Posts about Anti Neighbors
Upset Georgetown residents are challenging a 2012 traffic calming project in Glover Park. They say it has lengthened their car commutes through that adjacent neighborhood. Monday, these residents will air their frustrations at an extraordinary Georgetown ANC meeting with Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy.
The idea for traffic calming project began years ago. The Glover Park ANC, after hearing constituents bemoan the state of retail in Glover Park, complained to the city about their commercial district's struggles.
The Office of Planning studied the area in 2006. That report found that cars speed through Glover Park, particularly going downhill on Wisconsin, which makes it dangerous to the pedestrians who patronize Glover Park businesses.
2-3 pedestrians are struck each year on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. In fact, after a driver hit a Georgetown woman and her dog in Glover Park, commissioner Ed Solomon of the Georgetown ANC said, "I would hope that this accident would result in a comprehensive review on the safety concerns that this community has about this section of Wisconsin Avenue."
It's precisely this hostile pedestrian environment, concluded the Office of Planning, that reduces pedestrian traffic to retailers in Glover Park.
DDOT concludes median could reduce congestion and boost pedestrian safety
The Glover Park ANC then asked DDOT in 2009 for a follow-up study about making Glover Park more welcoming for pedestrians. DDOT collected tons of data on traffic at all times of day and days of the week, and reached some interesting conclusions.
The data showed that Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park actually suffers from both congestion and speeding, due to the many left turns. When drivers are turning left they block the lanes and cause congestion; when they don't, people speed and pedestrians are at risk.
DDOT's engineering models showed that adding a middle left-turn lane would both reduce congestion and also speeding. It would calm traffic (with a single through lane) and eliminate left-turn lane blocking (with the turn lane). The models estimated that the project would not change the time to drive though Glover Park.
Officals presented these results at numerous public meetings. Anyone who was remotely involved in civic affairs by reading public meeting notices, attending ANC meetings, or talking to their ANC commissioners knew about it.
Changes aren't complete
DDOT then began the construction, and some residents in Glover Park and Georgetown complained about traffic spilling over into adjacent neighborhood streets. That was a legitimate complaint, and there is a poorly-designed intersection at 37th & Tunlaw that invites drivers to cut through adjacent neighborhood streets.
Fortunately, DDOT's study had a recommendation for that. It suggested reconfiguring 37th and Tunlaw to calm traffic and reduce cut-through traffic. That project is not done yet; it's scheduled to be completed in March.
The construction on Wisconsin, however, largely finished early this year, but the center median containing the left-turn lanes is only painted for now. That's because DDOT is spending a year measuring the results and tweaking different things like light timing, enforcement, and so on.
Changes already help some pedestrians, frustrate some drivers
Pedestrians are already feeling the benefits. It's far less stressful crossing and walking along Wisconsin Avenue. Families with children in particular report less anxiety about walking around Glover Park to popular destinations like the Guy Mason playground and area restaurants.
When the year of tweaks and study ends, DDOT will replace the painted medians between the left-turn areas with raised medians. This will be even better for pedestrian activity, because crossing Wisconsin Avenue will be safer and less threatening with a central raised median.
However, a vocal minority of drivers who prioritize a few seconds of driving time over pedestrian safety have won their first battle to reverse this project. They have secured an audience with two Councilmembers and the DDOT Director at Monday's Georgetown ANC meeting.
DDOT Program Manager Paul Hoffman says that "early returns" of data collection indicate that through time is the same for drivers headed north through Glover Park, but 30 seconds longer on average going south.
If the opponents are successful in repaving Wisconsin Avenue to add the lost through lanes, DC will not only have to pay for the repaving. We will have to pay the federal government back for the money it contributed to the project.
Use the form below and attend Monday's meeting to ask the councilmembers and Georgetown ANC commissioners to give the Glover Park traffic calming project time to succeed. The ANC meeting takes place on Monday, March 4, 6:30 pm at Georgetown Visitation School on 35th Street and Volta Place. The meeting is on the 2nd floor of the main building, in the Heritage Room.
Speak up for safety
Neighbors in downtown Silver Spring say a proposed 11-story apartment building is too tall for the area. But as the project goes to the Montgomery County Planning Board, whose staff recommend approving the project, there are still problems with the proposal. It's not the height, but the design of a single, long building instead of two.
In 2009, local developer Robert Hillerson proposed building a mixed-use complex with apartments, shops, offices and a hotel on most of a city block between Georgia, Thayer and Silver Spring Avenues and Fenton Street.
Community members supported that plan, but weren't as excited about a new design Hillerson and national apartment developer Fairfield Residential Company presented last summer. As I wrote in October, what was originally a pair of buildings surrounding Mayor's Promenade, a planned pedestrian passage between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street, has morphed into one monolithic, block-long building with an underpass through it.
On Thursday, the developers will present a revised design (PDF) to the Montgomery County Planning Board, which is also holding a public hearing on the project. Neighbors, civic groups and even county councilmembers have written nearly 100 pages of letters to the board, mostly in opposition. They're mainly worried about the project's height and density, which one resident feels could turn Silver Spring into Crystal City.
