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Go to a zoning update meeting, ask OP to fill in the holes

After a little breather for the holidays, it's time for DC's most contentious, important, yet timid public policy proposal to roll forward once more. The public meetings on the zoning update resume this weekend in Columbia Heights, with the biggest clash to follow Tuesday in Tenleytown.

Photo by BarelyFitz on Flickr.

Please attend one or more of the meetings this month and let us know which you'll be going to. It's especially important to get more folks to the Ward 3 meeting Tuesday. You don't need to go to the meeting in your own ward, and all meetings cover the same topics.

First and foremost, the meetings are a chance to educate yourself about the details of the plans and ask questions. In addition, you can ask OP to fill in some of the holes in their proposals.

Change is already here

The meetings start out with a presentation by the Office of Planning explaining the issues, the history of DC's zoning, and what they're hoping to tweak in the new code. After that, there is an "open house" format where you can write comments on post-its at various stations, and ask staff questions. They end the meeting with a more traditional "town hall" style where people can speak or ask questions one by one.

As they explain in the presentation, DC is very different than it was in 1950 and 1960, even though our zoning code is still substantially the same:

Images from the Office of Planning.

This last decade was the first time DC gained population since 1960, but the population is very different today. There are far more residents 60 years and older, and in the 20-34 age group, while there are far fewer children. The average household is a third smaller as well, which is why our existing stock of housing could be very full despite significant new construction, but still hold over 200,000 fewer people than in 1960.

What about the holes?

In its efforts to bend over backward and placate opponents, OP has left some significant gaps in proposals that are generally excellent steps forward. The upcoming meetings are also a good opportunity to ask OP to fill in the holes.

Parking minimums go away for mixed-use, non-residential, and high-density residential areas near transit and everywhere downtown, but that leaves what Matt Yglesias called the "Logan Circle gap": R-4 row house areas even right near transit. There's also a similar "Columbia Heights gap" and others.

Image from the Office of Planning.

There won't be parking minimums for residential buildings under 10 units, which covers most of the buildings in the "gaps," but this still leaves parking minimum requirements for some buildings right near Metro stations.

Corner stores will only be able to go in corner buildings or ones that have historically served as retail, and only 500 feet away from other retail. This leaves very few potential sites. Accessory dwellings can go in exterior garages but only if they already exist.

OP's early proposals had none of these holes. They added each one to try to address resident opposition and pare down the proposal to the absolute minimum necessary.

If the Zoning Commission approves the new code just as OP is proposing, it will be a major step forward for DC. It will fix many of the occasions when property owners have to ask for special exceptions to do things which match residents' desires and needs for our city. However, a number of these situations will remain, and we'll get less housing, bigger gaps between neighborhood stores, and more unnecessary parking than we might under a more expansive version.

Worse yet, if the Zoning Commission decides they need to "split the baby" and compromise between OP's plan and vocal opponents, we'll end up losing some essential component of the changes, since there's no fat left. There are almost no elements remaining that might be a good idea but maybe have some drawbacks, where you could go either way, since OP took all of those away already.

I'd have preferred to see OP leave the holes out, since we're better off without them, and also give zoning commissioners some room to compromise away elements that aren't absolutely essential. These public meetings are a chance to show OP that many residents not only support the zoning update but would support a less-timid variant as well.

Find the meeting nearest you

Here are the 5 remaining meetings over the next 2 weeks:

Saturday, January 510 am-noonWard 1Harriet Tubman Elementary School3101  13th St NW (1 block east of Columbia Hts Metro)
Tuesday, January 86:30-8:30 pmWard 3Wilson High School3950 Chesapeake St NW (adjacent to Tenleytown Metro)
Wednesday, January 96:30-8:30 pmWard 5Foster Auditorium (Ely Building), Gallaudet University800 Florida Ave NE (5 blocks east of NY Ave/Gallaudet Metro)
Saturday, January 1210 am-noonWard 7DOES Building, Room 2309/104058 Minnesota Ave NE (adjacent to Minnesota Ave Metro)
Wednesday, January 166:30-8:30 pmWard 4Takoma Education Campus7010 Piney Branch Rd NW (3 blocks west of Takoma Metro)

Which one can you go to? Let us know on this form and help us make sure we have good coverage at all the meetings!

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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Keep fighting the good fight

by MW on Jan 3, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Tenleytown NIMBYs will be out in full force I'm guessing.

by aaa on Jan 3, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

I am going to the W3 and W4 meetings. Tenleytown should be an interesting meeting. The NIMBYS will certainly be out in full force talking about how DC we know is gone if this is approved. Hopefully I can get a chance to talk and be a voice of reason, in favor of these changes.

by Kyle-W on Jan 3, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

The household table has errors.

1950 population: 802178; total number of households: 224172
--> average household size: 802178/224172 = 3.587
which differs from the number on table: 3.2

Likewise for 2010, 601723 (total pop)/ 266707 (total # HH)
= 2.256, which differs from the table number of 2.11

Come on, Office of Planning, do your arithmetic!

