you come across an argument as nonsensical as "things are going pretty darned well in DC because the DC region is affluent and highly educated" you can pretty much stop reading right there. It's like arguing that Mexico has no economic difficulties because NAFTA nations in general are doing great.

I think Benfield should repeat "The DC region is not DC" one hundred times and start over again from scratch.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 9:26 am • linkreport

I hope the lawsuit does not result in a significant delay to the movement of the bus lot. North Old Town is a place with very good urban form and walkability (among the best in NoVa) with high opportunity cost for land, good metro access (despite Dave Alpert' issues with Dash bus) and potential for even more intensive use. While Newington is not only autocentric more or less beyond fixing, but already has lots of semi-industrial uses. And of course has lower value land. Moving the bus lot is a very good idea. As we redensify our central cities (and metro accessible inner suburbs) we have to find ways to move less supportive, lower value uses to peripheral locations.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

I want growlers!

by Fitz on Nov 20, 2012 10:13 am • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity,

Agreed, but moving the barn to Newington is quite the jump from Old town (13 Miles or 30min). Not sure if those buses serve Alexandria or S.Fairfax, but it can't be good for logistics and on time service.

by RJ on Nov 20, 2012 10:30 am • linkreport

according to shi

http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/board_of_directors/board_docs/042408_RoyalStpresentation.pdf

there will be no negative impact on service. There will be an increase in deadhead costs - but that will be offset by a more modern facility. And of course by the real estate gain accruing to WMATA by selling the Royal street site. The improved externalities on parts of Old Town nearby more than offset the externalities of deadheading, I imagine.

As I said above, this is a big question facing densifiying places (as witness the ward 5 discussions). On the one hand many of these 'WUP unfriendly' services are needed, on the other hand keeping them all in dense places will be a real limit on walkability/urban quality. There are also jurisdictional issue in some places. Here there seems to be a win win way to deal with the problem - if we can't deal with it here, thats terribly bad news for the places where it will be even harder.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

"according to this"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

I'm generally more in agreement with Benfield's position than not, and there's a way to argue it in a cogent and rigorous manner. Unfortunately, that article isn't it.

No, it doesn't - but denser does mean denser. If you want DC to get denser without getting taller, are you willing to upzone all of DC's single-family home areas to allow for 5-10 story development? If not, then do not bring up Paris.

I would actually be totally on board with doing this, and think the Paris model could work quite well here, particularly when one keeps in mind that the DC metro area is not the same as DC.

However, there are massive opportunities for infill upzoning before you start having to think about doing anything with the Foxhalls and Spring Valleys of the world. Anyone been around Congress Heights or Deanwood lately? Or Tenleytown? *cough* Babe's *cough*. Etc. etc.

Building the transit infrastructure to make more and more places legitimate candidates for TOD is also crucial. Pretty much anywhere in Paris qualifies. DC? Not so much.

by Dizzy on Nov 20, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

Alex,
Your support for raising the height limit is well known, but some of your assertions stretch the truth, a bit.

"DC doesn't need to grow because it once housed 800k people"
-Ken said: "Actually, DC can grow under current law."

"It's OK because the DC area is rich and well-educated. I'm still struggling to see how that justifies restricting supply."
-Ken said: DC is doing well despite the height limit, so it clearly isn't 'harming' our economy. And nowhere does he advocate "restricting supply"

"No one is proposing to increase height without also increasing density (e.g. supply). So what's his point, again?" The point is if supply is the issue and density can solve the issue, what's the point, again? Up zoning is exactly what's needed and saying all single family family areas will be re-developed is incorrect.

It reminds me of the buisness guy who says if you raise his taxes by 3% he'll stop hiring, as if his whole decision would hinge on one line item. How is it that cities had no problem growing for hundreds of years with a 6-7 story limit and no cars? If there's money to be made, people will make it.

by Thayer-D on Nov 20, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

I read that Benfield article yesterday on Atlantic Cities. It's a lot of words to basically say "let's ignore the issues at stake and just keep things as they are because I like it that way"
----

I couldn't have said it better.

by ceefer66 on Nov 20, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

Re: Raising Gas Taxes

It would be more accurate to call it Indexing Gas Taxes instead. The gas tax could go up or down based on whether we have inflation or deflation, so its not really a tax raise. This isn't about raising revenue, it's actually about keeping revenue the same.

by Falls Church on Nov 20, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Thayer,

But Benfield is still conflating the height limit with a number of other economic (and cultural to some extent) issues and then saying its the people who want the taller buildings of conflation.