While some good changes have been made since the summer, this project still isn't ready to go. It's not the height or density, both of which current zoning allows and which are in line with the rest of downtown Silver Spring. The real issue is with its design.
New design improves park, sort of improves building
As before, Studio Plaza will be broken up into two phases. The first phase, which is going before the Planning Board now, is for one 11-story building with 415 apartments, including 61 Moderately Priced Dwelling Units and 10 Workforce Housing Units for low-income households, and 10,000 square feet of street-level retail space. A second phase, to be approved later, will could add up to 340 apartments, 26,000 square feet of retail, and a 78,000 square foot office building.
There's the aforementioned renovation and extension of Mayor's Promenade and a new street, which help break down a big block and will improve pedestrian connections between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Street. At the intersection of the two is a 13,000-square-foot park, which will be privately owned but open to the public. The park will sit atop a parking garage meant to replace the existing parking lot.
Designed by Alexandria-based landscape architecture firm ParkerRodriguez, the park is one of the plan's highlights. Before, it was just a bunch of blobs of lawn and pavement randomly thrown around. Now, there's a simple, rectangular lawn divided in half by Mayor's Promenade. It's big enough for picnics and playing catch, with room for some planters in a geometric pattern that provides visual interest.
Facing the park is retail space, which has a terrace for outdoor dining, a shaded "amenity terrace" for tenants of the apartment building, and 8 ground-floor apartments with "real doors" and porches. Local artist Dan Steinhilber will make 23 public art pieces out of tubular steel, including lampposts, bike racks and benches, that will be placed throughout Mayor's Promenade and the park.
The building, designed by WDG Architects of DC, is better as well. The old design used dark-colored brick and had narrow, relentlessly repetitive windows, which made the building feel large and heavy. That's been replaced with a mix of warm-colored bricks and bands of glass broken up with attractive teal accents. It's a more conservative design, but it helps the building feel less imposing.
Setbacks make the building now appear to be 9 floors tall on Thayer Avenue and 10 floors on Silver Spring Avenue. And on the new street, the building peels back ever so slightly at the intersection with Thayer Avenue, drawing visitors into the public park. Looking at the renderings of the building at night behind the low-rise storefronts on Georgia Avenue, I can start to imagine this building in real life.
Still a "very long building"
However, the biggest issue with the previous design remains: the first phase is still "a very tall, very long building," in the words of county planners, that bridges over Mayor's Promenade. Having a pedestrian passage that connects two streets and a park is probably the coolest part of the entire project, but this design choice turns it into an afterthought.
There are legitimate reasons for having one building instead of two, namely the ability to have one consolidated lobby, elevator core and service area for the entire complex. But as I've said before, breaking this building into two, or at least having a more delicate connection or bridge from one side to the other, would make the promenade a nicer space and assuage residents' concerns about the building's height and mass.
Fairfield and Hillerson should look to the apartment buildings at Rockville Town Square, which WDG also designed, for a better solution. They also bridge over pedestrian passages that connect the square to surrounding streets, but the bridges step back from the street so they're not as deep as the rest of the building, which allows light and air into to the passage.
This project is as long if not longer than Studio Plaza, and it's only 5 or 6 stories tall. Why doesn't it make sense to do the same thing for an 11-story building?
Studio Plaza has its merits: it provides housing in an area where it's in high demand, and is close enough to transit, jobs and shopping that residents won't drive as much or at all. It'll improve connections in downtown Silver Spring with two new streets and give people a new park for hanging out in.
However, the Planning Board still shouldn't approve it. We can't do much about its height, nor should we. But we can improve the way this building looks and relates to its surroundings. There have been a lot of less-than-great buildings in downtown Silver Spring, but this is a substantial project in a very prominent location. It deserves the best design possible.
Check out this slideshow of Studio Plaza, including the 2012 and 2009 plans.
On the heels of a report suggesting Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plans are too ambitious, county planners are recommending reducing the number of lines and using dedicated bus lanes across a smaller portion of the system.
They presented these recommendations last night at a forum hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, "The Next Generation of Transit," which discussed how the county needs to expand its transit network.
Geoff Anderson from Smart Growth America talked about the social, economic and environmental benefits of public transit and compact, walkable development, while County Councilmember Roger Berliner discussed how transit is integral to attracting young people and entrepreneurs to the county. Mike Madden, project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration, offered a quick update on the Purple Line.
However, the biggest news came from Larry Cole, transportation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department. Cole presented the latest recommendations for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, which would become part of a master plan for future transit expansion.
The county has been studying BRT since 2008, though a recently-released study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, considered to be international experts on BRT, argues that it may not work in all parts of the county.
Planners looked at current land use and travel habits, along with changes proposed in the county's existing plans, and compared different scenarios for building BRT. They found that while a larger system would draw more riders and reduce driving, physical and economic constraints made a smaller network more feasible.
