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Zoning update opponents attack Office of Planning

There is a group of well-organized residents who aren't pleased with DC's comprehensive zoning rewrite process. The Office of Planning is reviewing DC's zoning code chapter by chapter to update it for the needs of a 21st century city. They have conducted almost 50 meetings on a wide variety of subtopics, solicited input online, and presented recommendations at public hearings to the Zoning Commission. But opponents, led by the Committee of 100 and the Federation of Citizens' Associations, are very unhappy with the recommendations.

George Clark and Barbara Zartman testify before the DC Council.

Yesterday, at a DC Council oversight hearing on the Office of Planning, they attacked OP's conduct of this process. Barbara Zartman, of the Committee of 100, said, "What began as an undertaking to update provisions and conform the regulations to the Comprehensive Plan has turned into an excursion into every new, often untested, idea about land use, often to the detriment of fixing existing provisions." George Clark, representing the Federation of Citizens' Associations, compared the process to a "runaway freight train, with a brick on the deadman switch, that will ravage our city and its neighborhoods." They alleged that OP misrepresented the opinions of the Task Force, disregarded consensus at meetings, and hired inexperienced staff who don't communicate enough with the rest of the office.

Quite simply, they and I disagree about the best direction for our zoning code. More importantly, the large community we have at Greater Greater Washington and many other residents who participated in the process show that many other residents of DC also disagree with the opponents. The Committee and the Federation have been organizing residents for a long time. Decades ago, when they were fighting the freeways and the wholesale demolition of our historic neighborhoods in the name of progress, they were protecting something very important. Now, however, it's these groups that have gotten off track.

Where once they opposed making our city a worse place to live, now they oppose its evolution into an even better place to live. As we have seen with the large numbers of Cleveland Park residents who organized to support the Giant development proposal against the wishes of the Cleveland Park Citizens' Association, there is a real majority in favor of positive change. Those residents might not have the time or energy to speak as loudly as some of the opponents, but they are real just the same.

The Committee and the Federation still valuable knowledge stemming from years of experience with DC's zoning, and I'm glad they are participating in the process. OP has incorporated many of their specific suggestions into recommendations, and sometimes deleted specific recommendations based on their feedback. But just organizing in DC for a long time doesn't give them a veto over new policies. Nor can they unilaterally declare newer ideas, that have worked to great effect in other cities around the country and the world, impractical or dangerous.

OP has done a phenomenal job reaching out to the public through this process. They've held countless meetings. They've solicited input online and even set up a discussion forum (which unfortunately sees little use). When opponents asked for additional opportunities to review a set of recommendations, OP has accommodated them. When opponents asked OP to study some recommendations further for low and moderate density residential development, OP delayed those recommendations by several months to study them further. Nevertheless, the Committee and the Federation continue to criticize both the process and its result.

Rather than attacking OP, we should hold them up as a model of the way a DC government agency should run itself. I can only hope that, under the leadership of new Director Gabe Klein, DDOT could become as transparent and as adept at communicating with the public as OP. The same goes for WASA, BOEE, economic development, and other agencies that have even poorer records of openness.

My complete testimony is below. You can also watch the archived hearing video here.

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for this opportunity to testify. I also would like to thank my mother, who is here with me today. She is visiting from Boston this week, but the performance of the Office of Planning is such an important issue to me that she agreed to come down to the Wilson Building this morning.

I live in Dupont Circle, where my fiancée and I bought a historic townhouse this past year. I run the Web site Greater Greater Washington, which covers transportation and land use planning in the Washington metropolitan region. I write frequently about the work being done by the Office of Planning.

The Office of Planning is, quite simply, one of the best-run public agencies in any city. The staff of OP are first-rate, and we are very lucky to have them in the District of Columbia, from Harriet Tregoning down to the individual development review and historic preservation staff. Earlier this week, at the oversight hearing of the Department of Transportation, several ANC commissioners and other residents testified about their extreme frustration with that agency's lack of communication. They spoke about repeated experiences with letters and resolutions going unanswered. I myself have had similar frustrations with DDOT.

Fortunately, the new Director, Gabe Klein, understands these problems and I believe is working hard to rectify them. Even more fortunately, we don't have to struggle with these problems from the Office of Planning. As I've written on Greater Greater Washington, the best reforms DDOT can make would be to become more like the Office of Planning.

OP is currently engaged in a comprehensive process to update DC's zoning code for the needs of a 21st Century city. They have worked remarkably hard to solicit a very broad range of public input. The process has been going on for nearly a year and will continue for a year more. They have invited the public to participate in individual working group discussions. In several of the meetings I have attended, I have seen OP staff directly take a suggestion made by one participant and turn it into a component of their final product. They have a task force comprised of representatives appointed by Council and from citizens and civic organizations. They put meeting minutes and presentations online from each meeting. They set up an online discussion forum. The Zoning Commission hearings give the public multiple opportunities to participate through written comment or oral testimony. In short, OP has availed themselves of almost every conceivable avenue for public input into this process.

Some residents have criticized the Office of Planning's process. They alleged that OP is not really listening to the public. In my opinion, these people are actually unhappy not because OP hasn't listened, but simply because the residents of the District of Columbia, whose interests OP staff represent, don't always agree with those individuals' personal priorities.

Here in the District of Columbia, we have multiple avenues for residents to participate in the political process. The more traditional route is through civic and citizens' organizations and ANCs. That is an important, and valuable route to involve our residents, and I always dispute any suggestions to abolish the ANCs. The people who participate in these avenues have valuable opinions to which our government should listen.

At the same time, there are many other residents who do not or cannot avail themselves of these avenues. They may work late nights at their jobs, or have small children. They may find ANC meetings too lengthy or too divisive. They may not have time to attend hearings at the Wilson Building, which often last many hours. Their parents visiting from out of town may not be as willing to accompany them to hearings or community meetings.

