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Today's problems were visible decades ago, but zoning has blocked solutions ever since

No one could have foreseen that DC's zoning could push middle-class residents out of the District and force people to drive even to get milk, right? Actually, planners in 1970 warned of exactly of these dangers.

44 years ago, when Richard Nixon was president, the same consultants that noted outdated ideas at the root of DC's then-outdated zoning code foresaw other problems looming for the city.


Image from DDOT DC on Flickr.

The first Walter Washington admini­stration hired planning firm Barton-Aschman to examine the zoning code after the MLK assassination riots, urban renewal, the Metro, and freeway revolts. Planners greatly rethought their approaches after these seismic events.

Not all of Barton-Aschman's comments were negative, but they criticized the technocratic, autocentric attitude that underlay the 1958 zoning code. They found fault with the 1958 code's absolute separation of commercial and residential uses, which underlies the ban on corner stores.

They noted that the then-planned Metro system justified higher densities downtown and less reliance on automobiles. Finally, they anticipated that zoning restrictions made it hard to build enough housing for a growing city.

Barton-Aschman foresaw the problem with restricting housing supply

Studies for the 1958 code by its main author, a consultant named Harold Lewis, predicted that 870,000 people could live in DC under his zoning regimen. But that assumed large families and urban renewal instead of historic districts. The 1970 report says:

It is possible that zoning makes it difficult to develop new family-type housing units in the district, while also inhibiting the development of high-rise apartments which may be more attractive to single persons and families without children. ... If zoning helps deter population growth, is it contributing to an imbalanced society in the District?
They noted that these restrictions would push out the middle class, "leaving predominantly the rich and the poor of both races." They wrote that this is not a local fluke, but one that is recognizable nationwide:
The Douglas Commission has pointed out that existing codes and ordinances of major cities across the country deter the development of low-cost housing by private industry. Land is too expensive, parcels are to small, height and floor area ratios are too low, and density patterns are too restrictive to encourage modern, attractive, and livable low cost residential projects.
Aggressive downzoning, ostensibly to preserve urban character, exacerbated these problems during the 1980s. The report raised this concern, warning, "Local residents might stretch the zoning process to become exclusionary." The specter of explicit segregation was fresh in the public's memory, so they worried that the code might be abused to the same end.

Barton-Aschman realized that Metro changed everything

Barton-Aschman's 1970 report was blunt about how Metro would change the city:

Perhaps the metro system alone is a sufficiently important factor to justify a complete review of policies assumed in the 1956 Zoning Plan and reflected in the existing Zoning Regulations.
Lewis, meanwhile, saw his plan as an alternative to a mass transit system. At a public hearing on July 28th, 1956, he justified his plan:
Washington has, of course, a free choice as to which means of transportation it wishes to dominate the central city, ... no new transit system can possibly start operation for several years at the earliest, and it is therefore obvious that the [1958] zoning must be based on solid present trends and solid present fact.
Those trends? Declining transit ridership and the extensive network of highways that were soon to snake their way through Washington's neighborhoods.

In his published report, as well as the 20 public meetings held to discuss the plan, Lewis saw those highways as serving a second function, separating residential and commercial uses.

He saw the inner beltway as a great "dam" that would forever keep a shrunken downtown from bleeding into into residential neighborhoodsat least the ones that survived highway construction. Secondary arterials like Wisconsin Avenue in NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in SE would divide the city into residential cells, free of commerce.


Harold Lewis and NCPC imagined a Washington of nodes an neighborhoods.

Lewis tried to eradicate all corner stores

Lewis also saw corner stores as a blight, and proposed relocating all commercial activity to well-parked shopping centers, like the one in Spring Valley today. Residents could then drive down one of the major thoroughfares to the store.

Although Lewis had to introduce a Special Purpose (SP) mixed-use zone after the first round of comments, he still tried to force noncompliant uses like corner stores to close. The Zoning Advisory Commission decided that the enabling legislation didn't permit that. They agreed that separating uses was theoretically sound, but not politically feasible. Therefore, this attitude persists in the code's minutiae.


Recommended employment centers, from the Lewis report.