He and others need to realize that no one wants to change (in any way) the height limit expects that the issues he actually raises to be solved. Benfield's argument was cherry picking all over the place.

It gets tiring after a while to suggest that buildings be a little taller and then spend the rest of time asserting a bunch of things that aren't directly correlated with the actual question of whether the height limit has a net-positive effect on DC.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

The unpaid ICC tolls hysteria is just that - alarmist hysteria over nothing. At least in the case of Maryland-registered vehicles.

Maryland CAN and DOES collect unpaid ICC and other EZPASS tolls PLUS a $25 "service charge" for each toll infraction from Maryland residents by assigning the unpaid tolls to its Central Collection Unit (CCU) which will hound the registered vehicle owner for payment - in addition to preventing the owner from renewing the vehicle registration.

I know because it happened to me after I inadvertently drove through an EZPASS lane at the northbound Tydings Bridge on I-95 last year. An unpaid $5.00 toll turned into a $30 "delinquency" which kept me from renewing my registration until I "took care of it" with the CCU.

I would wager that the bulk of the unpaid tolls are being assigned to the CCU in the case of MD-registered cars. I would also wager that given the location and purpose of the ICC, that toll infractions by out-of-state vehicles is miniscule.

If Maryland officials are so concerned over "losses from unpaid tolls" they can:

1. Install toll booths
2. Lower the tolls and thereby generate more traffic

They can also raise the speed limit to a more reasonable 65 mph.

Then the road will be more heavily-used and Maryland won't lose toll revenue.

Problem solved.

by ceefer66 on Nov 20, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

"It's OK because the DC area is rich and well-educated. I'm still struggling to see how that justifies restricting supply."
-Ken said: DC is doing well despite the height limit, so it clearly isn't 'harming' our economy. And nowhere does he advocate "restricting supply""

what is harming, and when? Clearly there is still new office development happening. Because downtown and adjacent areas with the best metro service, are not yet built out. How soon they will be is a matter of debate. But the time is not infinite. Meanwhile DC has higher office rents than the suburbs, which means more employment in peripheral locations (mostly in NoVa) than would otherwise be the case, with resultant costs in congestion and emissions (though not yet in regional competitiveness)

"How is it that cities had no problem growing for hundreds of years with a 6-7 story limit and no cars?"

The metro area is now about 6 million in population. Please list for me preautomotive cities with populations of over 5 million, that had no buildings taller than 7 stories.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

Re: 4 Mile Run Connector

That's great for Potomac Yard but is that really the highest priority connector? For the $250K design + construction cost of this connector, you could probably fund the proposed Rosslyn Custis-to-Key-Bridge connector which is needed much more. That intersection is a huge safety issue and bottlneck and delays bikes and cars. Thousands of people a day cross North Lynn along the Custis. How many people are going to use this Potomac Yard connector?

by Falls Church on Nov 20, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

Thayer,

"DC doesn't need to grow because it once housed 800k people"
-Ken said: "Actually, DC can grow under current law."

I think you're referring to Kaid, not Ken.

I'd have no problem if Kaid just said DC can grow under current law. What he said, instead, was that because DC once had more people, it can hold more people again.

He likened DC to a 'shrinking city' like Detroit. This is not true, of course. DC did lose population, but the built environment grew - the reason for this was shrinking household size. Thus, more housing units, and a lower total population.

An honest reading of that stat shows that DC needs more space, not less. Kaid presented that stat in a dishonest way.

-Ken said: DC is doing well despite the height limit, so it clearly isn't 'harming' our economy. And nowhere does he advocate "restricting supply"

Second part first: the very criticism of the height limit is that it is a restriction on supply. Benfield supports the height act, therefore he is (by definition) an advocate for restricting supply.

And my point about the DC area's wealth is that your statement ("clearly isn't 'harming' our economy") is untrue. We're rich, yes. But costs are so high that the middle class cannot easily afford a place to live (to say nothing of the working class). Do not let the raw wealth trick you - that very wealth can indeed harm our local economy.

More fundamentally, that wealth is indicative of the demand to live and work in this area. And the supply has not increased to match the demand, and thus prices go up - making those in the middle pay more.

The point is if supply is the issue and density can solve the issue, what's the point, again? Up zoning is exactly what's needed and saying all single family family areas will be re-developed is incorrect.

yes, upzoning is needed! And modifying the height act would be one way to upzone.