Instead, they participate in our democracy in other ways. They read and comment on blogs, such as Greater Washington and many others. They engage in discussions on neighborhood email lists. They talk to their friends and neighbors. They send emails to the DC Council and the Office of Planning. And they vote. These residents' opinions are equally valuable, and our government should listen to them just the same. The Office of Planning's recommendations weigh the interests of both types of residents and all others. Any one of us will not always agree with each of their conclusions, but I absolutely believe they represent the broad-based view of the residents of the District of Columbia.

At a Zoning Commision hearing last week, Councilmember Mary Cheh spoke about the development proposal for a new mixed-use Giant in Cleveland Park. She said:

Inevitably, you will hear opposition. But you have to put it in context. Sometimes opponents are vehement; sometimes opponents can raise their voices; sometimes they can be more organized. As the representative, I can say they are not representative of the broad-based view of the people of Ward Three.
Mr. Chairman, the opposition you may hear today from some members of our community, while heartfelt, is not representative of the broad-based view of the people of the District of Columbia.

I don't agree with every decision of the Office of Planning. I've written about individual land use decisions that seem to run counter to the objectives of our Comprehensive Plan, either because of the form of the zoning rules or their interpretation. I'd like our historic preservation process to better consider whether the structures eligible for landmarking contribute to or detract from a sense of place in our city. I've disagreed with many individual rulings from HPRB. I never shy away from criticizing when I believe it is warranted, as DDOT engineers, members of the WMATA board, and land use planners in Prince George's County can tell you.

However, at least right now, the Office of Planning deserves our praise. I have never seen OP avoid communicating with residents or refuse to explain their reasoning on tough issues. OP staff are very good at returning phone calls, far more than any other DC agency. The Office of Planning is a paragon of the sort of professional, communicative agency DC strives for. I hope that we can keep Harriet Tregoning and all of the other first-rate staff working in the District of Columbia for many years to come, and would love to see more of our government agencies operate as professionally as this one.

Thank you.

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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David -- this is interesting. What are some of the key points of objection/contention from these other groups? I've read about the parking space requirement, but not much else. Having dealt with zoning issues, a comprehensive update is necessary, but I certainly can see reasonable people disagree about how to rewrite various aspects of the code.

by ah on Feb 27, 2009 1:50 pm • linkreport

Nice speech, David. Genuine, but not soapboxy.

by Joey on Feb 27, 2009 1:51 pm • linkreport

I've watched Tregoning closely and have been as impressed as you've been. And that's despite having had some differences with her decisions and rulings. She's top notch.

Of course, DCPL and the Committee questioned her integrity and ability to be impartial on Third Church. They launched a personal attack against her. I wonder their criticism before Council was just a continuation of their payback.

One difference between Alpie and the Committee is that David is focusing on the 21st Century, and the Commitee seems more transfixed with the 19th Century. History is a wonderful thing, but we're going to spend the rest of our lives living in the future.

by Mike on Feb 27, 2009 3:46 pm • linkreport

David, I've seen the Committee of 100's position on this, and from what I recall, the issue here was mainly that OP has gone outside the scope of what they were charged with ... i.e., revising the zoning regs to be in line with the Comprehensive Plan.

There's nothing wrong with advocating for changes in policies ... but that's what the Comprehensive Plan is for. Many years and many community meetings were devoted to developing the latest Comprehensive Plan which is supposed to be the blue print for all future policies. There was ample opportunity THEN to express opinions for change. The regs now being developed are by law intended to IMPLEMENT the policies expressed in the Comprehensive Plan ... and not to CHANGE them as is what is apparently occurring.

In brief, the OP going working outside of the scope of responsibilities with which it is charged. It is over-riding the expressed wishes of the citizenry as expressed via the Comprehensive Plan.

Yes, there may be a vocal group who say via this blog (and other means) that they'd like to implement changes that aren't in the Comprehensive Plan ... but they should have said that then ... and not now ... especially not in a manner which is essentially "underhanded". The law clearly provides that it's the Comprehensive Plan (as developed with the input of the citizenry) that rules ... and not what OP may want to include based on either their own ideas or those of those individuals or groups who lobby them. And that, from what I understand, was the Committee of 100's opposition to "the process" as you call it.

by Lance on Feb 27, 2009 5:40 pm • linkreport

Hmm, let's see, if I remember correctly, the 19th c. was carless, suburbs didn't exist, and housing in cities was much denser than it is today. Yup, no lessons there for the 21st century there.

I really don't see this as a generational divide so much as a theory vs. practice divide (or a divide between those who would attempt to impose theory on practice and those who attempt to theorize from practice). It may also be an age and stage divide (which isn't quite the same thing as generational in the nostalgia vs. progressivism sense). Basically, by the time you're George Clark's or Barbara Zartman's age you're more likely to have lived (or at least seen up close) a number of different adult lives -- career-oriented single, parent, caretaker for aged relatives, poor, affluent, homeowner, renter, etc. -- and you recognize that there's no one right way people should live and that people (even people who were zealots in their 20s) move and change and adapt.

by z on Feb 27, 2009 6:09 pm • linkreport


Don't you think events of the last 18 or so months have awakened a sleeping giant in terms of the relationship between smart growth, sustainable living and urban design, particularly as they pertain to auto-dependent communities?

Given that the Comp Plan was generated and finalized by 2006, I would think that more progressive thinking would push and encourage the District to a more leading edge position.

This is the time to do it. The Clark/Zartman generation is the one that got us into this mess by not investing in mass transit and other infrastructure sine the early 1970's (like our European counterparts) and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

Who will be here longer to deal with the emerging crisis? People under 40 or Zartman and Clark?

by William on Feb 27, 2009 7:01 pm • linkreport

William, I think you're unwittingly giving a good example of what "z" was saying. Long term, this "emerging crisis" won't have any more affect or impact on matters than the "gas crisis" did last summer. But you see, people of Zartman and Clark's generation know that because they've been through it before. Youth always thinks they're the first to experience "a new phenomenon". They're not. And it isn't.