We don't know whether the authors at Barton-Aschmann would support the text of the proposed new zoning code as it was set down last September 9th. But we do know that they saw a lot wrong with the text we have now. We've known about those problems for decades; scouring the flawed assumptions and integrating the ad-hoc fixes is unavoidable to create a code for the 21st century.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He writes on architecture and Russia at цarьchitect

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Nice article, and good find, but it doesn't come close to proving to point made --that it was an outdated zoning law that drove middle class residents out of the city.

And the distiction beween the "Metro City" and the "streetcar city" is a nice one, but I am also not convinced the metro city is better for walking.

by charlie on Apr 23, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

One quick takeaway from the first map. It imagines that Capitol Hill, Ward 1, southwest, West End, etc (all the places in the darkest color) will house people at 96,000 people per square mile. I'm not sure there's any part of DC that has that density on a neighborhood scale right now.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

I think by "push middle class residents out of the city" Neil is talking about future growth envisioned in the previous zoning. The zoning could not actually support the population densities that Lewis and NCPC were depicting in their land use maps.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

amazing that that sign hasn't changed at all.

@MLD; pretty clear what Neil means is that no apartments or building for single poeple would be built after 1970. Shocking to learn that.

by charlie on Apr 23, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

Lewis was right in supposing that the existing housing stock would permit middle income folks to remain in their homes, until he was wrong because demand outstripped supply. Clearly, looking back at the map he created, we see how wrong he was.

The same argument is being made by wealthier residents today even though we have direct evidence that the population is growing and demand far outstrips supply. In my neighborhood of Ward 3, homes stay on the market for an average of 7 days, and virtually all receive multiple bids. It is hard to get people who live there to accept any changes that might jeopardize that formula.

by fongfong on Apr 23, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport

@charlie
pretty clear what Neil means is that no apartments or building for single poeple would be built after 1970. Shocking to learn that.

I don't get what your point is other than taking potshots at the author.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

Charlie, I don't know how you're getting to that.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 23, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

Well, your text.

Your claim is the 1958 code inhibits aparments and buildings for single people. Clearly you are wrong about that since thousands were built since 1958 -- and many since 1970.

In fact, what the facts support is that the incremental change to code has been enough to keep the 1958 basis working -- and that the changes suggested by a lobby group (CSG) are not urgent changes. So we can wait a bit more.

shorter version -- people have been claming the sky has been falling on building multiunit since 1970. It ain't so.

by charlie on Apr 23, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

Thank goodness those highways weren't built. The overall vision and justification by the 1958 plan is downright scary.

I see a lot of local residents opposing the current rewrite under many banners that all boil down to continuing the exclusionary nature of the 1958 code.

by William on Apr 23, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

charlie

Where in the new zoning code is there a provision to upzone to aloow more new apts? My understanding is that there is none.

DC in that sense is quite different from ArlCo (which has rezoned Col Pike) Alexandria (beauregard small area plan) Fairfax (Tysons, central Annandale, etc) which HAVE upzoned recently.

The changes in the DC code are to ADU's, corner stores, and parking - only this last will effect new multifamily buildings, and not all that much (since many developers will build more parking than is required anyway, and the more dramatic changes only apply to downtown anyway)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 23, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

as for whether the downzonig mattered, that some apts were built in the district between 1958 and 2000 is not probative. What matters is whether the restrictions led to higher rents than would otherwise have been the case (esp in the relatively limited areas that attracted the middle class in much of that period) and whether those rents/prices were ONE factor determining decisions to live in the suburbs (either in suburban apt complexes, which were built in very large numbers in that period) or in SFHs.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 23, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

Your claim is the 1958 code inhibits aparments and buildings for single people.

Where did Neil argue that? The piece is recounting the conclusions of other consultants 44 years ago.

At best, your paraphrasing is an inaccurate oversimplification of one aspect of the critique. It would be more accurate to say that the code is based on severely outdated assumptions.

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

Wait - The actual zoning map is a separate thing that's been updated a few times. The exclusionary thing that Barton Aschman saw was that people were using Lewis's anti-urban code to be anti-"urban," if you know what I mean.