I brought up redevelopment of ALL single family areas because I'm sick of hearing the fallacious argument that Paris is dense but not tall, so DC can be too. Yes, it could be, IF we tore down all the rowhouses and all the SFH and replaced them with 6-7 story apartments.

Too many people throw that Paris argument out there as a case for the status quo, when the facts show that it is anything but.

by Alex B. on Nov 20, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

"downtown and adjacent areas with the best metro service, are not yet built out. How soon they will be is a matter of debate. But the time is not infinite." Nothing is infinate (except the universe), and either will an extension of 2-3 stories. Eventually they'll need to expand it further and increasing the limit incrimentally would be a tremendous waste of recourses. So the alternative would be to increase the height limit to where there was a strong incentive to re-build our newly infilled downtown, to say 10-20 stories. If we aren't build-out now and there's plenty of adjacent land, why not wait till we get there? In the mean time we could be planning for other areas with additional public transit infrastructure that everyone says we'll need anyway.

"The metro area is now about 6 million in population. Please list for me preautomotive cities with populations of over 5 million, that had no buildings taller than 7 stories."

If you are talking about the metro area vs. the city, then we already have what many argue for, selective areas where the height can be raised like in the inner suburbs. I'm all for reading the city as a metro area, but the question was dealing specifically with-in DC's boundries. Arlington is like a defacto La Defense, just outside the historic core and built-up to the nines.

by Thayer-D on Nov 20, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

Benfield nailed it.

I can't find any Census Data on the District regarding household size before 1970, but then it was 2.72. As of 2010, it was 2.23, about an 18% differntial over 1970.

While I don't know what it was in 1950, we know that urban household size is typically smaller than suburban or rural, especially during that period so I wouldn't expect DC's numbers in the 50's to be anywhere near the US Average during that time.

Also, while the population of DC decreased from this 1970 to 2000 by 24%, the number of housing units increased by 60,000 15%.

While household size is smaller, it has been made up for by a corresponding number of new housing units. You only mention homes, but tens of thousands of new condominium units (hardly any of those in the District in 1950 and they are certainly counted as housing units) and apartments have been constructed in the past 20 years, and as the price of land continues to increase, more and more mutifamily dwellings will continue to be built.

If we keep the same household size as it was in 2010, it would mean we need 89K new housing units to accomodate 800K people. Thats an increase of 30% over the number of housing units in existence today.

It took DC 47 years (from 1965) to build the last 90K housing units, 10% of those were built since 2005.

According to DC Office of Planning there are 12,369 units under construction and another 39,600 units currently in the planning pipeline. Thats over 51K housing units being built or on paper to be built in the next 15 years.

Add in the tens of thousands of housing units to be built in places that historically had none (Walter Reed, McMillian Filtration Site (that aren't represented in the Office of Plannings numbers above) and you can easily get to the required ~90K new households in DC without breaking a sweat.

by Gray on Nov 20, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

"If we aren't build-out now and there's plenty of adjacent land, why not wait till we get there?"

as opposed to relaxing the height act tomorrow? I agree DC should not relax it tomorrow. What Issa and Norton are suggesting is STUDYING it - to me that would include looking at the pace of buidout, the impact of zoning changes OTHER than height act relaxation, looking at different scenerios for height act relaxation and developer payback, and then evaluating the impacts of different scenarios. I would see that entire process taking a couple of years, at minimum, to be followed by an extended buy in process. And scenarios could include deferred or staged relaxation.

"If you are talking about the metro area vs. the city, then we already have what many argue for, selective areas where the height can be raised like in the inner suburbs. "

but none of them has comparable transit access to downtown DC, which both presents limits to feasible density and means shifting employment there (even to the best served places - Rosslyn and Crystal City) will result in higher SOV mode share vs putting that employment in downtown DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

"there's plenty of adjacent land,"

