Greater Greater Washington

Why doesn't the Committee of 100 adore the zoning update?

The Committee of 100 has relentlessly attacked the Office of Planning's multiyear effort to update the DC zoning code to match the current Comprehensive Plan and the needs of a 21st-century city. The strange part is that based on their stated goals, the Committee ought to actually be thrilled with the zoning rewrite.


Photo by Melissa Robison on Flickr.

In their letter opposing Harriet Tregoning and Gabe Klein, Committee of 100 chair George Clark wrote,

During the past four years, Ms. Tregoning has pursued an agenda that she characterizes as smart growth, with the implication that the city is a victim of "dumb growth" and needs a radical makeover. We disagree with her definition. Smart urban growth is a targeted and disciplined approach that equates sustainability with preserving neighborhoods; and integrates environmental standards, community preservation, infrastructure improvements, economic opportunity, and public participation.
I suspect Harriet Tregoning would absolutely agree with all of the elements Clark lists as part of smart growth. And the zoning rewrite does all of these.

For example, at a recent preservation roundtable, Committee members Charles Robertson and Anne Sellin said they were "concerned" about the loss of "green space" from zoning changes that affect side courts and yards, though the effect of these will be very minor and even remove incentives to fill in small courts.


Example "Green Area Ratio" for a property.
However, a major zoning proposal will drastically increase green space: the Green Area Ratio, a requirement that new buildings and those that more than double in size (excluding single-family homes) include a certain amount of landscaped, permeable surface, whether trees, lawns, landscaped areas, green roofs, and more.

In other words, instead of just requiring empty land and calling it "green space" even if it's a trash-strewn alley or parking pad, the zoning code will actually require green space that's really green. It will also increase environmental sustainability, another element of Clark's list. Yet the Committee of 100's letter does not praise Harriet Tregoning or the Office of Planning for this meaningful innovation.

You also wouldn't guess from listening to Committee of 100 rhetoric on the zoning rewrite, but under OP's proposals for residential zones, many neighborhoods would gain zoning limits that are stricter than those in effect today.

For example, current low and moderate density residential zones (R-1 for single family homes up to R-4 for rowhouse areas) all currently allow building heights of up to 40 feet. That means that any house or townhouse can get a "pop-up" 3rd above-ground story as long as it complies with lot occupancy and other restrictions.

The proposed zoning changes will change this. Areas with mostly two-story houses will get zoning that only allows two-story houses, for example. This will do far more to "preserve neighborhoods" than the current zoning. Those that believe in fewer regulations may oppose this change, putting OP on the side of the Committee of 100. Oddly, though, the Committee isn't praising this element.

Meanwhile, I live in an R-5-B area, which allows far denser development than row houses like mine. In the last few decades, including in recent years, residents in some R-5-B zones like the area around 15th and T got their zoning changed to R-4, limiting development to something closer to what exists there now. However, this was a very time-consuming process, requiring long hearings and lengthy waiting periods for each small area.

OP, instead, is proposing new zoning that will set development limits in all row house neighborhoods to a level that matches existing buildings. For some reason, however, we haven't seen any statements from the Committee of 100 cheering this development, which achieves a goal they have been pushing for decades.

Why is the Committee of 100 so apoplectic about a zoning code where planners have strengthened zoning rules to preserve neighborhoods and required green space? Richard Layman might have an answer from a hearnig a few years ago on the zoning code:

[George Clark] said it was basically fine. I said it was automobile-suburban oriented (it is a document from the 1950s after all), and that every overlay and special zoning category is an indicator that the underlying code is inadequate and not robust.

The current code might not be great, but it is predictable, and all the people against the rewrite have a lot of experience dealing with it as it is. They are comfortable with it, even if it is in fact very flawed with respect to urbanity.

Perhaps this is why all of the advocacy that's come from the Committee of 100 in recent years has focused on stopping undesirable projects. Members, including our commenter Lance, insist they support many of the same things as Greater Greater Washington readers, but I can't recall a single case during our existence where the Committee has actively pushed for a change.