If these are the same people that are projecting a 55% increase in school age population, their figures are worthless!

by goldfish on Jan 3, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

DC never "bargains" in these type changes. It's always give-aways to developers (and liquor establishments in ABRA rule changes).

There are many smart growth ideas that could be bargained for in such a financial windfall to developers as doing away with parking minimums. Doing away with those minimums is a fine idea (IF new cars from them are excluded from RPP) but there's a laundry list of more minor desirable public benefits some of which could be bargained for.

In DC it seems the "bargain" is always for increased $ to politicians from those given the windfall.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 3, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

@Tom -

the corner stores, the ADU's, and the parking minimums for small buildings really don't seem like they would benefit large developers - and the need to go through a waiver process with an exchange for a proffer, seems like it would be particularly a hardship for small property owners (and a much easier process for large developers).

That leaves the parking minimums for large buildings - if the waiver process were smooth, and only involved suitable proffers that might be workeable.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 3, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Goldfish, you should check on the definition of 'household' from the census bureau before you start bashing OP's arithmetic.

In short, not all people live in households. The census will denote them s 'group quarters' populations. Among those who do not count as households are those who live in military bases, jails, or in college dorms. And we have lots of those kinds of people in DC.

by Alex B. on Jan 3, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: It is the responsibility of the writer to define the terms so that the reader can reproduce the data.

There is some funny math going on here. Apparently the number of "households" -- however it is defined -- is not the what is shown in the table. Your point does not change how "average" is defined, so regardless of how "household" is defined, the average household size is a straightforward calculation.

In either case, the bad arithmetic greatly undermines any arguments from the Office of Planning.

by goldfish on Jan 3, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

Regarding Goldfish's comment that the Office of Planning’s household size calculation is inaccurate: The calculations provided are correct. Average household size is calculated by not including "group quarters", which the Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey defines as “a place where people live or stay, in a group living arrangement that is owned or managed by an entity or organization providing housing and/or services for the residents.” Examples of group quarters are correctional facilities, student housing, military quarters, and homeless shelters. Please refer to for more information regarding group quarters.

Therefore, the formula OP used to calculate average household size is: Average Household Size = (Total Population less Group Quarters Population) divided by Number of Households.

Hence, the average household size for 2010 is calculated as follows: (601,723 – 40,021 = 561,702) divided by 266,707 = 2.106 which is approx. 2.11

Similarly, the average household size for 1950 is calculated as follows: (802,178 – 86,377 = 715,801) divided by 224,142 = 3.19

The Office of Planning takes very seriously its responsibility in providing accurate and timely data. Please visit for more information regarding the zoning update.

by Tanya Stern, Chief of Staff, OP on Jan 3, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Ms Stern: It is nice to see that someone is paying attention. Nevertheless, I feel that the confusion in terms was important to clear up. I'll bill you for my contribution to this. ;)

So as long as I have your attention, perhaps you could clear up the DCPS's projection of a 55% increase in school age population in 10 years. Apparently this came from OP data. I find this hard to believe; do you have a citation to back this up?

by goldfish on Jan 3, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

Wow goldfish. No apology. You accused 0P of not knowing what they were talking about but it was you. And now you want to be congratulated. That takes balls

by David c on Jan 3, 2013 5:42 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Bob on Jan 3, 2013 9:13 pm • linkreport

Hey - I don't always agree with Goldfish, but he/she is very articulate and is certainly deserving of respect.

by H Street LL on Jan 3, 2013 9:40 pm • linkreport

@David C: The terms used in the table were not explicitly defined and the arithmetic did not stand up to a simple check: who is at fault?

by goldfish on Jan 4, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport


Not every chart has to outline exactly how every number was derived. Every chart makes necessary tradeoffs between readability and data completeness. You took the incompleteness of the explanation to be a mistake and then extended that to insult everything OP puts out. Then, when presented with an explanation, you responded with more rude snark instead of eating your humble pie and being quiet. Not really the kind of constructive discourse I'm used to here.

by MLD on Jan 4, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

@MLD Not every chart has to outline exactly how every number was derived.

Depends on how extraordinary the claims are, and if otherwise the data might be misinterpreted. Fail on both in this instance.

All that was necessary here was another row showing the number of residents of institutions that were to be subtracted from the total population.

Regarding snark: you are correct, that was over the top, and I am sorry for that.

by goldfish on Jan 4, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

who is at fault?

You are. I look at charts and documents all day that don't add up or don't match. I just sent an email about two sets of numbers that don't match. You know what I didn't do? I didn't accuse that person of not doing their job or jump to the conclusion that they can't do arithmetic. I instead asked "These numbers don't match, is that an error or am I missing something?"

It's called being cordial (and it saves me the embarrassment of having to walk back a false accusation. Of course, I guess the alternative is just to reclassify my false accusation as a contribution, right?)

by David C on Jan 4, 2013 10:56 am • linkreport

@David A
Do you have specific talking points that we should try to convey?

by Steve on Jan 4, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

@David C: You are.

I refer you to my comment immediately before yours. Perhaps testiness is communicable?

And I am still marking time until I can collect from our ice cream bet.

by goldfish on Jan 4, 2013 8:00 pm • linkreport

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