Im not sure there is. I am particularly familiar with the Capital Riverfront area (not ideal in terms of metro service, but still a highly sought after area for development) and quite a large proportion of the lots are already built or under construction, and many of the remainder have plans for construction to begin in the next 18 months. I don't know when build out is estimate - but IIUC it could easily be by 2016 or so. I don't know that its much different in NoMa or SW waterfront. Given the time it takes for planning and approval, it hardly seems to early to begin to plan for what happens when NoMa and Capital Riverfront reach build out.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

the other problem with waiting till build out, is that means the only option is upzoning built on lots - tearing down an existing building to get 2 to 3 more stories, which is costly both financially and in terms of natural resources. It seems to me it makes more sense to relax BEFORE buildout, and apply the new height limits only to properties that are vacant or well below the existing height limit.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.
And my point about the DC area's wealth is that your statement ("clearly isn't 'harming' our economy") is untrue. We're rich, yes. But costs are so high that the middle class cannot easily afford a place to live (to say nothing of the working class). Do not let the raw wealth trick you - that very wealth can indeed harm our local economy.
This reminds me of something I happened upon on my WaPost app this morning, one of those puff pieces about neighborhoods in the DC area. This one was about Forest Hills, and it kept going on about how much residents valued the diversity of the neighborhood (which happens to have pretty good metro access). Example quote from a resident:
You can walk around the neighborhood and see a huge variety of styles from several different decades, and with different price points, too. You can buy a single-family home in the $700s [thousands]. You can also pay $3 million for a home.
There aren't very many places where people would consider an area where homes bottom out in the 700s to have a diverse housing stock. And yes, there are other forms of housing, some of which would be better suited to the young, but the fact remains that DC is a place where we're not allowing much new housing to be built. The fact that many can afford what housing there is is not a reasonable argument for restricting new supply.

And as an aside, there's now another Gray here? It was confusing enough when people were referring to the mayor...

by Gray's the Classics on Nov 20, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

@Gray's the Classics

Keep in mind that housing stock is not purely fungible/interchangeable. One of the reasons why SFHs in Forest Hills cost so much is... because you're getting a SFH in Forest Hills! Adding a bunch of new apartment units to Forest Hills (which should be done) is not going to automatically lower those prices, because they are not perfect substitutes. Our apartment condo in Forest Hills costs less than half of that $700k. But we don't get the benefits of having an SFH and do get the negatives of living in a multi-unit building (yay neighbors who are a 2-inch shared wall away).

I say all this as someone who spent his earliest years in a small apartment in a global primate city and would, if it were purely up to me, live in nothing but apartments my entire life.

by Dizzy on Nov 20, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Plus the argument about let them build in Rosslyn and have it be like La Defense doesn't work because. Rosslyn (and Crystal City) are not part of D.C.

It may make sense from a cultural/aesthetic perspective but in terms of how our municipal governments operate it's a silly suggestion. Rosslyn is in Virginia and its success helps Richmond as much as it does DC. I say this as a Va. resident.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

@drumz,

Plus the argument about let them build in Rosslyn and have it be like La Defense doesn't work because. Rosslyn (and Crystal City) are not part of D.C.
It may make sense from a cultural/aesthetic perspective but in terms of how our municipal governments operate it's a silly suggestion. Rosslyn is in Virginia and its success helps Richmond as much as it does DC. I say this as a Va. resident.

Thanks, that was the point I was trying to make earlier. You can't really just say, "Hey, it's all good! It's the DMV!" Because if there's one thing we've learned over the last forty some-odd years, it's that a rising tide doesn't necessarily lift all boats.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

Plus, Paris also being one of the most expensive cities in the world (especially in terms of housing) doesn't really help either. But yet its the height enthusiasts who have to explain that the high prices in NYC and such isn't because of the height of the buildings.

Meanwhile Paris (the region) literally had riots over the costs of living a few years ago.

by drumz on Nov 20, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport

The city plans to add 100,000 housing units (for 250,000 new residents) over the next 20 years. MWCOG forecasts an additional 200,000 jobs by 2035. That's maybe 140 million square feet of space: 56X CityCenterDC, 3-3.5X the entire Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor or Tysons Corner (today), even 24% more than what Fairfax County predicts for Tysons in the future. It is REALLY hard to imagine accommodating all of these just on large infill parcels.

Even large development parcels like McMillan, Walter Reed, Armed Forces, the Wharf, Waterfront Station, etc. each have room for 1K-2K units (and yes, I've seen the same OP pipeline numbers that Gray mentioned). It's going to take literally *scores* of additional sites like these (plus wholesale redevelopment along corridors like Rhode Island, East Capitol, and elsewhere) to find enough room for 100K housing units and 200K jobs. Maybe it's possible under existing law, but it would be a lot easier to hit those targets if either (a) lots more federal land is released [e.g., a military base] and/or (b) height limits were lifted, even if only to fit another 5K units within a single district.

by Payton on Nov 20, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

As for Paris, its high-density quarters -- with population densities above 25,000/sq. mi. (about 40 dua, or the density of the low-rise, multi-family neighborhoods that typify the classic walkable neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Chicago, or Montreal) -- extend at least 5-7 miles in all directions from the city center. In DC, the same densities extend half as far (3.5 miles), and only in one direction, north. Extend that to 7 miles and you're already in Maryland.