Harold Lewis was the son of Clarence Lewis, a progressive-era planner. He was technocratic, but he seems to have been less racist than the average Washingtonian in the 50s. At one of the hearings in 1956, he spoke out when one person tried to blame slum conditions on "the Negro."

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 23, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

@Charlie: 1) the text in question is very clearly a quote from someone else, not Neil." The 1970 report says:

It is possible that zoning makes it difficult to develop new family-type housing units in the district, while also inhibiting the development of high-rise apartments"

The attribution is to the 1970 report.. the quotation is even in italics, for those who might be reading too quickly to pick up all the words.

2) "inhibit" is not the same as "prohibit"

by alurin on Apr 23, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

@Neil
The actual zoning map is a separate thing that's been updated a few times. The exclusionary thing that Barton Aschman saw was that people were using Lewis's anti-urban code to be anti-"urban," if you know what I mean.

This. The code advises complete separation of uses (and Lewis wanted to close the existing corner stores, an example of mixed uses). That works against people who walk and take transit and need to have places on the way where they can pick things up. Or who only want to buy a small number of things at once. It favors people with cars who can drive out to the burbs or to a big store and load up on things.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

AFAICT, almost no new multifamily housing was built in DC during the 70s and 80s, but I put that down to lack of demand rather than exclusionary zoning.

by aces on Apr 23, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

The map shows most of Dupont/Logan as "Parking and Mixed Occupancy".

Not so sure the people in wards 7 and 8 who still have plenty of corner stores and few grocery stores romanticize them quite so much as yuppies do.

Exclusionary zoning actually is a subsidy for buying big units in dense neighborhoods as the sq footage can't bring the price the market would bear as smaller units.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 23, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

No doubt the 1958 code sounds anti-"urban" as Neil said, but I agree with aces, the lack of demand was the main issue. While highways, older housing stock and the like did their part, school desegregation is what put the nail in the coffin for middle class whites staying in the city.

"Where in the new zoning code is there a provision to upzone to aloow more new apts? My understanding is that there is none"

This is what I just don't get. As Alex pointed out the other day, the Comprehensive plan is what dictates more housing, but the tool to execute that plan is the zoning code. How on earth will they accomodate more density (where it would be best served) without the tools that would allow it?

by Thayer-D on Apr 23, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

aces- The LaTrobe on 15th St NW was the first market-rate rental apt built in DC for over a decade, maybe two, and it was built as a work-maker by the building trades unions during a recession. At the time all the stories were that new rental units weren't being built because of rent control.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 23, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

Looking at the current zoning regulations (posted on the Office of Zoning website), I see that Metrorail stations are mentioned in Chapter 21, sections 2104, 2107 and 2109. I see mixed use zones described in Chapter 7, with regulations that encourage the inclusion of residential uses in commercial zones. Inclusionary Zoning was added as Chapter 26 in 2006. Within the past ten years, new zoning regulations for Capitol Gateway, Southeast Federal Center, Hill East, Union Station North and St. Elizabeth’s East Campus were added to the zoning regulations as Chapters 16, 18, 28, 29 and 33, respectively. I also see that requirements for a “green area ratio” were added in late 2013 in Chapter 34.

So it is difficult to see how one can conclude how the authors of the 1970 report would judge our current zoning regulations. The regulations have been amended many times since 1958, and many times since 1970.

by OtherMike on Apr 23, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

But that doesn't change the underlying assumptions about the 1958 code as it relates to the natural growth of the city during the periods that predate 1958 and since the population growth emerged in early 2000.

We don't need a car-based zoning code any more, which is why it needs to change. The amendments cited are more band-aids on a document that is unreadable as is. The revision is longer, but easier to use.

by William on Apr 23, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@William, I suspect that you are in the minority (among people who have actually reviewed the nearly one-thousand pages of new text) that find the new text to be easier to use than the current zoning regulations.