Martin Austermuhle put it another way on DCist:

At the end of the day, both the Committee of 100 and Greater Greater Washington are forward-looking organizationsbut what has changed is the time from whence they claimed to start looking forward. The Committee has been around long enough that it's harder to define what it does as being particularly "progressive." In fact, it seems downright conservative.
Truly responsible planning tries to shape the city's growth in a positive way. Build here, but not there. Don't change this; change that instead. Arlington did this with their famous "deal" around the Metro: build very densely right next to Metro, but protect single-family neighborhoods elsewhere. DC could likewise shape its growth into specific areas around Metro stations and in neighborhoods that want new residents and businesses.

As Layman pointed out in that preservation roundtable, groups like the Committee of 100 grew up during an era of a shrinking city. Now, we have a growing city, which brings different challenges and different solutions. The Committee has a great opportunity to shape that growth into the places in the city they want to see it and suggest the form it could take. That, however, would require moving beyond the current mindset that everything is "basically fine" and the best approach is not to change.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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"Arlington did this with their famous "deal" around the Metro: build very densely right next to Metro, but protect single-family neighborhoods elsewhere. DC could likewise shape its growth into specific areas around Metro stations and in neighborhoods that want new residents and businesses."

But isn't that the problem? Leaving aside Anacostia, much the space around DC metro stations IS built out. Or owned by residents of Cleveland Park, who really don't want more density.

And existing neighborhoods not on metro lines aren't excited about density either.

I'm not taking a position on the zoning questions, just saying the very successful Arlington Orange line model may not be so replicable.

by charlie on Nov 19, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

Look, this is a pretty simple dispute: it's all about power. the Cof100 liked to think of themselves as "important" people who "knew" what development and growth issues were all about, even though they are decades behind the times and a sclerotic organization. Other people are coming in and doing stuff without their input and consent, and they're upset that they're not considered important anymore. No amount of reasoning with them about how the new rules actually provide more, real "green space" is going to change that.

by JustMe on Nov 19, 2010 10:17 am • linkreport

This is a good point. Furthermore, the rising profile of GGW is a manifestation of a growing interest (and popularity) of these urban issues. I know it's certainly informed me, and raised my level of awareness and participation over the last few years.

GGW is an inclusive marketplace of ideas. Alpert has been very open about encouraging folks to submit articles. The comments forum is open and respectful (by Internet standards, at least). It's the furthest thing possible from the tiny, unrepresentative Star Chamber model represented by C100 and other atavistic bodies.

My guess is that some of the antagonism by some of the C100 members comes from working hard to get into an exclusive influential club, only to find that that influence is rapidly evaporating.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

Basic rule of political communication: the more importance you ascribe to the various press releases/public statements of a group, the more important that group becomes.

by Simon on Nov 19, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

@charlie--the stations in upper NW are mostly built out, although there are a handful of exceptions--5220 Wisconsin Ave NW, for example--where the "Arlington deal" makes sense.

But on the poor side of the Red Line, from NY-Ave north, isn't terribly much built out, and the fights and compromises surrounding station area development mirror the present debate.

There's more potential for Arlington-esque corridors with the citywide streetcar network--Rhode Island Avenue in particular is probably a good analog to Wilson Blvd. At present, it's a high volume road with several stretches of low-grade, low-density uses like used car dealerships, and there are moderately dense single- and multi-familty dwellings a block away. Parts of Georgia Avenue likely fall in a similar category.

So it would be good to get the proper zoning in place now.

by thm on Nov 19, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

oboe, I think you're on to something. When the information was hard to get to, the Co100 had more power, because they knew how to get that information, and took the time to do so. Many people I think deferred to them because they had all that good will from the fight against the freeways (for which they should be thanked). But now everyone can know as much as them and many do and so they're less likely to behave like Boxer and say "If the Co100 says it, it must be right."

by David C on Nov 19, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

@charlie:

I challenge you to exit at any of the following stations and tell me that the area around them is built out "very densely":

Georgia Ave-Petworth (some build up but could be more)
Rhode Island Ave
Deanwood
Minnesota Ave
Benning Rd
Potomac Ave

Why can't we have more density like what's gone up in Columbia Heights? High density right on top of the station but walk 1/3 mile in any direction and the density rapidly drops off. That's what I see as emulating the Arlington method.

by MLD on Nov 19, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@MLD

I'm all for more density at Metro stations.