The problem is not with mid-rise densities, it's with low-rise densities. I would be happy, perhaps even elated, to see mid-rise densities spread across a wide swathe of Washington, D.C., but I know that many others would not. Indeed, they, including many of Kaid's neighbors in Ward 3, are already in open revolt, with dire consequences for the city, region, and planet. Indeed, the real reason why Vancouver went whole hog for downtown skyscrapers was because it was the easiest way to balance dramatic growth with neighborhood preservation, after single-family neighborhoods revolted over "Vancouver Specials" (tear-downs with accessory apartments).

You can't squeeze a fast-growing balloon on the sides (protecting low-density neighborhoods) and the top (height limits) forever.

by Payton on Nov 20, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

If Benfield's argument is the best the pro-height limit people can manage, they should have lost long ago.

Also, to amplify a point made above, using Google Maps, where are the single-family "rowhouse" neighborhoods of Paris? For at least a 3 mile radius of the Tuileries, it seems to be very dense multistory apartment blocks. If almost all the land between the Capitol and Columbia Heights were upzoned and replaced with 5-10 story apartment blocks (with little parking) that would be about the equivalent.

by Steve S. on Nov 20, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

If DC had 800K residents in the 1950's and you're basing that on larger households, ie, the 5-8 person family, then that's saying the single family areas were at least twice as dense as today, and with so much land being zoned single family or attached, that's a lot of acarege.

If you allowed a lot of the rowhouses to be split up into apartments, then you might get the old 5-8 persons per 20-24 foot frontage density. Now you need to make up for the shrunken single family density, alley dwellings, and apartments over commercial and you have another lost chunk of density from the 800K residents of the 1950's.

Now take a bunch of radial avenues going towards the center of town, and imagine them with streetcars. Underbuilt or partially under built roads like McArthur, Massachusets, Wisconsin, Connecticut, 14th, Georgia, North Capitol, and Rhode Island, to name the ones I'm familiar with, and think about all the underdeveloped parcels that could be built-out with 5-8 story apartment buildings, like any number of European cities. Study and code how New York's equivalent (inner suburbs) neighborhoods where 19th century single family and low scale mainstreets like Flatbush Brooklyn where redeveloped in the 1920's -1940's with 5-6 story walk-ups serviced by these street car lines and I think you've just added a heck of a lot of density.

On the commercial side, add office density at nodes that already have core chunks like Friendship Heights and VanNess and etc. and through mixed use transit centers. Also spread re-development out to Foggy Bottom, the whole SW all the way down and including Ft. McNair, from Noma thru to Brentwood, and you have a lot more adjacent acerage to build out at the current 8-10 story density, keeping in mind all the "slack" being taken up (by choice) in Bethesda, Arlington, etc.

We definatly agree this subject is worth further study to see exactly how much additional density we could handle in a way prooven to make georgeous urbanism. Change the zoning to handle the hypothetical upzoned build-out, and let's see the numbers. My guess is there's still plenty of room to grow, and if there is, then do it. If we had the political will to do the ideal before the expedient, it wouldn't feel like we're just give into developers who'd make make that much more on their investment through the economy of scale in building taller buildings. This city ought to grow for the long term, and ought to be for everyone, not just developers or nimby residents.

It would be great to see this as a thesis project for a graduate architecture program to undertake and help DC figure this out. Catholic university's history of pedestrian friendly urbanism would make them the perfect candidate and making it a public excersize might create the space for a political concensus that needs to recognize we're all in this together.

by Thayer-D on Nov 20, 2012 10:00 pm • linkreport

The Washington Business Journal has a write-up of the height issue this month that some might be interested in. Since most of the pressure for increasing the limit comes from the developers who would most benefit from it, the article has some arguments worth addressing.