I think it might be useful for you to demonstrate its ease of use by posting a list of all the new zone names that are used in the Naval Observatory Overlay area and a description of all the provisions that apply to the current Naval Observatory Overlay area. To demonstrate how easy the new text is to use, you should probably describe the process you went through to verify that you have captured all the necessary information to describe the structures and uses allowed in those zones and other relevant regulations, including the relevant definitions.

by OtherMike on Apr 23, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

@William, Or in the alternative, you might let us know what questions did you try to answer, or tests did you run when you determined that the proposed regulations are easier to use than the current regulations?

by OtherMike on Apr 23, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

You mean like how you can simply go to the A-7 section and see all of the relevant data for a building that's currently R-5-A/NO.

And before you had to look at the R-5-A, then the overlay? Especially for a homeowner in, say R-11, you can more quickly tell what is permitted for adding a little ADU that your elderly parent can live in.

Is there something I'm missing?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 23, 2014 3:23 pm • linkreport

It is absolutely easier to use than the old regs. If you're looking at a plot of land, you only have to go to one section to see the rules. Previously you had to examine multiple sections (zoning group and overlay).

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

Neil, Yes, you are missing quite a bit.

The Naval Observatory Overlay will include the following zones, R-11, R-12, R-13, A-6, M-28, so to describe the basics, you would need to refer to Chapter 6 of Subtitle D, Chapter 7 of Subtitle D, Chapter 17 of Subtitle D, Chapter 12 of Subtitle D, Chapter 15 of Subtitle D, Chapter 16 of Subtitle D, Chapter 17 of Subtitle D, Chapter 3 of Subtitle F, Chapter 7 of Subtitle F, Chapter 12 of Subtitle F, Chapter 7 of Subtitle G, Chapter 13 of Subtitle G, Chapter 14 of Subtitle G. [Multiples sections in most of these chapters.]

In addition, you would need to master the definitions and rules in Subtitles A, B, and C, and the administrative regulations in Subtitles X, Y and Z, as they apply to the zones in the Naval Observatory Overlay area.

And I might have missed some of the relevant sections in my quick review.

Even if the scope of the question was limited to areas currently zoned R-5-A/NO, you have missed many of the relevant sections.

by OtherMike on Apr 23, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

But you have to do all of that now, it's just even more spread out!

Plus, you have to cross-reference everything and know all of the regulatory interpretations that have been harmonized by the rewrite.

What you're saying is that it's hard to understand a whole neighborhood at a glance. For an individual homeowner, looking to alter their property, it will be much simpler. And they won't have to go to BZA for half as many things.

Your list sounds impressive, but for people who work with the code, it will be much simpler.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 23, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

Woah, woah, when you look at a zillion different properties in an area, you have to look at multiple sections of the new code? Well it's a good thing the current code simply lets you look at one. Oh wait, it doesn't.

I think the complaint is that it's still "confusing" and "difficult" for the neighborhood activists to look at an entire neighborhood and figure out exactly what can happen everywhere. Well guess what? It's never going to be that way because that isn't how the code is used for day-to-day business. And the only way you could have a code that was easy to read in this manner is by making it overly restrictive.

The exact kind of nuance those against code changes are asking for necessitates a complex code.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

The Naval Observatory Overlay will include the following zones, R-11, R-12, R-13, A-6, M-28, so to describe the basics, you would need to refer to Chapter 6 of Subtitle D, Chapter 7 of Subtitle D, Chapter 17 of Subtitle D, Chapter 12 of Subtitle D, Chapter 15 of Subtitle D, Chapter 16 of Subtitle D, Chapter 17 of Subtitle D, Chapter 3 of Subtitle F, Chapter 7 of Subtitle F, Chapter 12 of Subtitle F, Chapter 7 of Subtitle G, Chapter 13 of Subtitle G, Chapter 14 of Subtitle G. [Multiples sections in most of these chapters.]

Here's the thing: Overlays are only relevant in how they impact the existing base zone. The overlay itself shouldn't matter; the real concern is about what is allowed on a given property.