BRT corridors Montgomery County planners currently recommend. Click here to see their proposal from last November.
The Planning Department's latest proposal is for a 79-mile network with two phases. It would have 8 routes, on Route 355, Colesville Road/Columbia Pike, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Randolph Road, Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard, and the North Bethesda Transitway. It's a smaller system than previous proposals, but it's still more than the 4-route system ITDP favors.
Buses would run in mixed traffic on many corridors just as they do today. Last November, Cole suggested that in order to give buses their own dedicated lanes, considered a must-have for successful BRT, space may need to be taken from cars.
Buses would have dedicated lanes in the median on all of Route 355 between Friendship Heights and Clarksburg, where it will support the redevelopment of White Flint and other areas along the corridor, along with portions of Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, and Columbia Pike. Combined, these sections make up 31 miles of the system.
On other roads, like Veirs Mill Road and Randolph Road, buses would travel in a single-lane median that would change directions based on rush hour traffic, in "managed lanes" where buses would have some priority over other vehicles, or in mixed traffic.
Cole cited "difficult operational issues" for places where buses wouldn't get their own lanes, such as Columbia Pike and Colesville Road south of Lockwood Drive in Silver Spring. Though the corridor has six lanes and is home to some of the most heavily-used bus routes in suburban Maryland, homeowners in Four Corners have expressed opposition to taking away lanes from cars at several public meetings, including this one.
Instead, Lockwood Drive, a two-lane road roughly parallel to Columbia Pike and lined with apartment buildings, would be widened to give buses their own lanes, though it doesn't go all the way to downtown Silver Spring.
"Is the desire [for transit on Colesville and Columbia] there? Yes," said Cole. "Is the ridership high enough to justify taking a lane? Yes. When we looked at how that would actually work, we decided we needed additional study."
Buses would run in mixed traffic on Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.
Though Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plans are being trimmed down, they're moving in the right direction. ITDP recommended that the county focus on areas where transit use is already high, which the 8 routes as proposed do cover. It's also good to focus on the right solution for the right area, allowing limited resources to be spent where they're most needed.
At the same time, we can't fall prey to "BRT creep," when BRT systems gradually get watered down throughout the design process to the point where they stop being significant steps forward for transit. County planners need to take a stand even when there's some opposition.
It's good that they've stood by dedicated lanes on Route 355 even in areas like downtown Bethesda and White Flint where space may have be taken from cars, but it's disappointing that they've chosen not to endorse doing the same on equally-constrained Georgia Avenue or Colesville Road in Silver Spring.
Transit is most effective when it can give riders a reliable commute, and buses simply can't do that when they're stuck in traffic with everyone else. And without reliable transit, our region's growth and prosperity is at risk.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, echoed these concerns at the meeting. "We have to make some hard choices," he said. "We've got to figure out a better way to grow. If we do it without adding transit and without adding more walkable neighborhoods, we will just die in our traffic."
Planners are currently working on a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which they will present to the Planning Board in March. In May, the board will hold public hearings before taking a vote later this spring. If the Planning Board and later the County Council approve, the county will start doing more detailed studies in addition to preliminary engineering for the Bus Rapid Transit network.
A new organization is fighting the Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington by showing a picture of a Bus Rapid Transit system that couldn't possibly go on Columbia Pike. In response, another new group has formed to support the streetcar plan.
The pro-streetcar group, Arlington Streetcar Now, wants to see the proposed streetcar become a reality on Columbia Pike between Pentagon City and Bailey's Crossroads in Fairfax County (and potentially beyond), as well as a future streetcar from Pentagon City to Crystal City and then Potomac Yard in Alexandria.
It counters another new group, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, which launched in January. Its supporters say they want Arlington to study a "modern Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system" along the Pike. But that group's platform is deeply misleading.
Prominently plastered across its home page is a concept sketch of such a "modern BRT" system from Eugene, Oregon, which runs in a dedicated lane. But transit on Columbia Pike won't get a dedicated lane. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) won't allow it. That's a travesty, but Arlington has been trying to make the best of the situation with the streetcar design.
You can build a very high-quality bus transit system, with a dedicated paved transitway, enclosed and sheltered stations, off-board fare payment, real-time information, and more. You can also build a cheap bus line that's scarcely better than a classic bus.
A number of true BRT advocates really want to see "gold standard" bus-based transit lines, like those that have been very successful in Latin America. But in the United States, this often gets drowned out by people who just want to see cheaper projects, even if they're less effective. We see campaigns with pictures of fancy, gold standard BRT paired with cost estimates more in line with not-really-BRT. It's snake oil.
AST claims a "BRT" system would be far cheaper than a streetcar, but they are using estimates for alternatives in earlier studies that aren't really BRT at all. Building something like the Eugene transitway would cost far more, perhaps more even than the streetcar.
Stop using "BRT" to talk about not-really-BRT
Streetcar isn't always the right mode. Nor is rail in general. In many of the corridors where Montgomery County is considering BRT, assuming the county executive goes along with planners' recommendations to repurpose existing lanes for BRT, this can be the right form of transit. It's probably even right for the Corridor Cities Transitway.