The article says the limit imposes "squat buildings that could be more aesthetically pleasing - not to mention more profitable - were they allowed to be taller". Besides many a world class city belying this assertion, there are two ways to mitigate squate buildings, make them taller or reduce their horizontal profile. Many developers already do this by giving large lots a varied streetscape (urbanism) by breaking up the block with multiple facades and cornices. While necessary and even desirable in certain areas to have a monumental foot print (Federal Triangle etc.) it tends to decrease the quality of the pedestrian/retail experience, a lesson not lost on even small scale developments like Bethesda Row. As currently written, one can build above the height limit to add archtiectural embelishments. Why don't more developers do that now if they'd like to see "interesting" buildings?

Unfortunatly, the article mentions the study "will focus only on the federal height act. It would not alter the District's own height limits and zoning codes, which in many cases are more stringent than those dictated by the federal legislation" How can you properly assess the total additional capacity from increased height limits without looking at the whole city? This is where a 3-d model of the whole city, wether virtual or physical would be handy. I would think you'd need as much public buy-in to impliment any recommended changes if our history of NIMBYism is any guide, and if density is to be evenly distrubuted, then it has to be made clear that it won't favor wealthy neighborhoods at the expense of poorer and less politically connected parts of the city. I'd present the findings at the National Building Museum through whatever modeling technique chosen to ensure the conversation is indeed citywide.

"Several DC developers said they would welcome the ability to add a few stories to their existing properties but do not envision Manhattan-style skyscrapers" What's to stop them in 20 years from wanting a few more stories? Hopefully, the study will attempt to identify criteria for a height limits other than a developer's need for easier profits.

Mr. Murphy of MRP Realty mentions that "if height limits are raised outside of the business district, developers could be able to market taller buildings to tenants that might otherwise consider places like Rosslyn that offer more sweeping views of the city." Agreed, but that implies that there's no magic to being located with-in the business district as many have argued and reinforces the need to make this study citywide.

As Ayers Saint Gross Inc. principle and committed urbanist Bill Skelsey says, "Good green development can actually be about a 20-story building becasue it preserves green space at the edges". As a committed urbanist myself, I'd question what makes for better urbanism, 20 story canyons or our current limit of 10-12 stories and it's worth remembering that "developers said they would welcome the ability to add a few stories to their existing properties but do not envision Manhattan-style skyscrapers".

http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/print-edition/2012/11/16/after-102-years-a-height-limit-study.html

by Thayer-D on Nov 21, 2012 5:40 am • linkreport

"I would think you'd need as much public buy-in to impliment any recommended changes if our history of NIMBYism is any guide, and if density is to be evenly distrubuted, then it has to be made clear that it won't favor wealthy neighborhoods at the expense of poorer and less politically connected parts of the city."

Overall, I agree with your post. This is a complex, and for many, an emotional issue. There is no need to rush into it (certainly not for adding stories to existing buildings - the only argument for haste is to prevent new buildings from being built at the existing limit, foregoing the higher limit - and I suppose to prevent uncertainty from overly slowing the pace of development as developers wait to see what the new limit will be and how it will be applied) I think this warrants beginning formal study now - but the envisioned Issa-Norton completion data (12 months?) is probably too soon.

I also agree that the criteria need to be established, as much as possible, so that there are stronger and less arbitrary grounds for either future changes, or resisting further changes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 21, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

RE: The Height Limit.

We need to admit that DC's growth potential is being stifled by the NIMBY contingent (call them "preservationists" and "concerned citizens" if you want) who stand for nothing but inflating their own property values while masquerading their snobbish selfishness with nonsense about "preserving what's special about DC".

These people have a vested interest in keeping density artificially low with height limits and whatever else they can conjure up and their ridiculous obsession with never deviating from some 200-year-old policy of imitating 18-century European cities has left DC with a boring cityscape that will take more than an act of Congress to fix.

by ceefer66 on Nov 21, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

"their ridiculous obsession with never deviating from some 200-year-old policy of imitating 18-century European cities has left DC with a boring cityscape that will take more than an act of Congress to fix."

You nailed it. Next they'll be telling us to wear powdered wigs!

by Thayer-D on Nov 21, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

@T-D: The "Rosslyn views" argument hardly undermines the value of central places. Location still matters, but views are an important and valuable amenity in their own right -- after all, Rosslyn developers already market them. Views over the CBD are an amenity that peripheral towers already sell to compensate for their inferior locations.

by Payton on Nov 24, 2012 12:37 am • linkreport

Agreed there's no undermining the clear advantages, simply pointing out that the question of where to locate in today's economy is a bit more nuanced than the center beats all becasue of transit concentration, therefore blow out the height limit.

by Thayer-D on Nov 24, 2012 8:26 pm • linkreport

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