There's no reason to ever want to 'describe the basics' of an overlay area. The purpose of an overlay was to provide specific regulations to that area. Those regulations are now included in the base zones, therefore the overlay is no longer needed (and only adds confusion). I'm not sure why someone would want to 'describe the basics' of an overlay zone. "Where was the old Naval Observatory Overlay Zone?" just isn't a very relevant question. The goal of the reorganization is to make other questions easier, like "what does the zoning on parcel 123 allow?"

by Alex B. on Apr 23, 2014 5:21 pm • linkreport

Thanks to the others who beat me to it. I would only add that the only real need for someone to see the whole picture as OtherMike has suggested is if they want to sound authoritative in something that they have no real, practical experience using for themselves or on behalf of clients.

The anti-ZRR activists are using OtherMike's arguments to make themselves sound impressive when in fact, for city staffers, attorneys, developers and most (but not all) ANC Commissioners and others who deal in land use and zoning, the new code is far easier to use.

Sure, if someone needs to take a snapshot of an entire neighborhood, then there is some cross-referencing that needs to happen, but that needs to happen now, but in a much harder to use format.

I think part of the problem is that certain members of the original task force who are very comfortable with the current code do not want change because it will force them to have to re-learn some elements to stay on top of the situation. However, for the 99+% of the rest of us, the new code, particularly if it is online and cross referenced in a digital manner, will be a lot easier to digest.

by William on Apr 23, 2014 7:10 pm • linkreport

Tom Coumaris: I've heard rent control blamed for the long hiatus in multifamily construction, but I find that hard to believe, given that the law exempted *all* new construction going forward.

by aces on Apr 23, 2014 9:49 pm • linkreport

aces- That wasn't in rent control originally. It was added about the time the LaTrobe was built.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 23, 2014 10:56 pm • linkreport

Each overlay defines its objectives and gives the relevant standards including the standards for review. These are the standards that the BZA or ZC uses in determining whether to allow proposed projects.

The Naval Observatory Precinct Overlay District is described in two pages of text in the current regulations (Sections 1531-1534), which describes clearly the purposes for which it was established and additional regulations that apply to the properties in that overlay district. It provides clarity to people who choose to live, open businesses or purchase property in that area.

A landowner or prospective landowner can look at the two pages for the overlay and see what conditions are specific to that area. For example, the NO Overlay District has a strict height limit (40 feet, for all zones) and PUDs are not allowed any bonus height. In the NO Overlay District, PUDs cannot exceed the 40 foot height limit or other MOR limits in that area. As with other overlays, to understand the other applicable regulations, one would need to consult the relevant chapter(s) for the underlying zone (Chapters 2 and 4 for R-1-A and R-1-B, Chapters 3 and 4 for R-3 and R-5-A, and Chapter 7 for C-2-A), as well as some general sections, such as the chapters for parking, loading, and IZ.

The clarity of the objectives and standards is lost when the rules are broken out and written separately in individual, unrelated zones scattered throughout a nearly one-thousand page document.

As with all regulations, when looking at the applicable regulations, it is also necessary to master the definitions in Chapter 1, and be familiar with the relevant (BZA or ZC) procedures for any applications.

Generally, zoning isn’t just about what a particular landowner can do with his or her property, but with how the regulations shape an area. It is a mechanism for creating certain types of environments, diverse environments. The regulations should be viewed not just through the eyes of potential developers, but also through the eyes of someone who lives in a neighborhood or is choosing a neighborhood to live in.

And overlays are a tool that is used to protect and perpetuate attributes of a particular environment that is valued and also possibly at risk, including, for example, trees and slopes, views, historic scale or neighborhood serving retail.

by OtherMike on Apr 24, 2014 12:20 am • linkreport

And, all of those values and concerns are reflected in the new document in a much easier to use format that the current zoning regulations, at least that is the consensus for everyone who has testified in favor of it, including the many stakeholders, ANC Commissioners, etc. who had input on it.

However, I suppose the issues raised by OtherMike will be the new goalposts that someone at OP or the Zoning Commission will have to explain a billion times between now and September, unless or until the deadline for public comment is moved again.

by William on Apr 24, 2014 5:55 am • linkreport

The clarity of the objectives and standards is lost when the rules are broken out and written separately in individual, unrelated zones scattered throughout a nearly one-thousand page document.

So, we need to have overlay zones for the sake of having overlay zones?