To put things in perspective this go around, the economy by any measure was in much much worse shape in the late 70s/early 80s than it is now. And we made it through. You hear more this time around because of two reasons: (1) those who haven't seen it happen before have been given mass communication tools (incidentally developed by those who HAVE seen happen before) and those tools get used to spread information without any "editor" to screen for exagerations and outright falsehoods, and (2) we just went through an election where it benefited the winner greatly to latch on to this "emerging crisis".

And to answer your question. If you think "more progressive thinking" has suddenly emergenged between now and 2006 when the Comprehensive Plan was formulated, then are you saying that the planning horizon of Comprehensive plans can't be even 3 years long? No, the truth is that this is an underhanded attempt by those who couldn't influence the policies via the proscribed manner (i.e., community input into the Comprehensive Plan in 2006 in a transparent manner) to now hijack the plan via underhanded ways. It's not on the up and up.

by Lance on Feb 27, 2009 7:20 pm • linkreport

I've seen Zartman speak, and frankly she's incredibly irritating to listen to. She speaks with such an condescending and pompous voice that she seems like she's straight out of central casting for "evil teacher".

But, the fact is that she represents some powerful groups. The proper response to her and her ilk is to organize. GGW has a world view and demography that clearly represents the future. What you ought to do David, is take a bold step and form your own Committee of 100, or whatever. You've already organized a lot of people via GGW into a small community, why not formalize that in a group and then get your place at the table.

Well, I guess you've gotten yourself a place at the table already (congrats). But if you can speak for a formal group as opposed to an informal group of people, you can counter the Zartmans of the world on their own turf. It'll always be the case that 10 organized voices are louder and more listened to than 100 disorganized voices. It's not democratic, but it's just how it goes.

I hope OP continues to push the limits. But to the extent they are reined in, we've got to be organized and prepared to make our voices as overlistened to as Zartman's.

by Reid on Feb 27, 2009 7:45 pm • linkreport

I'm glad you arrived on the scene and can devote time to this. I can't. There is just too much stuff going on all the time, not to mention non-civic activities (work, family, house, etc.).

One problem with the zoning update is so much is going on simultaneously that it is impossible to stay on top of (except maybe for you).

Anyway, as you know, I agree about the generational divide. Part of the problem is that historic preservation-centric types don't often make the distinction between historic architecture and historic urban design (happenstance, but because it happened during the time of the walking city, it laid the groundwork for livability, appropriate density and mixed use, at least in the core of the city).

I didn't make that distinction either, initially, because I hadn't sussed out the various qualities that contribute to livability.

Because we don't overtly define the urban design qualities of the walking and transit city, and because we don't overtly define the city's competitive advantages:

1. historic architecture;

2. urban design heralding from the Walking (1800-1890) and Transit/Streetcar (1890-1920) eras;

3. history, identity, and authenticity (although there are problems in appropriately defining the local narrative apart from the national narrative);

4. a mobility infrastructure that allows for efficient transportation that isn't reliant upon the automobile;

5. the steady employment engine of the federal government;

we have a hard time maintaining the right focus on maintaining the qualities that matter, and correcting the qualities that do not contribute positively to stabilizing, maintaining, and extending the city's livability. (Rather than call this "complete streets," I call this broad concept "complete places.")

Being simultaneously committed to historic preservation, urban design, walking-bicycling-transit, complete places and livability, and civic engagement and empowered and deliberative participation gives me a broader perspective compared to many, including people in the C100 and the Federation. It shows the need for deep training...

Anyway, at the initial hearing on whether or not the zoning code needed to be updated, I think I was the third speaker, following George Clark of the Federation.

When the panel was asked if they thought the zoning code was basically functional, George said yes. I did not. I said something like "the zoning code is stuffed full of overlays. Every overlay is an indicator that there is some sort of flaw with the basic structure of the zoning code. Instead we need a robust code oriented to making great places."

Zoning and planning should be about making great places. But first we need to be clear on what the characteristics of great places are. Then we need to be sure that the zoning code and regulations, as processes, generate the outcomes that produce great places.

It pains me greatly that C100 is not on board with this. We can complain about the generational divide, but the reality is that those people "sved" the city during the many decades when most people with choices chose not to live in the center city. The people we criticize today were the urban pioneers of 30 and 40 years ago.

But I do agree that they are stuck being concerned about issues around stabilizing the city and its population, rather than looking forward towards extending the qualities that make the city great, and looking for appropriate opportunities to add population, extend the transit system, reduce automobile use, etc.

by Richard Layman on Feb 27, 2009 8:16 pm • linkreport

People as Barbara Zartman smell like they have sold their souls to secretive societies in order to give them the appearance of power when in fact they serve as the mouthpieces for some of society's worst elements.

The Committee of 100 and such spin offs as the Save the Mall group present themselves as something they are not.

Is it any wonder they hold their parties at a mansion festooned with satanic upside down stars?

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 27, 2009 8:18 pm • linkreport


The crisis I am talking about is passing peak oil, and the immediate need to remake our living spaces in a more viable manner for the long term. That starts in the District, by forming more density around Metro stations and implementing a streetcar system which connects the underserved parts of the city.

While Zartman/Clark have been through the gas shocks of '73 and '79 neither they, not anyone with authority did anything substantial to prepare our society for the strains we need to address today.

by William on Feb 27, 2009 9:23 pm • linkreport

@William, Mile per mile and acre per acre covered, mass transit doesn't come close to the efficiency of personal vehicles. If we ALL we moved to mass transit to go EVERYWHERE, we'd really run out of oil as you are predicting ... and quickly!

by Lance on Feb 27, 2009 9:50 pm • linkreport

Wow, my reaction is different.

