Greater Greater Washington

Zoning


After hearing one-sided talking points against the zoning update, some residents are against the zoning update

This past weekend, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham convened a panel for several members of Committee of 100, a group that is actively organizing to fight DC's zoning update, to speak to residents of the ward. Nobody from the Office of Planning (OP) was a part of the forum, nor was anyone with a different point of view on the panel.


Photo by theunquietlibrary on Flickr.

A gloating press release from the Committee of 100 following the meeting claimed that "Ward 1 Residents Reject Zoning Changes." C100 spokesperson Byron Adams wrote:

The tone of the meeting was set by CM Graham. He pointed out that while the City Council is prohibited from participating in zoning decisions, more time is needed by citizens and elected officials to fully grasp the far-reaching, long-term consequences of OP's proposals.

Apparently Councilmember Graham missed the working group sessions in 2008 and 2009, or the hearings before the Zoning Commission in 2009 and 2010, or the series of meetings OP held in every ward of the city in 2012-2013, or the discussion at the DC Council oversight hearing for OP every year since 2008, or the multiple additional roundtables which Phil Mendelson has held since taking over as chairman, and so on.

We all know there is no housing affordability problem in the District. Clearly, there is no problem with simply putting off any changes year after year ad infinitum.

Adams continued:

Opposition increased as the C100 and the audience discussed the implications of the ZRR, including how developers and speculators were out-bidding potential residents for what are single-family homes and then carving them up to degrade the historic character of these buildings and neighborhoods.

As described by the C100 panel, the OP recommendations would invite creeping commercialization of residential property, including, taller garages and garage apartments, businesses in garages or accessory structures, multiple home occupations, conversion of housing for institutional uses and corner food markets. While making these changes easier, if not "by-right," the ZRR would dramatically decrease the opportunity for public participation, including by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, in these zoning and land-use decisions.

A straw poll showed virtually unanimous opposition to the ZRR.

Really? When told that this crazy process which has supposedly happened without enough public input, which will "outbid" residents to "degrade the historic character" of neighborhoods, bring "creeping commercialization" and "decrease the opportunity for public participation," people who showed up to learn about the zoning update came away thinking it didn't sound like such a good idea? Really?

It seems that residents did not have a chance to hear about how people who live in houses bigger than they need could share some space with someone else, make a little money, and contribute to the 41,000 to 105,000 new housing units we need to meet demand.

It sounds like they didn't have a chance to have a serious discussion about how to find space for things like daycare for our children or pet care for our furry family members, uses which are already legal in residential areas after a public hearing but which some people at the zoning hearings raised as a specter of "multiple home occupations" and is what it sounds like the C100 panelists might have been talking about.

One C100 member suggested at the November 7th zoning update hearing that people taking care of children in our neighborhoods would damage our residential areas. She said, "Someone in a 2-story house on an 18-foot wide lot would be overwhelmed with the cries of 16 children outside in a daycare or a child development center if he lived in a 3-story area, or the cries of 25 children in a higher area," and went on to also oppose allowing senior living facilities of more than 8 residents.

When asked why he held an event with a panel made entirely of opponents of the zoning update, Graham wrote in an email that it was "just to provide some basic information to folks who largely were not informed." Unfortunately, most likely they are still not informed or are even less well-informed than before.

The Committee of 100 press release concludes by encouraging residents to testify at the Ward 1 and 2 public meeting on February 26. It definitely is important for residents who have actually gotten informed about the zoning update to show up.

C100 is also encouraging people to attend a mayoral forum they have organized on February 25, 6 pm at the First Congregational Church of Christ, 945 G Street NW. That will be a good opportunity to hear most candidates for mayor defend the God-given right for residents of the most exclusive neighborhoods to keep restrictive zoning that ensures their communities don't have to play any part in accommodating our housing needs, can remain devoid of younger people and less wealthy people, and won't be "begrimed" by local food markets or those loud and annoying children.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Nice invocation of Dorothy Rabinowitz at the end: http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/06/07/cant-watch-cant-look-away-dorothy-rabinowitz-doubles-down/

It is rare when someone will have the courage to publicly state their hatred for children as in the video. She must also hate puppies.

But the juxtaposition of her biddie view of the world compared to a view toward the future is fairly emblematic of why readers here need to speak up. I never thought I would utter these words, but it really is for the kids, or at least for future generations.

by fongfong on Feb 14, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Strange that about half of the complaints are about things already possible under current zoning.