If the regulations are the same (e.g. there's no difference in what is allowed to be built with either the old zoning code or the new one), I'm just not seeing the value of this critique.

It's certainly not a major change in policy. It's not a change of substance at all; it is a change in organization.

Generally, zoning isn’t just about what a particular landowner can do with his or her property, but with how the regulations shape an area.

I would argue that you're talking about planning. If you want to plan to shape an area in a certain way, that's great. The zoning method is just one tool of many to achieve the goals of the plan; and within the category of 'zoning' there are lots of different methods to choose from.

The downside of planning-via-overlay is well documented: the code gets confusing, base zones become meaningless, overlays often include contradictory regulations, etc.

The ZRR approach still meets all of the goals of an overlay. In the future, if an area wants to gain that kind of specificity, they can 1) do a plan, and 2) alter the zones in the plan area to reflect the goals of the plan. If you want to understand the objectives of an overlay zone, you can and should refer to the plan.

Nothing has changed (or will change) except for the method of executing #2 - one of the explict goals of the ZRR is to ensure that the new base zones a) include all of the contents of the existing overlays, and b) provide a template that allows for flexibility and customization in the base zone for neighborhoods now and in the future, rather than the more confusing process of adopting overlays.

by Alex B. on Apr 24, 2014 9:52 am • linkreport

The only thing that I can glean from OtherMike's point is that somehow the "complexity" of the new code somehow proves that the planning ideas that the code wants to bring out (less required parking, more flexibility for ADUs and corner stores) are bad ideas.

by drumz on Apr 24, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

I thought I supported the corner store proposal, but I've changed my mind and here's why. I live a few blocks from Wisconsin Avenue in the Tenley neighborhood and walk a lot, use the Metro, etc. There's an area with several convenience stores, including a 7-11, and some fast-food style restaurants although none of the McDonalds's variety. As you get within about two blocks of the avenue, the amount of trash, debris, cigarette butts, etc. strewn about the streets increases noticeably. I don't know whether it is trash that blows from the stores or if they attract patrons who just throw their wrappers and stuff on the ground or what. But it's a problem and it especially degrades the blocks where people live closest to the establishments. The stores aren't going to go into the side streets and pick up trash all the time (unless it has a branded wrapper that IDs the seller they'd say it wasn't theirs), and unlike NY and some other places, DC doesn't do regular street sweeping (and never on the side streets). So I ask myself, much as I think of some "corner stores" being charming in theory, the reality is that if you allow them deeper into residential blocks, problems like trash will just increase. So I've changed my mind on the proposal.

by John on Apr 24, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

@John: the problem is that all the commercial activity is concentrated in one place, with the multiple convenience stores, fast food restaurants, etc. That's why it looks like a lot of garbage: because it's coming from several places at once.

On the other hand, a single store doesn't lend itself to that same kind of concentration, and the more that we have dispersed throughout neighborhoods, the less likely it is that any one will be especially heavily-used.

by LowHeadways on Apr 24, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

@Neil, “And before you had to look at the R-5-A, then the overlay? Especially for a homeowner in, say R-11, you can more quickly tell what is permitted for adding a little ADU that your elderly parent can live in.”

Even if you were to assume that the question about the Naval Observatory Overlay District was limited to the current R-5-A/NO zone, you missed most of the relevant provisions.

The new name for R-5-A/NO would be A-6, rather than A-7, as you suggest, and I will assume that was simply a typo. The basic description and development standards for the R-5-A/NO zone is in Subtitle F, Chapter 3. Chapter 3 has development standards, but not uses. The Use Permissions are listed in Subtitle F, Chapter 14, even though Section 102 in Chapter 1 directs the user to the zone chapter, in this case Chapter 3, to find the use permissions.

But it is also necessary to consult other chapters in this Subtitle to understand the development standards and uses in the A-6 zone. Chapter 12 gives the conditions for special exceptions in the R-5-A/NO zone, including, for example, the requirement that it be reviewed by the Architect of the Capitol. Chapter 10 provides necessary information to interpret the development standards. The development standards for Accessory Buildings is in Chapter 8 and regulations for alley lots is in Chapter 9. The provisions of Subtitle C, Chapters 16 (Pervious surface), 17 (Green Area Ratio), 18 (Tree Protection), 19 (Vehicle Parking), 20 (Bicycle Parking), 21 (Loading), and Chapter 22 (Inclusionary Zoning) are also relevant to this zone. And nonresidential uses are in different chapters.