These two people seem reasonable to me, and listening to them, I was grateful that they took the time to testify and express their opinions. Protecting neighborhood integrity sounds good to me. I liked a lot of what they said, maybe not everything, but a lot.

Someone on here mentioned that Mrs Zartman had an annoying voice. Her voice was smooth and well-modulated. I have no idea what that person meant.

The two witnesses say that OP never really incorporates or reflects the task forces and other group meetings, and is difficult to deal with in general. I find that believable. I’ve been to a couple of meetings when participants were expecting a rep from OP who never showed up.

And I think their point maybe was that OP was soliciting input as a way to whitewash its decisions. That seemed to have been their chief complaint.

While I have found this blog useful and entertaining, at the same time, I prefer not be lumped in as favoring whatever David Alpert favors just because I participate it. Consider this my declaration of independence. I know I am one person, but please allow me to say when I agree with you!

And wow! For you to divine what the broad-based view of the people of the District of Columbia is…that takes something!

That Vincent Gray sure is a gentleman.

Ok, I can’t listen to the whole thing, but I listened to a lot! (When does it stop??)

Your testimony was good, David. Well-delivered. The fidgeting while the other two were talking made for entertaining closed caption city council tv.

by Jazzy on Feb 27, 2009 10:20 pm • linkreport

The Committee of 100 IIRC was big on the whole mythology of the world running out of oil by the 1990s hence supposeldy rendering the very concept of private automobiles obsolet as an excuse to raid the highway funds.

Once the highway funds were so usurped, such activists seems to have lost any interest in broader issues, notably the ECTC spin off the National Committee on the Transportation Crisis which disbanded right with the July 1973 MD decision to kill PEPCO I-95, and which was not instated with the subsequent OPEC price manipulations.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 27, 2009 10:20 pm • linkreport


I know of at least 2 Committee of 100 members who would agree with you that more has to be done. But that doesn't change the fact that anything being done should be being effected through the established process which allows for full participation and advocacy by the citizenry at large ... and not via a backroom process where bureaucrats and a few vocal individuals get to call the shots.

If the citizenry in general were in favor of change as David claims, why didn't they participate in the process during 2006 --- and the years leading to the actual publishing of the Comprehensive Plan in 2006? Were they waiting for David to come on the scene to voice their opinions? Are they so impassionate to their opinions that it wasn't before David brought the subject up that they even bothered to say anything about it? Perhaps the problem is that the voices of those willing to say something on a blog, but not willing to do something that requires real work in real life ... are not as worth listening to as one would think at first thought ...

Also, it's not a given that the correct "change" is being expressed by the so-called smart growth advocates we read here. So far I have been far less than impressed. On most issues there seems to be a complete inability to understand that (1) mass transit/ walkinging/ bicycling is NOT the answer to all our problems and that (2) not everyone everywhere has equal needs and abilities, and a such a "one size fits all solution" is a "not well though out" solution.

So, yes, you're correct more needs to be done. But no, it shouldn't be done via backroom shenanigans, and no, we shouldn't assume that "smart growth" is smart.

by Lance on Feb 27, 2009 10:22 pm • linkreport

Douglas, You keep confusing the Committe of 100 on the Federal City with some other group. You've done it before and rectified your posting. I know you mean well ... but please ...

by Lance on Feb 27, 2009 10:38 pm • linkreport


Please see the letter (below) contained within the link above:

Letter of May 12, 1975; Elizabeth Rowe, Chairman

Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the Council:

The Committee of 100 on the Federal City respectively requests early action by the Council on two very pressing transportation matters:

First the de mapping of unnecessary and unwanted freeways in the District of Columbia through amendment of the city's Comprehensive Plan and appropriate requests to the US Department of Transportation for the removal of such freeways from the Interstate system

Second, the initiation by the Council, in cooperation with the Mayor, of a request to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the transfer of the federal aid formerly earmarked for such freeways (in excess of $1.4 billion) for completion of the presently-authorized Metro rail transit system.

These actions are necessary to implement two very pressing needs: First to remove forever the cloud of destruction and more autos in an auto-chocked city caused by the presence of obsolete freeway plans in the comprehensive plan and on the interstate system; and second, to help meet the escalating costs of construction of the Metro system.

Respectfully submitted,

Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe, Chairman


The Committee of 100 had some sensible freeway opposition, e.g. in 1962 requesting that the Center Leg be built as a set of cut and cover tunnels beneath 2nd and 3rd Streets.

Yet by the mid 1970s they had degenerated into the nonsensical situation we have today.

Yes ECTC and NCTC was a different thing, alas all with the exact same strict anti-freeway doctrine, as opposed to the sensible pro 2nd/3rd Street K Street Tunnels position.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 27, 2009 10:47 pm • linkreport


Mile per mile the leadership of the Zartman/Clark generation have paved over greenspace with low density single family housing. Mile per mile, this generation of leaders has encouraged and facilitated the single use zoning which created "office parks", industrial zones, commercial zones (ie enclosed malls surrounded by parking) and generally suburban sprawl.

Mile by mile this generation has created the condition that the single occupancy car is necessary to to be able to live, work and play in much of the built American environment.

As indicated previously, when given the opportunity to mitigate American peak oil in the early 1970's, this generation chose to do nothing about it. So here we are today with a post-peak-oil world, and yet we still have car dependency in most of the United States. Even if we had 100% hybrid vehicles, it doesn't solve the waste of arable land that suburbia creates.

So at the end of the day, given where we are now as a society, does it make sense to oppose sustainable practices for our city, or is it better to be obstructionist to maintain the status quo?

No, what I am suggesting is that our built environment needs to accommodate the ability to walk and bike (the most sustainable forms of transportation) for our daily needs as a primary option. Much of the built environment in the US

by William on Feb 28, 2009 7:34 am • linkreport

William, ALL cities once started out as arable land. What you are deriding is actually something to be lauded from a sustainable environment perspective.