But in Arlington, since a dedicated lane is not even on the table, it's disingenuous from the start to use the term "BRT." The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), the leading group of genuine BRT supporters, calls dedicated lanes a "vital" part of any BRT system in a BRT rating system they devised. Like LEED, ITDP's system gives points for different elements; systems with a certain number of points are "gold," then "silver" and "bronze."
ITDP's system tries to help define what really is "BRT" and what is just an overhyped regular bus line, and to differentiate higher-quality BRT lines from ones that have made more compromises. The US has not yet built a single gold-standard BRT system, or even silver, and most projects dubbed "BRT" aren't at all.
Arlington has already studied not-really-BRT and chose streetcar
On its website, AST doesn't claim any particular cost savings or push any specific plan, but just asks for "a study." The problem is, Arlington has done 2 studies already. Both looked at bus alternatives.
I went through the ITDP rating system and tried to match each category to the description in that study. Assuming the most optimistic choice each time, this would yield a score of about 61, or just barely enough to rate as Bronze BRT. Compromise on even the tiniest element, like only some off-board payment or lower off-peak frequency, and that proposal wouldn't qualify as BRT at all.
The 2012 Alternatives Analysis considered an articulated bus option. Streetcar supporters Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada told the Arlington Mercury the capacity of articulated buses is just not high enough compared to streetcar.
Arlington Streetcar Now also cites studies showing that many riders will take a streetcar over a bus. They say Tacoma saw a bus line's ridership jump 500% when it transformed it into a streetcar. 59% of residents along Columbia Pike said they would use a streetcar, while only 36% use the bus today.
It might be that those respondents think the streetcar will be faster than in reality, but other cities' experiences have been that ridership on new streetcar lines outstrips predictions while bus ridership does not.
Argue facts, not fiction
There are surely valid arguments for a bus project over a streetcar, just as no transportation choice is ever unequivocal, but there are many arguments for the streetcar over buses as well. What isn't on the table, however, is "modern BRT." Should Arlington not build the streetcar because it could just use a Star Trek transporter instead?
There's nothing wrong with a group advocating for a different transportation choice, though we might disagree; it's disingenuous, though, to promote an impossible and expensive nice-looking option and assert it's cheaper. Can the case against the streetcar really be strong, if opponents need to dangle a completely unrealistic hypothetical in front of residents?
Arlingtonians who want to see the streetcar built can declare their support and get on the email list for Arlington Streetcar Now.
"This neighborhood doesn't need any revitalizing," said one resident who lives near 5333 Connecticut Avenue, NW, throwing back into developer Jane Cafritz's face a newspaper quote where she said the proposed glassy, 9-story, 263-unit residential building would revitalize the neighborhood.
Hearing this, the crowd of Chevy Chase DC residents, most over 50, erupted into applause. Over 200 residents packed the Chevy Chase Community Center Wednesday evening to hear about the project firsthand from Jane and Calvin Cafritz and their team.
One side of the parcel abuts Military Road, the major east-west corridor across the top of the District. The other borders Kanawha Street, a very narrow residential street featuring mostly mid-sized bungalows.
At the outset, Mrs. Cafritz promised the skeptical audience that the glassy design that had been circulating widely was, in fact, not the building they planned to construct. She promised a forthcoming website to collect input on design and other concerns, which would give architect Eric Colbert, one of DC's most prolific residential apartment designers, an opportunity to revisit the design.
Not what Cafritz plans to build.
Zoning permits the building as of right
A group of residents has been actively organizing against the project, but their influence is limited because the Cafritz proposal will be completely "as of right," or fitting into the existing zoning without needing any special approvals.
Attorney Whayne Quinn explained the area's zoning and noted the building conforms to all requirements. It will cover only 45% of the lot. Quinn said that the project would be only half the size of the Kenmore building, 2 blocks to the north, with half the floor-area ratio and half the units, although one neighbor commented that the Kenmore itself ought not to be something the Cafritzes would be proud to emulate.
The building will be 90 feet, the height allowed under zoning, Quinn explained. However, one neighbor questioned whether they should measure the height from Connecticut Avenue or Kanawha Street. A representative from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) confirmed that the Cafritzes could measure the building from either, and it looks like the they will choose the method that will provide the greatest height.
In one of the livelier and more bizarre exchanges, the owner of several abutting residential apartment buildings admonished the Cafritzes for building a 9-story building on a block of 8-story buildings, saying to do so is taking advantage of the neighbors.
Another neighbor raised the common complaint about school overcrowding, and argued that those moving into the development would cause additional strain on the system. In a prior meeting, Councilmember Mary Cheh had taken another neighbor to task for a similar statement, letting him know that it was the right of any resident to have the city school their children. Certainly, school overcrowding is a real concern, but Cheh was correct to point out that this is not reason to prevent anyone from living where they want in our city.