On the other hand, this idea that we can't have "one-size" for all neighborhoods is bizarre. What is not already covered by having zones? What is going on in Chevy Chase that's so special that it needs a different zone?

The area is currently 80% uninterrupted tracts of R-1-A, which is the definition of "one-size."

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 14, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

The absolute horror of people starting businesses in garages.

I blame Cadillac who brazenly suggest that a garage may better suited for things other than car storage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flThllGVZEw

by drumz on Feb 14, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

Grrr and now of course I can't make the rescheduled Ward 1/2 zoning meeting.

Jesus christ. Jim Graham. Such an assclown. Between him and Evans and Bowser I am surprised my head hasn't exploded yet.

by LowHeadways on Feb 14, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

Someone in a 2-story house on an 18-foot wide lot would be overwhelmed with the cries of 16 children outside in a daycare

Won't somebody please think of the children haters?

by Falls Church on Feb 14, 2014 12:56 pm • linkreport

A new twist on "Won't someone think about the children" [and how obnoxiously loud they are].

by David C on Feb 14, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

Just the name "Committee of 100" sounds so elitist and exclusive. Who are they that they should dictate to the rest of us how we should live? Kids in the city? Horror or horrors!! Buildings without parking? Biking to the work? This is becoming an Onion article if it weren't so unfortunately true :(

Jim Graham definitely doesn't get my vote.

by dc denizen on Feb 14, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

When Cheryl Cort raised the issue of one-sideness after the session was publicized on the neighborhood listserv, Graham invited her to participate (or to suggest someone else). No takers.

As for one-sidedness, that would certainly be an accurate characterization of the Pro-DC event on the zoning revision that I attended the summer before last.

All the name-calling and positioning has gotten in the way of any serious analysis of what's going on with the new code and whether (or to what extent) it represents an improvement over the old code.

by BTDT on Feb 14, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

Change is hard. Just ask the people whose heads exploded when Virginia refused to defend its marriage equality ban.

It's ironic that this change is mostly back to a preWWII pre-automobile paradigm that guided the development of the best parts of the District.

by Steve on Feb 14, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

@BTDT - her suggestion on the listserv was actually that Graham invite Office of Planning to discuss. But that was apparently turned down.

by MaxB on Feb 14, 2014 3:58 pm • linkreport

David- Are you saying that a daycare in the house abutting yours with 18 or 25 children playing outdoors would be fine with you? If so, you're a better man than I am and than 999 out of 1000 would be.

by Tom Coumaris on Feb 14, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

So, we're literally arguing that we should zone kids out of neighborhoods?

Don't any of these people live near an elementary school?

Now, since the rest of their testimonies are full of hyperbole I'm pretty confident that if passed tomorrow the zoning update won't cause people to rush out to start daycares that squeeze dozens of kids into tiny homes.

by drumz on Feb 14, 2014 4:28 pm • linkreport

The zoning rewrite is largely dead on arrival. Tregoning over-reached and attempted an end-run of the Council on the height limit. As a result, the zoning changes, which were losing altitude anyway, lost more support. Tregoning is going before her work is largely rejected.

by PJ on Feb 14, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

The zoning rewrite is mostly minor stuff beyond correcting things like making it possible to rebuild neighborhoods in their current form if they were torn/burned down. It's not an "over-reach," it doesn't contain scary things. It is sad that people can't manage to educate themselves about what is actually going on.

by MLD on Feb 14, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport

@MLD

That's OP's spin, but it's not the reality.

What's "scary" is that people who've relied on GGW, Housing Complex, or OP factsheets think they've spent time educating themselves when, in fact, you'd have to know the old code, know reality on the ground in various neighborhoods, and have read the new code and worked through both what the textual changes are and what their practical effect would be (and where) to understand what's at stake in the revision. I don't think even the Zoning Commission has made that kind of effort.

by BTDT on Feb 14, 2014 5:28 pm • linkreport

you'd have to know the old code, know reality on the ground in various neighborhoods, and have read the new code and worked through both what the textual changes are and what their practical effect would be (and where) to understand what's at stake in the revision.

