Posts about Parking Design
Tonight is the second public meeting for the DC Zoning Update, at 421 7th St. NW in the Penn Quarter. Let us know if you can come to this one, or one of the others in December and January.
Steven Yates attended the first meeting, Saturday in Southwest. He reported:
Parking seemed like the most contentious issue. There were some people concerned with the elimination of some parking minimums (particularly in the transit zones). They were particularly concerned with spillover into the neighborhoods, which sounded [solvable] with resident-only parking.Let's talk about what's in there about parking.
There was also a sizable group (I'd guess roughly equal in size to those concerned with parking) that were vocally supportive of what OP [the Office of Planning] is trying to do in regards to parking. The biggest (really only) applause for comments were those who were OK with less parking. Many people there seemed genuinely curious about what the update meant and had some fairly wonky and specific questions.
The 1958 zoning code mandated parking for new buildings on the assumption that everyone would be driving in the future. Like adequate public facilities ordinances in the suburbs, this subordinates development to automotive infrastructure. If there isn't enough room for cars, build nothing until there is.
Predictions that there would be only one mode of transportation, driving, in the future turned out to be wrong. We have Metro, buses, biking, walking, and more. Rather than accommodating demand, requirements to build parking instead create strong incentives for people to drive who wouldn't have otherwise, pushing the mode share in one unsustainable direction and making traffic worse for existing drivers.
Early working groups for the zoning update considered eliminating almost all or even all parking minimums, but facing pressure from some neighborhood groups, OP backed off and only now propose eliminating minimums for a few categories:
- Small residential buildings of up to 9 units
- Higher-density areas (today's R-5) and mixed-use/commercial zones near Metro or high-frequency bus lines ("transit zones")
- Production, Distribution and Repair (industrial) land
The final set of "transit zones" isn't set, but OP created this preliminary map showing where they probably will be:
Note that any low-density land, even right next to a Metro station, doesn't count, even most row house neighborhoods (designated R-4 today). An individual townhouse will be exempt under the small residential building requirement, but any non-residential building like a school, even next to a Metro station, will have to have as much parking as if it were nowhere near the Metro.
Property owners won't have to consult a transit timetable to decide if they are in a transit zone. Instead, the actual zoning category will differ. An apartment building area near transit would be an AT zone, while one far from transit would be an A. Likewise, commercial and mixed-use corridors are M zones without transit and MT zones in areas near transit.
The Zoning Commission approved a general proposal to have some as-yet-undetermined parking maximums as well, but the Office of Planning has dropped this from the update.
One proposal had been to allow buildings to build a lot of parking if they want, but require that parking beyond a certain limit use a design that makes it possible to convert the space to other uses, like below-grade retail, offices, or even storage. However, developers said that this would add considerably to the cost of that below-grade space with no immediate benefit, and OP dropped this requirement.
One maximum remains in the draft code: surface parking lots can't exceed 100,000 square feet, or about 2.3 acres, as of right. By comparison, the surface parking lot for the Home Depot and other stores near Rhode Island Avenue Metro is about 350,000 square feet, or 8 acres.
However, anyone can ask for a special exception to exceed this limit if they create a Transportation Demand Management plan which DDOT approves. The BZA also has the ability to require screening and landscaping, or put requirements on where the curb cuts to enter and exit are.
While it's better for the zoning code to err on the side of less regulation rather than more, a requirement to have a TDM plan for very large parking facilities, and to go through some review process for the design, makes sense. The special exception process does not present an extremely high bar to getting things approved, but it does force people to go through a legal process.
For the individual homeowner wanting to rent out a garage, a special exception is a large burden, but for anyone building a 2.3-acre or larger parking lot, it's not likely to be. In fact, this would argue for a lower threshold above which the special exception and TDM process kicks in.
A number of rules guide how a parking lot or structure can be designed. Parking lots over a certain size will have to have trees to create shade and reduce the urban heat island effect. Drive-through queueing lanes have to be a certain length. And so on.
You can read all about that stuff in Subtitle C, chapters 2106-2112.
One of the rules in the zoning update, which prohibits parking between buildings and the street in most areas, already became law in 2011, after the Office of Planning brought that particular chapter forward ahead of time as a text amendment.