Design tries to reduce mass along Connecticut, Kanawha
Colbert said he designed the building to have more mass along Military Road. A break and driveway on Connecticut Avenue will make it appear less massive from the front.
The Cafritzes' landscape architect said they plan to provide mature trees and as much of a green buffer as possible between the building and homes on Kanawha Street, and to the rear of the building. He argued that the smaller lot occupancy would permit more trees. Despite this, some complained that mature trees would need to be cut down, as these trees lie in the proposed building's footprint.
Grainy photo of proposed footprint.
The development team's presentation emphasized that the building would embrace green elements, in construction, use of materials, energy consumption, and rainwater management. However, when pressed on the environmental benefits, the architect admitted the building was not seeking any LEED certification, because the process of doing so was "too expensive."
Almost the entire crowd applauded a neighbor who asked why the building could not be brick instead of glass. She said the glass made it look like a building at 9th and K Streets.
Mrs. Cafritz seemed open to changing the glass, although in continued questioning it did not appear Colbert, the architect, had yet started to think about this change. Also, the Washington Post reported today that Mrs. Cafritz told subsequently Councilmember Mary Cheh they plan to stick with glass
Colbert spent considerable time explaining how a glass building would be energy-efficient and that interior light would not shine on neighboring homes, although he admitted there would be considerable sun reflections from the glass.
Traffic analysis doesn't please opponents
DDOT Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe presented a traffic assessment which found the building would not have a significant effect on traffic. Zimbabwe explained to the crowd that they should expect traffic on Military Road and Connecticut Avenue to get worse over the next decade, with or without the building.
DDOT Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe presented information about the current traffic levels in the area. Traffic on Military Road and Connecticut Avenue has actually declined slightly between 2006 and 2011 according to DDOT's traffic counts, Zimbabwe reported, which drew derisive laughs from the audience.
The traffic analysis predicts that the new construction would add 97 cars to morning rush hour and 127 cars to evening rush hour, but DDOT does not view this as likely to have a significant effect on traffic.
"any intersection where one has to wait more than one light cycle is a failed intersection"
Zimbabwe argued that this is precisely the type of project that will help cut down on area traffic. Residents will have a shorter commute downtown, and could would walk the ¾ mile to Metro. At this, the crowd erupted into laughter.
Later in the evening, one of those laughing at this statement shouted out, in complete sincerity, "why isn't the building installing geothermal heating?" Perhaps I was the only one who found that ironic.
Can the building avoid straining the alley?
One of the main issues neighbors raised, and one that might be easy to solve, is the project's intent to use the existing residential alley for both a 197-space parking garage and delivery access. Currently, only the 20 or so homes that are on the alley tend to use it, so there would be a marked increase in traffic.
However, DDOT policy does not permit additional curb cuts into to the property. Zimbabwe explained that DDOT wants to minimize the number of separate entrances off a street, each of which create the opportunity for conflicts between turning cars and other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, just as in an intersection.
A solution came up that could satisfy both DDOT and residents: widen the curb cut for the alley, so that the building vehicle entrance is not directly off the alley but immediately next to the alley entrance.
DDOT can't forbid residents from getting parking stickers
If traffic flow issues drew a skeptical response, the increased impact the project would have to on-street parking brought even more consternation. One neighbor handed DDOT his own parking assessment of Kanawha Street, where he said it is already difficult to find parking after 10 pm at night, He estimated he'd need to walk 4 blocks to find a parking spot after the building is completed. This fired up several in the audience, one of whom shouted, "bad parking rules."
Zimbabwe explained that while the block was not zoned for Residential Permit Parking today, DDOT would permit residents to obtain RPP stickers if they petitioned DDOT to do so, as is its policy for other blocks.
The DC Council considered a bill last year that would have let building owners work out a deal with DDOT where their building would never be eligible for RPP, or not for a set period of time. However, a group of councilmembers, led by Chairman Mendelson, voted the bill down.
- It would be nice for the Cafritzes to work on ways to minimize the building blocking sunlight for nearby residents. However, I would imagine them reluctant to relent even a bit, because the neighbors might seek a far greater reduction in height than they may be comfortable with.
- The glass façade seems to be one where the Cafritzes are ready to listen to alternatives. Red brick was the consensus of the audience.
- A parallel driveway immediately adjacent to the alley entrance would seem to address the concern about alley access.
- The parking/traffic conundrum seems difficult to solve. Neighbors who want more underground spots would then see more traffic in the neighborhood, and might then complain about more cut-through traffic on other streets.
- LEED certification ought to be in the cards. Or, at least, the Cafritzes should consider doing what Douglas Jemal did at the Babe's site, which was to design the building to LEED standard but not actually undergo through the expensive certification process.
- How the property sits on the land will continue to be a bone of contention. The site plan did appear to have as much of a buffer as possible to the rear and along Kanawha Street, although much of the open space it devoted to a rear garden area for building residents.
It would not appear the Cafritzes are willing to have a smaller footprint and more massive building sited closer to Connecticut Avenue, as such building would not permit him to have the same number of smaller units that he contemplates.