The building of suburbia and exurbia is the story of the creation of thousands upon tens of thousands of NEW cities where people are able to live, work, and play. The creation of thousands upon tens of thousands of new opportunities for living, working, and playing. In the last 50 years the population of the nation has increased by 50%. You can't experience that kind of growth and not expect a bigger footprint.

Like all cities before them which started out as arable lands, these areas will slowly and gradually become more dense and more walkable as the need requires. But hopefully they won't all.

While I enjoy living in such an environment, having lived in others I understand that urban core living is far from ideal. It brings its own sets of problems: noise, crime, stress, filth, and all the things that happen when people must co-exist in very close quarters and literally coordinate their movements. (Look at the problems discussed on this very blog about trying to coordinate the movement of all types of vehicles/people on our still relatively uncrowded downtown streets!) I.e., the very problems which caused our forefathers to flee the city in favor of the breathing space of suburbia.

To think a return to the urban core is a panacea is as utopian (and unfounded) a thought as the aspirations of 19th century city dwellers who dreamt of returning to the solitude of the villages from where they came. Each has its own set of problems. And its own set of benefits. And it's not up to us to be telling people where along the continuum of urban to rural that they should be.

As for the peak oil theory. First, I very much doubt it is true. But even if it were ... so what? It's not like mankind hasn't moved from one form of energy to another many many a time since the discovery of fire in the stone age. We'll NEVER run out of energy. Your worrying about our running out of oil today, is like someone in the mid-19th century worrying we'll run out of horses. It underestimates the potential of the human mind ... despite millennium of evidence to the contrary.

by Lance on Feb 28, 2009 8:32 am • linkreport


So you think it is ok to utilize arable land in an inefficient manner indefinitely? Of course the cities occupy space that was once virgin forest or estuaries or other ecological settings. The question going forward is how we shape out built environment to be as efficient as possible. Discouraging density in places where there are transportation options such as Metro is one good way of doing that.

There are many other options and practices which we should be employing, some of them are being proposed by the Office of Planning. People like Barbara Zartman and George Clark (and to a lesser extent the leadership of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association and their ilk) are part of the problem, by creating hurdles to what should be no-brainer development proposals which encourage density and walkable amenities to our urban core.

by William on Feb 28, 2009 8:40 am • linkreport

"People like" and "people of their generation" raise red flags for me. If there is something specific Zartman or Clark have blocked or advocated that illustrates your point, this reader for one would appreciate hearing that.

Otherwise, the general vague statements kind of just fan the flames.

by Jazzy on Feb 28, 2009 8:49 am • linkreport

David, You were asked about your participation in the process, but you didn’t seem to provide much of a response. How many task force meetings have you attended? How many working groups did you participate in, and of those what percentage of the working group meetings did you attend? How many of the Zoning Commission hearings did you attend, how many Zoning Commission decisional meetings did you attend or watch on-line, and how many of the proposals that have been presented to the Zoning Commission have you reviewed the written documents that OP and the public has submitted to the ZC and is in the official file. You are commenting on how the process has been handled, but from you testimony, it wasn’t clear that you have first-hand knowledge of any of the issues that were raised and how OP has handled them.

by Andy on Feb 28, 2009 9:06 am • linkreport

>> "Otherwise, the general vague statements kind of just fan the flames."

The vague statements are coming from Zartman as well. How many times did she say "harmful" without providing any specifics on the what or why? She participated for a full hour and during that time I only heard one constructive piece of feedback (the discussion on categories).

by Paul S on Feb 28, 2009 10:03 am • linkreport

Re-reading my last comment, I can see that it might have come off as strident or even snide. I certainly did not mean it that way. I really would like to know what they have blocked or advocated that people find objectionable. Specifics. For example, did they want to block the new CP thing? Thanks.

by Jazzy on Feb 28, 2009 10:50 am • linkreport


Just in the last year: Blocking parking minimums, landmarking Third Church (in 1990 no less!). The Cleveland Park Citizen's Association, for example, and others in Cleveland Park who are part of the Committee of 100 have been working for a decade against the Giant development. It is only in the recent past that people have come together to take on these obstructionist tactics in form form of environmental, smart growth and sustainable urbanism advocacy.

by William on Feb 28, 2009 11:56 am • linkreport

As a follow up, I encourage people to read the C100 newsletters ( and form your own opinions about this organization and the stands it takes.

by William on Feb 28, 2009 12:35 pm • linkreport

I found their minutes from the mid 1990s regarding the NCPC Extending the Legacy program, and found everything there was like the media with no mention of the significant promenade along the South Capitol Street axis (even though it was illustrated throughout and on the very cover of the Extending the Legacy booklet. Yet their stance was AGAINST ETL with disparging comments that gave no details (e.g. ETL was "loopy"), even though their was no indication of any debate, with a strong tendency of no debate with unanimous findings (just like the old Soviet Union parliament votes).

This was even though the ETL South Capitol Mall would have been the largest addition to the Washington, D.C. monumental core since McMillan and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial.