In your example, where you looked at the chart to determine whether the homeowner could add a “little ADU that your elderly parent can live in,” you seem to be confusing R-5-A/NO which would be A-6 in the ZRR with the current R-1-A/NO-TSP zone, which would be renamed R-11 in the ZRR.

I will assume that you actually meant to answer a question about an R-1-A/NO-TSP zone. If you are looking at adding an external ADU in the R-1-A/NO zone, your answer is incomplete, since you would also need to check Subtitle D, Section 1600.8 to identify the zone group, and then Section 1601.1 and 160.1.2 to see that an accessory apartment is allowed as an accessory use, with 1601.2(a)(5) referring you to Section 1606 for the relevant conditions. Section 1606.4 gives most of the relevant conditions, the circumstances under which it might be considered as a special exception rather than matter of right with conditions and the circumstances under which a request for a variance would be necessary.

And, since you are discussing an external ADU, Subtitle C, Chapter 8 (Accessory Buildings) and Subtitle D, Chapter 13 (Accessory Building Regulations for R Zones) are also relevant. The provisions of Subtitle C, Chapters 16 (Pervious surface), 18 (Tree Protection), and 19 (Vehicle Parking) also apply.

by OtherMike on Apr 24, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

So almost all of the information that the average resident would need is in a few 100-word chapters of single subtitle?

Thanks for clarifying, because what you're describing requires much more cross-referencing and consultation with a lawyer now.

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 24, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

@Alex: “So, we need to have overlay zones for the sake of having overlay zones?” No, we need overlay zones for the purposes laid out in the introductory sections of each of our existing overlays.

@Alex B.: “The downside of planning-via-overlay is well documented: the code gets confusing, base zones become meaningless, overlays often include contradictory regulations, etc.”

Actually, with the renaming of the zones in ZRR, the underlying zones will become significantly more difficult to understand. And, after adoption, the zone name conversion language is removed and it will be nearly impossible to figure out which areas share the same underlying zone.

For example, the current R-1-A zones (which currently all begin with R-1-A followed by applicable overlays) will become R-1, R-5, R-6, R-8, R-11, and R-14.

The current C-2-A zones (whose designations all begin with C-2-A) will become M-4, M-17, M-25, M-26, M-27, M-28, M-29, M-33, N-2, N-3, N-4, N-7, N-9, N-14, N-16 and N-17.

After the ZRR is adopted, the relationship between related zones will be very difficult to determine.

Also, well-drafted overlays do not include contradictory regulations, since the overlay includes clear language as to which regulations apply in that area.

by OtherMike on Apr 24, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

No, we need overlay zones for the purposes laid out in the introductory sections of each of our existing overlays.

But those purposes have been met by incorporating those regulations into the base zones.

The same regulations will apply in either case. The ZRR includes all of the relevant regs in one single zone; the old code requires referencing multiple zones and resolving differences between them.

The regulation is the same either way. So, is the only reason to retain overlay zones so that you can reference the purpose statement?

Actually, with the renaming of the zones in ZRR, the underlying zones will become significantly more difficult to understand. And, after adoption, the zone name conversion language is removed and it will be nearly impossible to figure out which areas share the same underlying zone.

The new zones will tell you what is and is not allowed in that zone, period.

The current C-2-A zones (whose designations all begin with C-2-A) will become M-4, M-17, M-25, M-26, M-27, M-28, M-29, M-33, N-2, N-3, N-4, N-7, N-9, N-14, N-16 and N-17.

Please note that this is not a change: this is what the current code allows. All of these variations on C-2-A are spelled out in the current regulations. You present this as if it is adding more complexity to the existing code, but all of this complexity already exists. Arguing that it is simpler just because it shares a base zone is misleading.