Mrs. Cafritz said a website would open soon for the community to offer comments. Beyond that, it is hard to know how willing they are to have more meetings with interested neighbors, given that the project is as-of-right.
Correction: The original version of this article erroneously reported that Sam Zimbabwe had said that traffic would increase in the future, when in fact he said that it had decreased (slightly) in the past. It also said that DDOT had conducted a traffic study for the building; DDOT instead reported some information about traffic in the area, but does not do its own traffic studies for matter-of-right buildings.
Will reducing parking minimums and allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in upper Northwest neighborhoods make living more difficult for seniors? That's what a number of people argued at the Ward 3 zoning update meeting, but others cited seniors who will directly benefit from more housing, and more affordable housing, near transit.
Claudia Phelps wrote on the Chevy Chase listserv after the meeting, Tuesday evening in Tenleytown:
I was astounded at how many OP supporters spoke. I believe that every 2nd comment throughout the question period praised OP's work and their ideas! Some people around me suggested that OP had paid them to be at the meeting. (We have just a teensy bit of trust issues, I would say)
Many people at the meeting noticed that the pro-OP/radical change speakers were younger (30ish), and the anti-OP/radical changes were not so young. Apartment dwellers vs homeowners, most likely.
That last sentence evokes many of the anti-renter statements that have circulated throughout the debate, where some people insinuate (or outright claim) that anyone who doesn't own property is less worthy of consideration or will even harm the neighborhood.
One person wrote afterward, "I'm especially concerned about ADUs, and sympathized with the parent who expressed concern for his young children's safety if no controls were instituted on who could occupy such units." Steve Seelig replied, "Personally, I am appalled to hear and read about suggestions that those who would live in ADUs are going to have a greater tendency to endanger the children of our neighborhood."
As for age, I actually didn't perceive much of a difference between people who supported the (very much not radical, indeed quite timid) OP proposal, and those who opposed it. One speaker, Tad Baldwin, has gray hair yet said how important he thinks the proposal to allow accessory dwellings is. Others who appeared to be in their 30s argued against some of the changes.
Still, a pervasive theme throughout the discussion was whether the zoning changes would create problems for seniors. Moira Gillick spoke about the virtues of walkable neighborhoods, and a few people (somewhat rudely) shouted over her that walking didn't work for older residents.
In fact, a lot of pedestrians in Ward 3 are seniors, such as those who live in the assisted living facilities in the area. It's also certainly true that some people face mobility challenges, and need access to a car.
The fallacy in this debate comes when people assume that because one mode doesn't work for them, it won't work for others. One speaker called it ridiculous that people would come live in a building, like the proposed parking-free Babe's apartments in Tenleytown, without cars. Yet two speakers just minutes before had talked about how they live in parts of Ward 3 without cars.
One woman said she's not going to take the bus to Safeway with 5 bags of groceries. Fair enough. She doesn't have to. But on a Metro ride home (from Tenleytown, in fact) the next day, I stood on an escalator behind a man with 4 large bags of groceries. The majority of people in Ward 3 have cars, and that's not going to change if zoning allows a few new housing units marketed to people without cars.
Many seniors will benefit from transit-oriented housing choices
Some of those people will be seniors who can't drive any more. Herb Caudill talked about
his parents his wife's parents, who live in suburban New Jersey and are afraid of the day they won't be able to drive any longer. He said when they came to visit his home in Cleveland Park, they were amazed that he could walk to the grocery store, and asked if there was a library as well (there is!)
As a result, Caudill said, his parents are going to sell their house in New Jersey and their 2 cars and move into an apartment on Connecticut Avenue where they can walk to the library and museums. They can live independently even as their ability to drive declines.
(They will also become some of those "renters" that people are impugning on the listserv, or which people fear would come move into basements or converted garages and disrupt the character of the neighborhood.)
There is one obstacle for those like
the elder Caudills Caudill's in-laws, he noted: affordability. It's far cheaper to live in most of suburban New Jersey than in Cleveland Park "because the supply of housing is so limited," he said. That's why we need proposals like the accessory dwelling plan. "This housing is not just for young people," he said.
This is why we need proposals like OP's that expand the supply of housing. If anything, this plan does not expand it enough. A property owner who doesn't have an external garage today will be able to still build one as of right once the zoning update proceeds, but won't then be able to rent it out.
Richard Layman argued that at least near transit, zoning should encourage people to add extra housing on large lots with enough space for it. We could help more people like
the Caudills Caudill's wife's parents to live the retirement lives they want to have, but anxiety about "renters" and scarce parking has already led OP to water down its plans and lose out on one opportunity to let senior couples (and people of other ages) afford to come to DC.
The Office of Planning is holding their Ward 7 information meeting Saturday, 10 am at the DOES building, 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE, and a Twitter town hall using hashtag #ZRR at noon Monday, and finally the Ward 4 meeting at Takoma Education Campus, 7010 Piney Branch Rd. NW by Takoma Metro at 6:30 on Wednesday, January 16.
