Greater Greater Washington

Epic Ward 3 zoning update meeting Tuesday night

This Tuesday is a very important day! It's my birthday. (And Kojo Nnamdi's.) Also, it's the zoning update meeting in Ward 3, a ward which houses many of the most strident opponents, but where a great many residents also support growing and more walkable neighborhoods.


Photo by Patrick Haney on Flickr.

Can you go to the meeting? You don't need to know much about the zoning update; it's a great chance to learn. It would also help a lot to say something. Many opponents will be there and not shy. The meeting is 6:30 pm at Wilson High School.

Reader Steve asked, "Do you have specific talking points that we should try to convey?" You can say whatever you want, of course, and make up your own mind, but below are a few themes you might want to mention.

In addition, there are many ways OP has backed off earlier plans based on either resident pressure or internal OP decisions to push for a less significant change than they had originally planned. Or there are ways the zoning update could go beyond the original proposals. Therefore, for each policy area, there are a few changes you could request, if you feel they match your own views.

Code organization

What's happening: The zoning update will restructure the zoning code (while keeping almost all provisions the same). Instead of having to look in up to 3 places for conflicting rules that all apply to your property, the key information will be in one place.

Main positive point: The zoning code is too hard to understand right now. It needs reorganizing into a form that better helps property owners understand what is and isn't legal on their property.

Parking minimums

What's happening: The zoning update removes minimum parking rules for buildings downtown, residential buildings under 10 units, and buildings in mixed-use and higher-density residential areas near Metro and frequent bus lines.

Main positive point: Current rules force many buildings to include more parking than their residents or workers need. It's really important to remove many of the parking minimums, especially downtown and near transit.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Fill in the "holes" in places like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights by making transit zones apply to non-residential uses in R-4 row house zones near transit.
  • Go even farther and have no minimum parking requirements at all, citywide.
  • Add parking maximums as well, in addition to one on 100,000-square foot parking lots. These would not have been absolute caps, but would just make developers do a Transportation Demand Management plan if they want to put in more parking than a set threshold.
Accessory dwellings

What's happening: In low- and moderate-density residential areas, people can't rent out a basement or existing garage without going through complex approvals. The proposal would allow this in most lower-density areas for interior units or existing external buildings, but still require a hearing for new or expanded external buildings.

Main positive point: Accessory dwellings help young people afford places to live and seniors age in place. They make housing more affordable and accommodate more residents without fundamentally changing the character of buildings in a neighborhood. They just let neighborhoods house the numbers of people they did 50 years ago.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Allow ADUs by right in new external structures as well (as long as the new external structure conforms to the other zoning rules).
  • Impose fewer restrictions such as on size, balconies, whether an artist can live above a studio, and more.
  • Include ADUs by right in Georgetown as wellthe current proposal requires a special exception for them (more on that later).
Corner stores

What's happening: Retail can locate in moderate density residential row house areas (not low-density or the higher density areas), as long as it's pretty far from other retail, in a corner building or historically commercial building, and satisfies many more restrictions.

Main positive point: People want to be able to walk to neighborhood-serving retail, and if they live in an area without a neighborhood commercial strip right nearby, they should be able to have a corner store to serve their needs.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Allow stores on properties besides literal "corners" and historically commercial buildings.
  • Allow corner stores even within 500 feet of mixed-use zones.
  • Let corner stores locate in row house and apartment zones (now R-5) as well; now they do not count.
  • Let the Board of Zoning Adjustment waive more of the conditions in a special exception hearing.
Green Area Ratio

What's happening: New or substantially changed buildings will need to get a certain score of environmental sustainability features, such as grass, green roof, stormwater management, or green walls, based on the property's size.

This will help reduce stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect and potentially make DC a more pleasant place to live even as it grows. Some fear it will also further disadvantage urban development versus exurban greenfields.

Other changes

There are many other small tweaks in the zoning update, mostly good.