The challenge in crafting such a policy, however, is evident in the conditions that preceded Metro at Columbia Heights and in the R-B corridor. Columbia Heights had several large, vacant lots - remnants of the 1968 riots. R-B was mostly low-density, light industrial/commercial buildings ripe for redevelopment.

The trick in redeveloping those areas was that the new development didn't displace anything (for the most part). That's a lot harder to make happen in an area like Cleveland Park, for example.

Now, that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen in Cleveland Park - but the political calculus and the grand bargain just isn't the same there.

An area like Tenleytown is much different, however. There you do have low-density and relatively underutilized commercial structures that would be prime candidates for redevelopment without displacing any current residents. There, a grand bargain makes sense, but it takes both parties to bargain. So far, many in the community have been unwilling.

by Alex B. on Nov 19, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport

David Alpert: I think you should be congratulated on trying to change the tone of the discussion re Comm100 v OP and GGW.

by SJE on Nov 19, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

Some people have asked how does one join the Committee of 100. It is a closed organization that elects its own members.

From the C100 bylaws:

"Membership in the Committee shall be by election of the Board. Candidates for membership shall be referred to the Membership Committee which shall report its recommendation to the Board..."

I agree that it would be helpful that their membership was more open. It would temper the tone, on both sides.

by goldfish on Nov 19, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

Some people have asked how does one join the Committee of 100. It is a closed organization that elects its own members.

That makes sense. Obviously a lot of the resentment among C100 members is going to be fueled by members' disappointment at the groups diminished influence.

It would be like spending years to join the Shriners based on rumors of mysterious rites and shadowy but weighty decision-making...only to find out you spend all your time wearing a fez and driving a tiny car.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

Oboe -- joining the Shriners is easier and quicker than you think -- true you need to be voted in, but the main qualification is that you need to be a Master Mason. I think you could gain membership in this worthy fraternity in about two years.

While I am not a Shriner, some of my good friends are, and they spend their time ferrying children to their hospital in Philadelphia, where the care is free. Not a bad thing to be doing with your spare time. And driving miniature cars in parades is a gas! -- Shriners know how to have fun.

by goldfish on Nov 19, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

@goldfish:

No disrespect intended to the Shriners, though hopefully none of them joined the organization fueled by dreams of world domination!

:)

by oboe on Nov 19, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

Keep in mind that DC has a very important constraint that limits its ability to really maximize the use of land/density around Metro stations -- the Height Act. Arlington lacks this limit, and can permit construction 2-3 times the height of the tallest permitted building in DC. I admit that this makes the downtown core quite special, but there's nothing special about Friendship Heights or Tenleytown and no reason why some additional height there would not be a bad thing. Same with Cleveland Park or Woodley Park.

by Dave on Nov 19, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

Add Stadium-Armory to the list of stations that have plenty of underused land around them. Immediately adjacent to the south entrance of that station is a HUGE surface parking lot that served DC General Hospital and is now used to store a wide array of DC Government vehicles. Indeed, upon exiting from the south entrance of Stadium-Armory Station, you find yourself on 19th Street SE, a one-way freeway for suburban commuters. To your right is that HUGE and desolate surface parking lot, with the underused and vacant buildings that used to be DC General in the distance behind them. On you left, across the one-way suburban freeway are the sides of the last rows of houses that line C Independence Avenue SE, Bay Street SE, Burke Street SE, C Street SE, Massachusetts Avenue SE, D Street SE and Potomac Avenue SE. Not a single building faces 19th Street SE! Not even the most fervently in favor of the status quo member of the Committee of 100 could argue that this use of land maximizes our investment in a subway, creates "green space" or in any way benefits the community. Indeed, the empty land next to 19th Street SE immediately adjacent to the south entrance of Stadium-Armory Metro could easily house thousands of new residents and dozens of new businesses. The DC Government has plans for this site that will hopefully move forward (whether or not they will is a whole other story). Thankfully, it this site is so far off the beaten path for your average Committee of 100 member, that they did not really oppose the redevelopment of this site the way they rallied to oppose sensible development adjacent to the Brookland Metro or to sensible infill projects like 5220 Wisconsin Avenue NW.

by rg on Nov 19, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

@rg

Agreed. Considering the immediate response to my list of stations was "that won't work in Cleveland Park, maybe in Tenleytown," the pervasive attitude about many of the underdeveloped stations is "why would people want to live there?" Or that they haven't gone there/know nothing about those areas.