Correction: Herb Caudill emailed to clarify that the couple in question is his wife's parents, not his parents. I missed that when he was speaking at the event. Sorry for the error.
This Tuesday is a very important day! It's my birthday. (And Kojo Nnamdi's.) Also, it's the zoning update meeting in Ward 3, a ward which houses many of the most strident opponents, but where a great many residents also support growing and more walkable neighborhoods.
Can you go to the meeting? You don't need to know much about the zoning update; it's a great chance to learn. It would also help a lot to say something. Many opponents will be there and not shy. The meeting is 6:30 pm at Wilson High School.
Reader Steve asked, "Do you have specific talking points that we should try to convey?" You can say whatever you want, of course, and make up your own mind, but below are a few themes you might want to mention.
In addition, there are many ways OP has backed off earlier plans based on either resident pressure or internal OP decisions to push for a less significant change than they had originally planned. Or there are ways the zoning update could go beyond the original proposals. Therefore, for each policy area, there are a few changes you could request, if you feel they match your own views.
What's happening: The zoning update will restructure the zoning code (while keeping almost all provisions the same). Instead of having to look in up to 3 places for conflicting rules that all apply to your property, the key information will be in one place.
Main positive point: The zoning code is too hard to understand right now. It needs reorganizing into a form that better helps property owners understand what is and isn't legal on their property.
What's happening: The zoning update removes minimum parking rules for buildings downtown, residential buildings under 10 units, and buildings in mixed-use and higher-density residential areas near Metro and frequent bus lines.
Main positive point: Current rules force many buildings to include more parking than their residents or workers need. It's really important to remove many of the parking minimums, especially downtown and near transit.
Ways OP could go further:
- Fill in the "holes" in places like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights by making transit zones apply to non-residential uses in R-4 row house zones near transit.
- Go even farther and have no minimum parking requirements at all, citywide.
- Add parking maximums as well, in addition to one on 100,000-square foot parking lots. These would not have been absolute caps, but would just make developers do a Transportation Demand Management plan if they want to put in more parking than a set threshold.
What's happening: In low- and moderate-density residential areas, people can't rent out a basement or existing garage without going through complex approvals. The proposal would allow this in most lower-density areas for interior units or existing external buildings, but still require a hearing for new or expanded external buildings.
Main positive point: Accessory dwellings help young people afford places to live and seniors age in place. They make housing more affordable and accommodate more residents without fundamentally changing the character of buildings in a neighborhood. They just let neighborhoods house the numbers of people they did 50 years ago.
Ways OP could go further:
- Allow ADUs by right in new external structures as well (as long as the new external structure conforms to the other zoning rules).
- Impose fewer restrictions such as on size, balconies, whether an artist can live above a studio, and more.
- Include ADUs by right in Georgetown as well
— the current proposal requires a special exception for them (more on that later).
What's happening: Retail can locate in moderate density residential row house areas (not low-density or the higher density areas), as long as it's pretty far from other retail, in a corner building or historically commercial building, and satisfies many more restrictions.
Main positive point: People want to be able to walk to neighborhood-serving retail, and if they live in an area without a neighborhood commercial strip right nearby, they should be able to have a corner store to serve their needs.
Ways OP could go further:
- Allow stores on properties besides literal "corners" and historically commercial buildings.
- Allow corner stores even within 500 feet of mixed-use zones.
- Let corner stores locate in row house and apartment zones (now R-5) as well; now they do not count.
- Let the Board of Zoning Adjustment waive more of the conditions in a special exception hearing.
Green Area Ratio
What's happening: New or substantially changed buildings will need to get a certain score of environmental sustainability features, such as grass, green roof, stormwater management, or green walls, based on the property's size.
This will help reduce stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect and potentially make DC a more pleasant place to live even as it grows. Some fear it will also further disadvantage urban development versus exurban greenfields.
There are many other small tweaks in the zoning update, mostly good.
Some top positive changes:
- The new code requires more bicycle parking for buildings. There would be "long-term" spaces, such as in a locked room inside the building for employees or residents, and "short-term" outdoor racks for visitors or shoppers.
- Larger garages will have to have a number of car sharing spaces. Surface parking lots need canopy trees to shade some of the lot.
- Rules for building homes on alley lots become a little bit more permissive.
Proposals OP dropped:
- The previous proposal had the same limits on the actual size of a house but did not prescribe how many stories you can have inside (except as the fire code limits). In low-density zones, OP reinstated a limit of 3 stories.
- The original proposal let homeowners build a house of similar size to others nearby even if their lot has an extra-short rear yard. The Zoning Commission approved this idea but OP removed it.
The meeting is at Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St NW by the Tenleytown Metro. It starts at 6:30 with a presentation by Harriet Tregoning, an "open house" format where you can ask OP staff questions, and then a "town hall" where people can speak to the entire group about their views.