Some top positive changes:

  • The new code requires more bicycle parking for buildings. There would be "long-term" spaces, such as in a locked room inside the building for employees or residents, and "short-term" outdoor racks for visitors or shoppers.
  • Larger garages will have to have a number of car sharing spaces. Surface parking lots need canopy trees to shade some of the lot.
  • Rules for building homes on alley lots become a little bit more permissive.
Proposals OP dropped:
  • The previous proposal had the same limits on the actual size of a house but did not prescribe how many stories you can have inside (except as the fire code limits). In low-density zones, OP reinstated a limit of 3 stories.
  • The original proposal let homeowners build a house of similar size to others nearby even if their lot has an extra-short rear yard. The Zoning Commission approved this idea but OP removed it.
The meeting is at Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St NW by the Tenleytown Metro. It starts at 6:30 with a presentation by Harriet Tregoning, an "open house" format where you can ask OP staff questions, and then a "town hall" where people can speak to the entire group about their views.
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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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Let colleges grow in DC - lift the enrollent caps! There are other land use, design review and zoning controls in place. Otherwise, Washington will continue to lose jobs and economic activity from our universities to the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

by Districter on Jan 7, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

What is the time and location information for the meeting?

by Peter on Jan 7, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Whoops, I've added the info. It's 6:30 pm at Wilson High School.

by David Alpert on Jan 7, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

These all sound like modern ideas that will create a more modern city. The problem here is that opening residential areas to second rental families in every house and accessory structure and corners to commercial use is a drastic change from where we are now and easily could ruin neighborhoods seen as idyllic for generations such as AU Park or Forrest Hills. More transients, convenience stores, sewage, and vehicles will make AU Park and places like it more like Petworth or Mount Vernon. This may mean even more money for the bottomless pit called DC (budget now nearing 12 billion?) but it will make these precious neighborhoods unrecognizable. Is this good? No way.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 5:36 am • linkreport

Different Andrew here. Problem with Andrew above's theory is that ADUs as proposed already exist, except the people who can live in them currently must be household employees, not renters. Same impact of cars, same impact of "sewage" etc. They aren't rampant now and won't be under the new rules. Wy? Because building or expanding one will still require a variance.

In terms of the corner store, two of the most successful corner stores are in Ward 3: Jetti's in Foxhall and Broadbranch Market in Chevy Chase. These are both very well supported very beloved community members. Why shouldn't other neighborhoods in the Ward have an opportunity for these "third places"?

Finally, transit zones. The practical reality for Ward 3 is virtually no impact. The transit zones on Connecticut Avenue are mostly in historic districts, except for maybe the Szechuan Palace site near Albemarle in Van Ness. On Wisconsin Avenue, except for the Babes site, which was repurposing an existing foundation for new development, any new proposals will likely have parking because the developer will acknowledge the market will demand it.

by Another Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 6:39 am • linkreport

Present day retail shopping patterns and preferences mean it is highly unlikely that any area of DC will be overrun with new corner stores. A few niche marketers might make it but I don't see lots of 7-11 type places opening up deep in residential areas. There are not enough customers to pay the commercial rent, especially when competing with residential use of the space.

by Ward 3 Resident on Jan 8, 2013 10:13 am • linkreport

Good meeting last night. The meeting was fairly well attended, maybe 100-150 people there. The comments and applause were evenly split between proponents and opponents of the OP proposals. As expected, most of the opposition centered around transportation issues such as WMATA's ability to continue to run or where people would be able to park their cars. Director Tregoning did a nice job of centering the discussion back to zoning. She and her staff stayed well past the 8:30 ending time to ensure all comments were heard.

Kudos to all from the GGW community who attended.

by Another Andrew on Jan 9, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

Yes, I saw some comments on twitter last night that people were questioning if WMATA is able to handle more transit riders in its "diminished state."

Rebuilding Metro is a long process but eventually the weekend disruptions will be less frequent. The zoning code rewrite covers a much longer period, 20-30 years and beyond, so the idea that somehow the transit system is unequipped to deal with more people or is "maxed out" is a manufactured untruth.

by MLD on Jan 9, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

Here is a comment on a local Ward 3 Listserv following the OP Meeting:

I'm especially concerned about ADUs, and sympathized with the parent who expressed concern for his young childrens' safety if no controls were instituted on who could occupy such units.

This is a pretty scary and dark inference from our friends in Upper NW DC.

by William on Jan 10, 2013 9:18 am • linkreport

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