Smells like secretive society to me, a perception only further reinforced by holding their parties in what I call pentagram mansion.

by Douglas Willinger on Feb 28, 2009 1:05 pm • linkreport

Lance - The policies set out in the 2006 General Plan for areas near Metro stations include:
A preference for mixed residential and commercial uses rather than single purpose uses, particularly a preference for housing above ground floor retail uses;
A priority on attractive, pedestrian-friendly design and a de-emphasis on auto-oriented uses and surface parking;
Ensure that development above and around such stations emphasizes land uses and building forms which minimize the necessity of automobile use and maximize transit ridership
Discourage the development of station areas with conventional suburban building forms, such as shopping centers surrounded by surface parking lots.
The transportation policies include:
Increase bicycle safety through traffic calming measures,
Implement roadway pricing between now and the year 2030
“unbundle” the cost of parking from residential units, allowing those purchasing or renting property to opt out of buying or renting parking spaces.... Further measures to reduce housing costs associated with off-street parking requirements, including waived or reduced parking requirements in the vicinity of Metrorail stations and along major transit corridors, should be pursued during the revision of the Zoning Regulations.
Aall of this language is in the plan. It's absurd to say that anything GGW advocates for is contrary to the plan. If anything, your opposition to changes in parking rules and your desire to limit density near Metro stations are contrary to the clear language of the plan.

by tt on Feb 28, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

I'm just glad it's the retrogrades like Zartman who are flustered by the process. They may win a few battles here and there, but the force of history and the administration are stacked up against them. They will ultimately lose.

I'm much happier seeing David up there with a grin and a thumbs up and the NIMBYs with their sourpusses then I'd be vice-versa.

by Reid on Feb 28, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

I read November's newsletter, thanks for posting the link. It seemed ok to me. I probably disagree with their position on a lot of things, for whatever that is worth.

Again, there appears to be an attempt here to demonize this group of people, and it is not necessary. If they are truly as out of it and retrograde as you say they are, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If however they do have a point to some of their arguments, then I can see that that might worry some people.

Do we really have to always agree on everything 100% on this blog? Do I have to be against the tearing down of a church? Do I really have to be, or if not, I will get called names? Why the zeal for 100% unanimity?

I can't say I am intimately familiar with their position on all the issues, but I have a rough idea, and I have no problem with their existence.

(Also, I think we all lose in the end!)

by Jazzy on Feb 28, 2009 3:37 pm • linkreport

tt, It seems as though you have not read the entire Comp Plan document, or perhaps you read the entire document but only selected seven phrases. Also, I am not sure whether you are familiar with all of OP’s recommendations for changing the zoning regulations. The Comp Plan sets out a large number of policies, and many of OP’s recommendations would be inconsistent with those policies. I think that at the hearing several people discussed the fact that the Comp Plan does not recommend a “one size fits all” model of the District’s neighborhoods, and yet you seem to treat these seven phrases, out of hundreds of pages, as though they should be the basis for city-wide regulations. Before determining whether OP’s recommendations are consistent with the Comp Plan, I suggest that you familiarize yourself with all of OP’s recommendations and read the entire Comp Plan, including the area elements.

by Andy on Feb 28, 2009 5:48 pm • linkreport

The Comprehensive Plan is a political document which sometimes says things that contradict each other. It may well say things here and there that are inconsistent with what GGW advocates. What I saw, however, was words like "where appropriate" - "where appropriate" does not mean "where the Committee of 100 thinks it's appropriate". Smart growth advocates are entitled to form their own opinions as to what is appropriate.

In any case, the quotations I presented are specifically adopted as city-wide policies (the transportation recommendations) or as policies applicable to Metro station vicinities in general (the land-use recommendations). The Committee of 100 is diametrically opposed to these policies. The claim that it's "too late" for Smart Growth because it wasn't in the Comprehensive Plan is completely bogus. Those who want non-drivers to subsidize drivers should make a substantive case and not hide behind procedural arguments.

by tt on Feb 28, 2009 6:15 pm • linkreport

tt - It seems that you have not reviewed OP’s recommendations, since they go far beyond the seven bullet points that you selected, and that you are not interested in understanding how the different parts of the Comprehensive Plan work with each other. Suffice it to say that your analysis is lacking, and certainly is not sufficient to conclude that OP’s recommendations can be characterized as revising the zoning regulations to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

by Andy on Feb 28, 2009 9:59 pm • linkreport

Andy - You want to ignore the perfectly clear statements that I quoted from the Master Plan because you claim there are other statements in the Master Plan that you like better. (Although you haven't quoted any of them.)

Our friend Lance complains that we're trying to hijack the Master Plan and says we have to implement it whether we like it or not. If so, he cannot object to "waived or reduced parking requirements in the vicinity of Metrorail stations and along major transit corridors". Yet he objects vociferously to those of us who want to reduce parking requirements. (Reducing them to zero is still reducing them.)

You seem to want to ignore statements in the Master Plan you don't like. Then I have an equal right to ignore statements I don't like. (I'm perfectly willing to believe that the Master Plan is internally inconsistent - it was adopted by politicians who like to tell people what they want to hear.)

by tt on Feb 28, 2009 10:39 pm • linkreport

"I'm perfectly willing to believe that the Master Plan is internally inconsistent - it was adopted by politicians who like to tell people what they want to hear."

Of course you are. It's called "selective hearing".

by Lance on Mar 1, 2009 2:58 pm • linkreport

Reid, For the record I'm 52 and have an irritating voice but that doesn't mean I agree with C100. Just say no to snarkiness, good comments otherwise.

The comprehensive plan clearly aspires to smart growth.

The changes are not experimental, they are a return to traditional community-building.

OP never asked for support on their recommendations, just input.

Jazzy, I too was very impressed by Vincent Gray (however he drove me crazy because I was 16th to speak but after 3 hours I had to leave without testifying.) Good thing he gave OP the respect (and deference) they deserve in the end.

by Lou DC on Mar 1, 2009 10:02 pm • linkreport

Apparently, tt is willing to draw conclusions about whether OP’s recommendations are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan without first finding out what OP’s recommendations are and without reading the Comprehensive Plan.

There are no shortcuts. If you want to have an informed opinion on the subject of this hearing, it is necessary, at a minimum, to review ALL of OP’s recommendations, available in the Zoning Commission hearing notices, but sometimes altered on the night of the hearing, without public notice – check the transcripts available on-line, plus OP's prelliminary recommendations on the OP web-site or discussed at working group meetings and then to review the entire Comprehensive Plan, including the area elements, available on-line. For a better informed opinion, you might want to review the filings at the Office of Zoning, which would require a trip downtown, as well as follow-up on the concerns raised about OP presenting ideas as having “worked to great effect in other cities around the country and the world,” as David says, but where OP has been unable to provide an example of where these ideas had been implemented.