Also, well-drafted overlays do not include contradictory regulations, since the overlay includes clear language as to which regulations apply in that area.

And well-drafted base zones do not need overlays, because the language is clear as to how these regulations meet the planning goals for the area. Which, again, the reason the new code will have more zones and offer more opportunities for future customization without adding multiple required cross-references.

by Alex B. on Apr 24, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

@Neil, Are you looking at the ZRR text that post posted on the DCOZ web-site last September?

Certainly, very few zoning questions asked by average residents can be accurately answered by looking only at a few 100-word chapters in the same subtitle of that document.

Take, for example, the list of sections that you would need to consult to answer your question about a small external ADU in a single family zone in Glover Park. This would require a careful examination of Chapters 6, 13 and 16 in Subtitle D as well as Chapters 8, 16, 18 and perhaps 19 in Subtitle C. None of which can be describes as 100-word chapters.

by OtherMike on Apr 24, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

Why would ANYONE want to know "can you build an External ADU in single family Glover Park"? Nobody asks that question. They ask "can I build an external ADU on my property?" or "can my neighbor build an external ADU on her property?" And the new code makes it much simpler to answer that question. Figure out what zone the property is and you look at one section.

As I said, the only people who could think the old way is more simple are those who want to look at a wide swath of a neighborhood and decide what could get built there. They don't really care about the detailed regs, they just want an idea. For people who actually use the code for productive purposes (property owners looking to build on their property) the new way is MUCH more simple.

You even said this yourself, OtherMike. The zoning overlays make it easy to look at an area and get an idea of what could go there. But if you're actually looking at what the regs are to figure out if YOUR building is legal or not? You have to look in 100 places. The zoning code document isn't designed for that first group of people, nor should it be. It should be designed so that people can easily figure out what the regs are for a specific property.

by MLD on Apr 24, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

To be more concise, I guess the problem as I see it is that OtherMike and people with his opinion think that the code should be a document that provides a concise overview of everything that could be built in neighborhoods across the city. But that's not actually what the code is for.

Certainly, very few zoning questions asked by average residents can be accurately answered by looking only at a few 100-word chapters in the same subtitle of that document.

Right, because the kinds of general questions that you say can't be answer by the code should be answered by the Comprehensive Plan.

by MLD on Apr 24, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

@MLD, @Neil, To be concise, in my 1:59 pm message (and earlier 12:42 message), I was demonstrating that Neil was flat-out wrong in claiming that a homeowner can determine what is allowed on his property (zoned R-11 in the ZRR) by looking at a few 100-word chapters in a single subtitle of the ZRR.

To answer the question about an external ADU on the property in question, the homeowner would need to identify and read at least six chapters spread across two subtitles (not counting the definitions in a separate subtitle), with not of those chapters being 100-words or less.

by OtherMike on Apr 24, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

Sure, and where do you have to go in the current code to find those things out?

by MLD on Apr 24, 2014 3:46 pm • linkreport

Whoops, didn't mean to post that. You have to go to many different places in the current code to find out everything you can or cannot do in a zone. It's complicated, period.

But in the current code the overlays mean that you have to cross-reference and know how one affects the other. With the smaller zones that is not the case. You are right that you have to look up regulations that apply everywhere, but you already have to do that in the current code.

by MLD on Apr 24, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

So Planners created the problem, and the solution is. . . more planning?

by ironchef on Apr 24, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

better planning.

what are you suggesting - no zoning code at all?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 24, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

I am sure OtherMike won't see it this way, but his arguments are undermining his position.

by William on Apr 24, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

Actually, OtherMike appears to be one of the few people in this thread who knows what he's talking about. Lots of swallowing the camel and straining out the gnat going on here.

by BTDT on Apr 25, 2014 7:53 am • linkreport

Other Mike lays out the case for overlays, which is compelling. Don't take my word for it. The Comprehensive Plan discusses how overlays have been such a successful tool that it recommends more of them be considered. However, under Tregoning OP became hostile to the overlays as being too restrictive, so they propose to use the zoning code rewrite effectively to gut them -- no matter what the Comp Plan states.

by Sarah on Apr 29, 2014 10:16 am • linkreport

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