For example:
"R-B was mostly low-density, light industrial/commercial buildings ripe for redevelopment."

Sounds a lot like the Minnesota Ave corridor to me.

Also, the height limit argument is a non-starter. Are the buildings along the R-B corridor (excluding Rosslyn) so much bigger than the 8-12 stories that would be allowed in DC?

by MLD on Nov 19, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport

So.... David Alpert is a man on a mission against the C100.

I think the interesting part of fight is the difference in communication. Alpert puts his arguments online, and lets anybody comment. C100 does... well, we don't know. They sometimes suddenly come up with a letter to a mayor-elect. That used to be the way to get influence.

In short: this is a fight between old backroom power and new online power.

by Jasper on Nov 19, 2010 2:33 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Agree. It's easy to see what GGW is advocating for and how we do it. We write articles and post them for all to see. We accept comments and engage in public debate. It's much harder to see what C100 is advocating for. It's not even clear to me how C100 conducts its business. Are there even meetings? Are they open?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 19, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

I would note that both Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are historic districts. Indeed, the primary feature of the Cleveland Park Historic District is the Park-n-Shop atop the Metro station.

Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, on the other hand certainly enjoy distinction as being among the most underutilized Metro stations and neighborhoods in terms of the regional investment in the transit system.

by Andrew on Nov 19, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins:

The question that remains is which method is more influential.

My suspicion is that C100 is still having more influence. My hope is that GGW is having more influence. Regardless of the opinions involved.

by Jasper on Nov 19, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

1. The issue of planning and stabilizing the shrinking city vs. handling the opportunities sensitively that are offered by a growing city is the key issue. It's not "historic nostalgia" as it was made out by DCist. That's just not a very useful or accurate trope.

Calling it historic nostalgia fails to recognize the critical importance of historic preservation in saving and stabilizing the city during the many decades that residential and living trends did not favor center cities, and especially Washington, DC.

I don't know if the "legacy" groups are capable of changing and adapting. I used to think so. Now I don't know. Note that this is an issue with nonprofits and civic groups of all types, in part over succession issues. (Even the example in today's paper of the Virginia Opera.)

2. People join C100 after being invited. Typically, they select people who have accomplished one or more projects in their neighborhoods. Some "young" people, like Mike Berman (who fought to keep artists downtown in the face of development initiated by the Catholic Church) do get tapped to join.

3. C100 is more citywide oriented than the neighborhood groups, especially the preservation groups, but not much more, as...

4. We have an inadequate training and capacity building program within the city for building the abilities of civic groups to participate deliberatively in local civic affairs especially planning and zoning issues. Even the smart growthers need to be challenged with regard to compromise and failing to demand high quality projects from time to time. We all need to commit to learning and continue to be open to new ideas.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

This reminds me of the issue with Hank's in Dupont. Hank's had a voluntary agreement with the neighborhood that allowed them to get a liquor license when they opened back in 2005. The voluntary agreement had Hank's sign off to certain things including limiting their hours to closing the outside patio a couple of hours earlier than the liquor license otherwise allowed. This was consistent with the ANC's own policy on this matter. (There are residences within easy shouting distance of the patios in the area where this establishment is located.)

5 years go by and everything works out well partly because Hank's has been following these early patio closing hours and a few other requirements such as stacking patio tables and chairs on the patio after closing hours so that people out late from the bars won't sit on these chairs had have conversations on them at 3:30 in the morning while the folks in the apartments across the street are trying to sleep.