So uh, what are those?

by drumz on Feb 14, 2014 5:32 pm • linkreport

I have a daycare center a few doors up, and school an additional door after that. Never had any problems with the cries of childen. Its not like they are screaming their heads off all day and late into the evening. The only problem is with parents speeding to drop off/pick up their angels.

by SJE on Feb 14, 2014 6:58 pm • linkreport

This has been the most open and inclusionary process in the history of new regulations of any kind -- maybe on the face of the planet earth. It is hard to fathom how there could have been more open information and process on these zoning code changes, it has been an ongoing inclusionary process for over 6 years! The latest gripe by some that there has not been "enough" opportunity for public input is a silly point. We are way past the point of saturation. It is just political weakness that has caused the Council to pressure the ZC to keep hearings open. OMG, just decide and pass the new code already! Substantively, the changes are not overly significant. Mostly, this is about a bunch of NW DC folks freaking out over the possibility of a few "renters" in their neighborhoods destroying their "family" way of life. So CMs like Graham and Cheh has stalled the process to placate groups like this Committee of 100.

by 10:52pm on Feb 14, 2014 10:51 pm • linkreport

I'm no fan of the Committee of 100, and I left the meeting early, when it became evident that this was a forum for that elitist group. But the fact remains -- this zoning rewrite is turning into a top-down business. Through the years of preparation, only urban-planning zealots have participated, few residents having the time or dedication for months of evening meetings. What you have in the end is a plan by self-styled urban planners, about to be imposed on a public that isn't persuaded that this is a good plan. That's what's missing: the sales pitch to the general public explaining why the zoning changes are what they are, and why this revised code will be good for the District.

The "planners" have spent way too much time talking to each other, convincing themselves that this is a great plan, without communicating with the general public to prepare them for the plan. Holding public meetings is not sufficient, because far too many people haven't the time or energy to attend such meetings. There has to be a better "push" of information to the people, something that doesn't depend on persuading them to drop their plans for an evening and go sit through some meeting.

by Jack on Feb 15, 2014 7:44 am • linkreport

I agree, this has been a widely inclusive process. Between posts on listservs for the past 6 years, and notice to ANCs, Civic and Community Associations, social media, it would be hard for anyone to say they don't know about it. One has to consider the average voter turnout as a comparison - many people just aren't interested in being engaged or getting involved.

The hyperbole from those fighting the rewrite is hyperbolic and borders on overt racism/classism/elitism in the form of not wanted renters or "those people living in our neighborhood."

When opponents complain that their voice isn't being heard, it simply isn't true. Based on their input, the proposal has struck the idea of parking maximums and includes more minimums than originally written. They have watered down the corner store proposals and provided a map where corner stores would be allowed (almost nowhere in Ward 3). They have also made the restrictions on creating an external ADU almost as cumbersome as it is today.

Quite frankly, it is hard to understand what anyone is fighting about anymore, but the opponents carry on as if it were still 2012 based on their rhetoric.

I really hope the Zoning Commissioners will see through this and not let the -isms of the Ward 3 blue hairs carry the day.

It is time for out zoning code to reflect the needs of the 21st century, not 1958.

by William on Feb 15, 2014 7:45 am • linkreport

While Pro-DC is good branding, there's a real opening for a smart growth group called "Committee of Everyone."

The idea of a self-appointed Committee of 100 speaking for a city of 650,000 is risible.

by Matt C on Feb 15, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

I'm new to the zoning update. I've read a few of these different posts on GGW, trying to get my head around where this stands and what it would mean. Is it expected to be enacted? Hard to to tell from all the back and forth. Bummed that I missed the Ward 4 meeting, I'm firmly on the side of good corner stores and for allowing accessory dwellings. On that note, if anyone could advise - I've considering putting up a refurbished shed in my Petworth backyard (inside my fence-line) as a little studio/guestroom, possibly even for occasional short-term rental. Is this allowed under current regs, and would it be affected by the update?

by BCDC on Feb 15, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

@10:52pm, @William, The testimony of a number of ANC commissioners at the special four-hour hearing on the ZRR is summarized in the following press release: www.fairbudget.org/dc-zoning-rewrite-special-anc-only-forum-depicts-a-tale-of-two-cities/

According to the press release, ANC commissioners from Wards 4, 5 , 7 and 8 expressed concerns about the ZRR process and disparate treatment by OP.