Linda Schmitt, head crusader against DC's zoning update, just sent out an email warning people about the accessory dwelling proposals:
Thought you might want to see what an ADU looks like. Photo provided by DC resident who says six of these are within shouting distance of her house. She is very upset and angry about it.She attached this picture:
Clearly, we look at the same thing and see it differently, because this looks like a pretty charming, well-maintained little house that's doesn't mar the look of the neighborhood. Many of us would love to have six of these in the alleys, with people who have an incentive to keep them clean and more eyes on the street instead of just a garage which could attract rats.
Ultimately, most of this comes down to a simple matter of values. Would you like to have more people in your neighborhood, especially if they can fit into existing buildings? (The Office of Planning's current proposal does not allow ADUs in any accessory buildings constructed after the change goes into effect). Or do you want government rules that keep people away?
OP has shown statistics about how existing houses are holding far fewer people than they did 50 years ago. Schmitt wants a public policy that makes it impossible for these neighborhoods to accommodate the numbers of people they once did, without changing the built environment much at all.
Schmitt calls her group Neighbors for Neighborhoods, but maybe it should really be Neighbors for Empty Neighborhoods, or Neighbors Against More Neighbors.
Please try to make the zoning update meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 6:30 pm at Wilson High School, or one of the other remaining meetings in wards 5, 7, and 4.
Dupont ANC commissioner Kevin O'Connor summed up the tenor of Tuesday's Penn Quarter meeting on the zoning update simply: "Consensus of Ward 2 zoning meeting seems to be that [reducing the] parking minimums need[s] to go even further than proposed."
People milling around during the "open house" portion of the meeting. Photo by the author.
During the question and answer session, the dominant theme was that the update is moving in the right direction, but could do even more. Many residents attended this meeting beyond the usual faces in civic involvement, as well; one attendee told me this was his first ever public civic meeting in DC.
Tonight (Thursday), ANC 3B (Glover Park and Cathedral Heights) will discuss the zoning update at their regular meeting, and the Office of Planning will present at its third public meeting, this time in Ward 8.
Tomorrow (Friday), OP will come online, with a Twitter Town Hall at noon. Submit your questions with the hashtag #ZRR. I will also embed a feed of the town hall here.
At the new AIA center in the Penn Quarter, speaker after speaker thanked the Office of Planning for all their hard work on the zoning update, including many meaningful improvements, but also expressed hope that the update could do a little more. A few people asked about opportunities to adjust the height limit. One lamented new rules that limit a rooming house to 8 unrelated people.
The greatest number voiced disappointment at the giant "hole" in the likely transit zones around northern Logan Circle on the map:
The amount of development this "hole" and other exclusions affect is actually fairly small, since the excluded areas all have 1-2 family row houses and the zoning doesn't allow apartment buildings; it's also almost entirely built out today. Mainly, it means that any new non-residential use would have minimum parking requirements, even right next to a Metro station.
OP has very narrowly drawn the rules in this and many other ways to minimize the scope of each change. The zoning update allows corner stores, but subject to so many rules that there might be only a bare handful of corner stores that open in the entire city as a result. Accessory dwellings are allowed, but with strict limits on size, numbers of people, balconies, and a special exception requirement if it's in a new external building to ensure people don't build new garages just to house an accessory unit.
They did this to accommodate pushback from some neighborhoods, especially in Ward 3, for all the good that did them; emails from a few people in Chevy Chase haven't stopped claiming that this is all a nefarious plot to radically remake the District and force a car-free lifestyle upon everyone.
If anything, this update bends over too far to limit the scope of each change. The risk is that Zoning Commission members, hearing opponents, will decide to "split the baby" and find a "compromise" between OP's proposal and no change at all, when in fact, OP's proposal is also a major compromise from early drafts and even from what the Zoning Commission approved in principle in 2010.
The Zoning Commission agreed to a rule that if you have an unusually short lot, such as on a triangular block near a diagonal avenue, you could still build a house of typical depth even though that might break the required rear setback. OP abandoned that idea.
The Zoning Commission also approved parking maximums, but except for a rule that developers will need a special exception and Transportation Demand Management plan for surface lots over 100,000 square feet, OP removed maximums; the 2010 hearing report shows that OP was trying to decide between requiring the special exception and TDM plan for garages over 1,000 spaces, or a DDOT suggestion to require it for garages over 500 spaces away from transit and 250 spaces near transit. Ultimately, they chose neither.
The zoning update is still a meaningful step forward in making the District more affordable, better accommodating the many car-free new residents, and enhancing neighborhood amenities, but it's a small step that doesn't warrant the level of anger it's engendered in upper Northwest and which shouldn't become any smaller of a step than it already is.
If you live or work or even often visit Ward 8, come to the meeting tonight at Savoy Elementary, 2400 Shannon Place from 6:30-8:30. If you're near Glover Park or Cathedral Heights, please stop by the ANC meeting, 7 pm at Stoddert Elementary; they'll also be talking about residential parking. And if you're on Twitter, head online at noon tomorrow for the town hall.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?