Lou – when you wrote “The changes are not experimental, they are a return to traditional community-building,” does this refer to all of OP’s recommendations or were there specific recommendations you have in mind? OP has certainly described many of their recommendations as innovative, and stated an interest in writing regulations that reach far beyond what other jurisdictions have done. Are you able to provide examples of cities that have implemented and been successful with these recommendations where OP and its consultants did not have a response when asked to name cities that have implemented them?

by Andy on Mar 2, 2009 7:13 am • linkreport

Andy & Lance - My point is that you are inconsistent when you tell others they cannot advocate putting certain policies into the zoning ordinance because they were rejected when the plan was adopted. Your basic premises about transportation are explicitly rejected in the plan.

Or is the plan a mystical document whose true occult meaning can only be interpreted by the high priests at the Committee of 100?

by tt on Mar 2, 2009 7:56 am • linkreport

"Reid, For the record I'm 52 and have an irritating voice but that doesn't mean I agree with C100. Just say no to snarkiness, good comments otherwise."

You're right, of course. In fact, the point I was (unsuccessfully) trying to make was that we need to resist the tempting option to demonize. I shouldn't have included ad hominem attacks in an argument to resist ad hominem attacks. We need to understand the game anti-smart growth groups have mastered and play by those rules.

by Reid on Mar 2, 2009 10:07 am • linkreport

Lance, William, tt, Andy,

Having read all of your posts, I feel that it is obvious that you are all people with diametrically opposed opinions on this issue.

Also I feel that while discussion is a good thing, and generally encourage it, especially over an issue as important to the future of the city as this. I feel though, that your posts to each other are side-tracking the discussion and that they are becoming more personal attacks against, rather then constructive suggestions and replies to the ideas brought forth from each other. I would interject then, that this is not going to lead much, other then hurt feelings from all parties, and that it would not bring about the environment that this blog posting was intended to create; namely a group discussion that leads to constructive ideas and discussions about the proposed zoning changes.

To make it absolutely clear, I am not discounting criticism as a valid means of disagreement, I fully agree that it is, and it is sometimes it allows a very constructive dialogue to emerge; thought I would remind you that criticism without a well reasoned alternative to the ideas being criticized is inherently unconstructive, and will do nothing to assist you in explaining your position, and will lead to further polarization on the issue, which will prevent a constructive discussion from emerging.

This being said, I would ask you all to take a moment to step back from the conversation and allow other people time to read and comment on the ideas raise in this posting, while at the same time taking some time for a short walk or other activity that you find relaxing, as that I would enjoy hearing your comments in a more constructive manner.

by Art on Mar 2, 2009 11:47 am • linkreport

David, Since you didn't provide much of a response when Chairman Gray asked you about your participation in the process and you haven't responded to my Feb 28, 2009 9:06 am message, am I to assume that you haven't attended any task force meetings, and that you largely haven't been involved in any of the working groups after the ZC hearing on parking.

by Andy on Mar 2, 2009 12:06 pm • linkreport


He's yet to respond, leaving your assumption baseless, which is a dangerous kind of assumption to make. Perhaps you could send David an email? That way, you can have more assurance that he knows about your questions, rather then waiting on him to reply to a comment left about one of his stories.

by Art on Mar 2, 2009 2:15 pm • linkreport

Art: Andy is the same person as JR, "DC Pedestrian", "Another Economist", and others. He repeatedly attacks myself and other commenters on the site by trying to cast doubt on their credibility in any way he can. He attacks people ad hominem and insists that everyone must do research equivalent to that needed for a Ph.D. dissertation before having any opinions. Unfortunately, what he doesn't do is constructively participate in the debate, as many others do who disagree do in a way that's very welcome.

I choose to ignore these attempts to undermine the community we have here. So far, I have avoided banning him since, when the subject has come up, most people argued that he isn't poisoning the debate so much as to warrant it.

For the record, however, since you, Art, asked: yes, I have participated in working group meetings subsequent to the parking hearing. I have also spoken with other people who have participated in other meetings.

by David Alpert on Mar 2, 2009 2:35 pm • linkreport


Many thanks for the information! Good to know that you're up-to-date on things (I try, but life sometimes has a funny way of interupting)

As for the rest, I felt the need for someone to speak up, it seemed like such a shame for the debate to be side-tracked in such a manner.

Enjoy the snow, and do keep up with the writing, I do enjoy reading what you have here.

by Art on Mar 2, 2009 2:45 pm • linkreport

May I alter the terms of the debate?

As an architect I think I can broadly speak for my profession by suggesting that zoning codes are a very crude method to manage urban life. Likewise, a "Comprehensive Plan" should not be regarded as an "end of history" document, but a periodic aspiration regardless of the intention of some to make it such.

I will instead introduce a large and controversial idea:

Culture is the product of a form of urban density that invests in talent. My contention is that the relatively low density of DC is closer to that of a town than a city and has not yet reached the critical mass of population that would drive the position the city to match its political weight. I suspect that "the effect of this on the national letters cannot be calculated" (Christopher Hitchens). I suspect that this condition has in fact entrenched a very small and very powerful political elite that has no interest in genuinely opening the national debate to a broader audience.

The C100, the HPRB, the Old Georogetown Board, and many of the review bodies that resist allowing the city to grow and develop an independent identity are, conscious or not, handmaidens to established power.

Arguing on the floor of the House in favor of the Retrocession Act of 1846 (that ceded that portion of the District back to Virginia), Representative R.M.T. Hunter expressed his fear that "... in all old countries, where the seat of Government has long been established, the influence of its metropolitan population, refined, wealthy, intelligent, and voluptuous, has always been deeply and dangerously felt in the conduct of the Government."