by OtherMike on Feb 15, 2014 6:29 pm • linkreport

@othermike

Doesn't that indicate that ANC Commissioners in Wards 1, 2, 3 and 6 feel like they were informed? Maybe one could look at the corresponding councilmembers? I don't have an answer, but as someone who received hundreds of emails from the Committee of 100, Office of Planning, Zoning Office, Mayor's office, neighborhood listservs and civic association on this issue, I don't know what to say. This doesn't include the social media discussions about it, or discussion on this or other blogs, but clearly notice was put out for residents of the city to consider, and not in a selective manner, but rather a very inclusive manner.

by William on Feb 15, 2014 11:32 pm • linkreport

I was at that meeting, and that press release edits out some of the more erroneous things said by opposing ANC commissioners and doesn't mention that Jennifer Steingasser listed out the ways OP reached out to some of the ANCs that complained, pointing out that they got no takers.

Also, I'm not sure they're describing what happened in Georgetown accurately.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 16, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

It seems that OPs objective is to take DCs SFH neighborhoods and turn them into 21sr century hipster tenements -- with stainless kitchens, wifi and bike sharing, of course,

by PJ on Feb 18, 2014 9:16 am • linkreport

Why is Georgetown getting special treatment in OP,s zoning rewrite but OP has rejected so far neighborhood-specific tailoring for other areas? Seems discriminatory IMO.

by PJ on Feb 18, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

Zoning code changes don't go far enough. Detached single-family homes should be outlawed and demolished within a mile of any Metro stop. This is a city, not some 1950s Pleasantville.

by LowHeadways on Feb 18, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

@Lowheadways(?!):

Walkable residential neighborhoods -- the village in the city model -- are what make Washington special and allowed it to hold together after the riots and when so many other US cities were falling apart. You might be happier in New York. I've met a number of self-described urbanists who couldn't make it in the Big Apple, feel that they've had to "settle" for DC and want to remake Washington into some pale imitation of gritty Gotham.

by PJ on Feb 20, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

@PJ

"Walkable" and "detached lots" don't really go hand-in-hand. Nothing near Brookland is walkable. Mt. Pleasant is "walkable" but there's nothing to do outside of Mt. Pleasant St. or 17th. And Dupont or Logan or Shaw or Capitol Hill are infinitely more walkable than either of those.

I have more of a sense of community living in multi-family rowhouses than I ever did in an SFH.

"What allowed Washington to hold together after the riots" What nonsense. Why is it that aside from old rich white people, no one wants to live outside of the densest neighborhoods in the city?

by LowHeadways on Feb 21, 2014 8:48 am • linkreport

@Low--

Not necessarily. Take Cleveland Park, for example. A number of multi -family and row houses but most of historic district is SFH residential. Very walkable (and from a real estate perspective, very desirable). Georgetown and Chevy Chase DC are other examples.

by PJ on Feb 21, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

Doesn't mean those neighborhoods will be less walkable if some new apartment buildings go up.

by drumz on Feb 21, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

Or if a street that isn't Connecticut Avenue has a corner store on it.

by Low Headways on Feb 21, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

David, I heard you speak at the OP performance hearing before the CM of the City Council. My question, as the Office of Planning shows in their performance doc submitted that they fund many blogs, do they fund Greater , Greater Washington in any way ? Secondly, please disclose to your readers if your a DC city gov't employee of the Deputy Mayor of Econ Development or if his office funds your blog in any way?
I would advise against being so smug as to mock home owners who were not chosen by the OP to be a part of their " focus group" for who they chose to poll on the ZRR or who dont happen to be summer intern students the DMPED had calling developers to solicit from them what text they would like in the new zoning re-write, or because they dont live in G'town or Dupont where the OP struck a deal for a customized zone so that they would not howl.
Being left out of the chain of command of the OP' s relentless messaging to the OZ , DDOT and DCRA in their focus groups to improve " buy in" does not make home owners ill informed . It just means they were working and not for the OP . Perhaps an agency capable of planning could have simply type the notice of teh zoning review on the back of their tax bill:
" Disclaimer: the OP is in the process of up zoning your neighborhood and it is very likely that next year the bill you are holding will go up $1,500. Don't like that, here are the hearing dates ?" INSTANT PARTICIPATION, very effective, and no postage required

by Colleen on Mar 16, 2014 12:37 am • linkreport

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