Well, as I said, 5 years go by and everything goes well partly because of this voluntary agreement. (Voluntary Agreements are encouraged by the Liquor Licensign board so that these local types of matters can get settled directly between a business looking to get a liquor license and the adjoining neighbors who are most likely to be affected.) So, after the 5 years go by, Hank's asks to vacate the Voluntary Agreement. The owner and their lawyer tell the ANC 'all these things that are in the voluntary agreement such as the early closing hours for the patio and having to stack the chairs when the patio closes down are ALREADY in the liquoring licensing permit that we're going to get renewed as part of an expansion into the neighboring house. The ANC works to get the house rezoned into a commercial building, works to get an exception to the moratorium so that there's a license for Hanks to get for the expansion ... The ANC acts in good faith doing all these good things for what it considers a model business in its area. And when it comes time to decide if the liquor licensing board can 'vacate' (i.e., do away) with the volunatary agreement, Hanks tells the commissioners, yes you can because we'll still be bound by what was in the old voluntary agreement because it's incorporated into our licensing. The ANC checks with the liquor licensing board (who are appointees who volunteer for this and aren't necessarily experts in this) and they tell the ANC commissioners the same thing 'Oh sure all those same stipulations will still hold up ... you don't need to do a new voluntary agreement'. Well ... some neighbors who've been around the block more than a few times with similar requests say 'hold on ANC, don't you see you're being had?! ... the minute the voluntary agreement goes away, the smart lawyer will come back and say there's no reason to hold his client to any of the stipulations laid out in that voluntary agreement'. The ANC chuckles and says 'you don't understand, we've already asked .. you can rest easy'. The neighbors say 'but don't you understand it's not that simple?'.

Well, the voluntary agreement gets vacated and the first thing that happens is the lawyer tells the liquor licensing board, the restaurant is no longer held to those stipulations ...

Long story short is the ANC is now trying hard to get back into the game and get these stipulations back into the agreements.

The analogy here?

... As best as I can make out, David is like the innocent ANC in that he really believes what he's hearing. For example, I've been told that one of the new zoning regs means that if your house is within a quarter mile from a Metro stop (bus or rail), ANYTHING can set up shop in the house next door to you. I.e., You could very well wake up one morning to see a dry cleaners opening up in what used to be your neighbor's house.

When I asked David about that he said 'Don't worry, while theoretically possible, it can't happen because they'd still need to be approved by Zoning' ... I.e., Nowadays such a zoning use change requires a lot of paperwork and noticing by way of signs, certified letters to neighbors within 200 feet ... etc. etc. Affected people get a say in what happens ... Like the neighbors who used to have a voluntary agreement with Hank's. No, I'm sure it's not an easy process for the applicant to go through, especially if there's a change of use involved. But yes, it ensures that you won't wake up one morning and find a dry cleaners next door.

Under the new process put in place by Harriet Tregoning, some bureaucrat in some DC office can just go ahead and approve this change ... For anyone who's ever even tried something as simple as asking for an "Emergency No Parking" sign from the city, it should be simple enough to understand that if you the homeowner are going to depend on some bureaucrat to protect your rights, you're in a lot of trouble before you've even begun.

The moral here is simply that David and others are saying 'just trust Harriet and Gabe to know what is best for us. Let's reduce all the paperwork and notice required and just do it' ... and those of us much more experienced then them are saying, 'you don't understand, if you do it that way you'll end up finding out you've been had.'

As I've heard more than a few folks experienced in this stuff say, the rewrite written by Harriet Tregoning could have been written by developers given all the leeway it gives them. I wonder if they're using the same lawyer as Hank's is?

by Lance on Nov 19, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

WRT Alex B.'s point, at least we ought to get intensification right at the stations that it's easier to do so. We haven't done so well with it--think U Street, Rhode Island, the first iteration at Fort Totten, some of the stuff at Takoma, and current plans for townhouses on the Takoma station site, etc. But the right projects at places like Deanwood and Minnesota Ave. can spur revitalization. Those projects haven't come forward as of yet...

OTOH, it's very very very very very very hard to get public-private partnerships to work generally, and to do the right thing. It took a long time before companies like Abdo, PN Hoffman, and Donatelli were created and became active participants in the real estate development world within the city, and for EYA to operate in the city. Before that, it was mostly bottom feeders and CDCs. Mostly, they did crap projects. (Think of all those church-related housing projects along 7th Street NW.)