This sentiment seems to me a perfect expression of the paranoid instinct of power and the reason the Federal government has arrested the development of the city as a fully mature cultural entity and rival.

I have not followed every detail of the debate. I do not want to get lost in the petty procedural maneuvers of rival interests. But let us not lose sight of the objective. I think the work Office of Planning represents a very responsible and very professional effort. I think the reaction of the C100 is mis-placed, parochial and unhelpful.

My compliments to David Alpert for establishing this forum for debate.

by Julian Hunt on Mar 2, 2009 6:26 pm • linkreport

While going well beyond the topic of the Clark & Zartman Show, Julian has dropped a major thought and challenge in front of us. Particularly as DC is now arguably the financial capitol of the nation, and a target of positive interest for many eyes worldwide, will we develop a civic culture worthy of the times?

by Joel Lawson on Mar 2, 2009 6:58 pm • linkreport

" The C100, the HPRB, the Old Georgetown Board, and many of the review bodies that resist allowing the city to grow and develop an independent identity are, conscious or not, handmaidens to established power. "


That observation is completely consistent with my own about the Frederic Delano 'family' ...

Also, I second the hat tip to David Albert for being a complete gentleman for creating this excellent forum.

by Douglas Willinger on Mar 2, 2009 7:07 pm • linkreport

>>Do we really have to always agree on everything 100% on this blog? Do I have to be against the tearing down of a church? Do I really have to be, or if not, I will get called names? Why the zeal for 100% unanimity?

No we certainly don't have to agree 100%. I don't agree with how far yourself, Bianchi and Eileen take the pedestrian advocacy. I only use my car two days a week and am a pedestrian far more than I am driver. But I don't believe every DC street is a Woonerf. I'm content to wait for a cross signal or a gap in traffic to cross the street rather than believing as a pedestrian I'm the trump card that everyone else must slam on the brakes for.

by Paul S on Mar 2, 2009 7:25 pm • linkreport

Paul, I agree with completely (100%) regarding my own behavoir as a pedestrian; and it is the behavior I would reccommend to anyone. What's a Woonerf? My advocacy for the needs of pedestrians is driven by what I percieve as a systemic imbalance that has consequences far beyond the safety of any individual.

by Bianchi on Mar 2, 2009 7:38 pm • linkreport

This has been an interesting and educational discussion. I have yet to see anyone suggest an instance of any specific Office of Planning recommendation that is inconsistent with any specific provision of the Comprehensive Plan. I've reviewed the documents on the Zoning Update website carefully, and it seems to me that the recommendations are, over and over, framed in terms of how they would implement the Comp Plan.

I particularly don't understand the reference by critics to "one size fits all" solutions. When I read OP's recommendations, I see repeated statements related to "customizable local zones," "character of surrounding properties," "historic character," and so on.

If someone could provide a specific example of how OP's zoning recommendations are inconsistent with the Comp Plan or fail to respect local neighborhood character, I'm sure everyone here would be willing to critically interrogate such an example.

And I would pose that challenge not only to OP's critics, but also their supporters. I see a disturbing tendency among some supporters of "smart growth" in the above dialogue to dismiss the two-year-old Comp Plan as hopelessly outdated, perhaps on the assumption that if the critics of the zoning update process like the Comp Plan, it must be bad. There is a lot of progressive policy in the 2006 Comp Plan, and for better or worse, it is the adopted policy of our elected leadership, and developed with a great deal of citizen buy-in. That's not to say it can't be improved. But it is the legal touchstone for any changes to the zoning regulations (and a good deal more). It deserves, at the least, a careful reading.

by Brooklander on Mar 2, 2009 9:22 pm • linkreport

Brooklander, I appreciate your interest in elevating the level of discussion on this blog and your initiative in reviewing the on-line documents. I will try to provide a short response to your challenge, and with further careful examination of the Zoning Commission filings, you will find many other examples. Those filings are not avaialble on-line.

I listened to the Council hearing, and one issue raised by several of the witnesses was OP’s proposal to change the use lists, and to have 5 (or 15, OP wasn’t consistent in their testimony and reports) broad categories of uses, rather updating the lists of uses that we currently use. For commercial uses, they proposed six broad use categories (no definitions provided): Retail, Service, Office, Accommodation & Food Service, Entertainment, and Arts. While they claimed that 15 use categories is based on “best practices, the “best practices” documentation provided to the Zoning Commission by OP showed no “comparable” city with less than 51 uses. Some examples were: Boston - 89 categories, Boulder, Colorado - 128, Chicago - 51, Denver - 100, Fort Collins – 101, St. Petersburg, Florida - 54 and Milwaukee - 147.

This change, along with OP’s recommendations to introduce new non-residential uses as a matter of right in residential zones means that developers and residents will lose the necessary predictability about future development in any area, including residential, commercial or mixed use zones. Some witnesses gave specific examples. Developers, current residents and potential future residents rely on predictability in deciding whether to invest in the District, and uncertainty about the future uses near your home or business can deter investment in the District.

I think that the reference to “one size fits all” refers to a number of recommendations, including the elimination of overlays that can be designed to address particular issues, such as the tree and slope overlay or local neighborhood commercial overlays, and replace overlays with a very limited toolbox which might not be adequate to address the concerns of a particular area. No other tools would be allowed in future overlays or other local regulations. There were also several other “one size fits all” proposals.

Like Brooklander, I believe that the Comprehensive Plan deserves a careful reading.

by Andy on Mar 3, 2009 5:33 pm • linkreport

Yes, they are proposing fewer use categories because within each typical use category the impacts can vary dramatically. According to OP's testimony they're planning to focus on controlling impacts rather than uses, which will create a higher degree of predictability.

by Lou DC on Mar 3, 2009 8:41 pm • linkreport

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