Even the Boys Town project vs. the Harris Teeter condo building at Potomac Ave. is an example of a couple of tries needed before the right program could be effected. It's hard for "you new people" to be aware of the real fact that it was not until about 2002-2003 when decent developers became interested in doing projects in other areas of the city other than downtown and upper NW.

There were station plans made in the 1970s (I haven't seen them) but remember they were crafted during urban renewal days and are likely to be bad.

The Columbia Heights efforts, and now parallel efforts at Petworth are examples of good stuff. But it came with a lot of pain, took many years, and a couple iterations too (e.g., Herbert Haft had a master development agreement on the Tivoli since the 1980s, so did various companies wrt Gallery Place by the way, and nothing ever happened for 15+ years). So is the Sears redo at Tenleytown. But it followed earlier failures at intensification proposals for properties in Tenleytown.

If there had been more good examples of successful projects, maybe intensification projects in the areas where more sensitivity is required could happen.

It is a process. With very long time frames.

But to do it like Arlington requires really hard choices, and some people have to give stuff up. E.g., Brookland should probably be intensified up to 12th Street, in the catchment area of the station. That means converting a single family area (albeit many of the properties are used as group homes) to something more intense. Etc.

Same thing with Dave Murphy's idea for a separated yellow line. It's a good idea, but to really work requires intensification of upper Georgia Avenue. That means buying up single family and duplex blocks and making them over, just as similar housing stock was converted in the Virginia Square area of Arlington in the early 1990s...

Doing something like that in DC will be a powderkeg. Plus, yes, some of the housing stock would be eligible for designation.

by Richard Layman on Nov 19, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

Lance; I have no idea what conversation you are thinking of, but what you say would be possible in the new zoning code is not possible.

by David Alpert on Nov 19, 2010 3:46 pm • linkreport

Under the new process put in place by Harriet Tregoning, some bureaucrat in some DC office can just go ahead and approve this change

That's as it should be: bureaucrats exist to implement policies and respond to changes, providing the institutional expertise that a loudmouth activist can't.

The proposed zoning changes will change this. Areas with mostly two-story houses will get zoning that only allows two-story houses, for example

This is precisely the PROBLEM with lots of rezonings: neighborhoods that were originally zoned to allow a diversity of different options slowly get "rezoned" to restrict development only to what already exists, which means that if you want something different, you have to go through the time-consuming process of getting a zoning variance.

by JustMe on Nov 19, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

You could very well wake up one morning to see a dry cleaners opening up in what used to be your neighbor's house.

As it should be, in an urbanism unpinned by excessive zoning.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 19, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

I keep being struck by the observation that Americans - who always yearn for and boast about their freedom - can get so stuck on creating elaborate ruling schemes to limit their freedom.

by Jasper on Nov 19, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

@Neil,

Then there's an urbanist paradise for you. It's called Houston.

"'You could very well wake up one morning to see a dry cleaners opening up in what used to be your neighbor's house.'

As it should be, in an urbanism unpinned by excessive zoning."

by Bob on Nov 19, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

I think you mean New York, Bob.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 19, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

@Dave: but Arlington doesn't actually permit denser development than DC. The "C-O-Rosslyn" zoning permits a Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) of 10 -- equal to the C-4 zoning that covers much of downtown DC, 6th to 19th and Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. A segment along the north side of Pennsylvania, 10th to 15th, is actually zoned for 12 FAR.

However, most of the newer office areas at the edges of downtown (L'Enfant, Noma, West End, Navy Yard, Mt. Vernon Square, the old Waterside Mall) are zoned C-3-C, or a 6.5 FAR.

By comparison, Vancouver's tallest building has an FAR of 13.41; most of the shiny new residential areas fringing its downtown have FARs of around 2-3; that's roughly equivalent to the R-5 zoning around DuPont Circle. Same density in a radically different form. (Most other American cities are wildly overzoned; downtown Chicago starts at 12/16 FAR and goes way up from there.)

Actual practice follows the zoning; even Arlington's economic development people calculate that Downtown DC is 30-70% more intense than even the urban edge cities.

by Payton on Nov 19, 2010 6:27 pm • linkreport

@ Payton. Downtown DC permits 10 FAR, and most of those areas you mentioned permit up tp that much as well through TDRs or special incentives such as PUDs. but downtown DC is special because it is the regional center for the entire metro area. Arlington is, by contrast, comparable to the Midcity areas of DC that are close to the core but represent much more of a live-work zone. And frankly I just think Arlington makes better use of its land. For me, the point is not to develop densely at the fringe, but capitalize immediately around Metro and the tremendous public investment that has been made in it. If you look at the density around Arlington's Metro stations and compare to the density around DC's stations, DC just doesn't take advantage of that capital investment. And it should. That's the way to increase revenue, create jobs, and build enough housing that can economically sustain mixed income levels. the only area in DC where this is really happening is the Yards.

@MLD. Yes, many buildings along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor well exceed what you could build in DC under the Height Act. My old apartment in Courthouse was 20 stories, and 10 - 12 is the max number of stories you're likely to see in DC. And that's along streets 90 feet wide or greater. greater height also permits the development of more architecturally interesting buildings and greater open space, even if the overall density isn't that much greater than in DC. I'm not talking about building up the downtown core, just the areas a little further out and right at Metro. We need that combo of height and density to get true sustainable walkable neighborhoods with interesting architecture and varied retail.

I very much respect the points you both are making, but I just have a different vision for what makes sense in DC given the context here, which is unique compared to other cities given the large swaths of prime real estate owned by the Feds.

by Dave on Nov 19, 2010 11:18 pm • linkreport

What is interesting about Lance is that he keeps talking about how zoning shouldn't be changed arbitrarily, yet at the same time he thinks that very single liquor license should be bound by a special, specific voluntary agreement instead of being willing to accept that business that follow the local zoning show be able to run their businesses in accordance with those zoning rules instead of petitioning neighborhood "representatives" for permission to open a law abiding business.

It is also interesting that Lance has some kind of position making transportation policy for the committee of 100. So far as I know, Lance does not have any kind of job or background on transport and transit issues and is instead a middle aged man who seems to complain a lot about bars and restaurants. It doesn't strike me that the voice of the committee of 100 should be regards as representing any solid policy, but rather simply the lifestyle preferences of a certain social demographic of gadflies who enjoy hob nobbing with policians.

by Tyro on Nov 20, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

I hjave to say, Lance has totally changed my mind about the 100 NIMBYs. Up until now, if someone lit the membership on fire I couldn't be bothered to go out of my way to take a leak on them to help put it out.

But I think now I might, if it wasn't too much of a hassle.

by John on Nov 20, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

I truly appreciate the Cof100. To have such an outstanding progressive urban planning group of intellectuals with long-term knowledge of DC is an astounding asset. The jealously from the sophmoric newcomers and carpetbaggers is understandable. The Cof100, unlike the carpetbaggers, has no no official power. It's influence is strictly a matter of it's overwhelming intellectual pool and the shear sense of it's proposals.

My favorite Cof100 proposal was the elevated platform north of Union Station for a transit hub, stadiums and arena. Of course it made too much sense and didn't put funds into developers' pockets so we got the tax-siphoning Verizon Center and Nats Stadium instead.

The Cof100 is a constant embarrassment to pretend groups of alleged experts who are nothing but shills for short-sighted developers. That those pretend groups took over city government for four years was appalling. But the embarrassment comes from the stupidity and arrogance of the carpetbaggers in comparison.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 21, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

Tom: I'm confused. Why did you say the Cmteof100 is an embarrassment in the last paragraph?

And who are the carpetbaggers you refer to, specifically? Am I a member of this group, as a homeowner and resident of DC for 6 years now? Honestly, not snarkily, when does one accumulate enough credibility to transition from carpetbagger to resident?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Nov 21, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

@Geoffrey -

Only when you're 15th generational Washingtonian and can prove your ancestors were with Washington at Valley Forge, helped Dolly Madison save White House treasures from the British, defended DC during the CIvil War, and were with MLK during the March on Washington, you don't have any Washingtonian street cred.

j/k. Sorta.

by Fritz on Nov 21, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

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