It's great that many supporters of reducing burdensome parking minimums made it on Saturday, but we'll need to keep that up at the other meetings, especially Ward 3 on January 8 but also many other wards. Please let us know which meeting you can make!
Drivers in a parking lot ought to yield to pedestrians. At least one Montgomery County driver doesn't know this. Is this her fault or the consequence of a confusing parking lot striping design?
Greater Greater Wife and I stopped at the "Shops at Wildwood" shopping center at Old Georgetown Road and Democracy Boulevard in North Bethesda this morning. This has the fairly classic layout where the stores are in a line, a roadway runs along the stores, and then each row of parking spaces extends perpendicular to that roadway.
We parked in one of the rows and walked toward a store. A driver was coming up to the corner where we waited. There's a speed bump, so she slowed down. We waited for her to stop. Instead, as we waited, she slowly rolled on over the speed bump and past us.
I made a quizzical shrugging gesture, and the driver shouted, "crosswalk!"
Crosswalk? What crosswalk? Ah, on the next row over, there's a crosswalk connecting the aisle to the stores, but there was no crosswalk on our row or some of the other rows.
Perhaps this crosswalk is there because that row has some disability parking spaces or something. Did this driver really think that everyone is supposed to walk from their row over to this other row and use the crosswalk to get to the stores?
My first instinct was to simply conclude that some drivers don't understand how to drive in parking lots, but does the fact that some have crosswalks and some don't create extra confusion?
What do you think? Bad driver or bad design?
Meanwhile, Eric Fidler took this photograph of a driver actually parked in a Dupont Circle Capital Bikeshare station.
Even if this station were entirely empty when this driver parked here, which is possible, it seems like a stretch for them to conclude that this is a parking space.
This appears to be a New York license plate; if it's from anywhere in or around the city, they'll probably get used to what these bikeshare stations are as soon as the system launches there.
A mixed-use development right on Route 1 in Riverdale Park turned into a giant strip mall with a Whole Foods, after residents opposed the initial plan. But now residents fear the new plan will bring in too much traffic.
A proposed mixed-use development at the Cafritz Property in Riverdale Park will now be a strip mall.
If residents want a more sustainable growth pattern in the area, they need to help the county step away from its history of suburban sprawl, such as by supporting walkable mixed-use projects like the original proposal. That's the only realistic way to attract upscale amenities that residents crave without drawing even more traffic.
Despite being a haven for the black middle class, Prince George's County has long struggled to attract the kind of high-end amenities found elsewhere in Greater Washington. Now, upscale grocer Whole Foods wants to locate in the county as part of a development called the Cafritz Property, located on a wooded, 35-acre site on Route 1 in Riverdale Park, between College Park and Hyattsville.
In an editorial yesterday, the Washington Post stated its support for the project. "It would be a grave mistake for the county to turn its back on precisely the sort of progress so many county residents say they want," said the editorial board.
The store, located within a mile of a Metro station, and even closer to a MARC station and a future Purple Line station, would join an office building and a health club in a giant parking lot. Architect Jim Voelzke of Bethesda-based MV+A Architects, who designed the original plan, told Riverdale Park Patch that the new proposal's "unique design" would reduce traffic.
According to the Patch, "A slew of parking will surround the Whole Foods ... which [Voelzke] hopes will alleviate some of the traffic issues expected along Route 1." There's no explanation how multiple parking lots laid out in typical suburban strip-mall-style would alleviate traffic issues.
Though this might seem like an inefficient use of land at a site in an established, inside-the-Beltway community, Riverdale Park mayor Vernon Archer wishes there were even less there. "If it were simply Whole Foods coming into town, I think there wouldn't be that much debate," he told the Examiner. "But the Whole Foods is an anchor for a larger mall and ... a substantial number of new housing units. The size of it is what is causing second thoughts."
Four years ago, Cafritz proposed a much larger development on their property, saying they wanted to "[create] a point of pride" for the community. The project would have contained up to 2,000 apartments, 286,000 square feet of office and retail space, a 120-room hotel, and community space in buildings up to 12 stories high.
A new grid of streets would have tied the project in with surrounding neighborhoods, while creating a "comfortable and lively pedestrian experience," in the words of the developers. The public would have gotten a new community building and series of parks and squares, and a wooded buffer along Route 1 would have separated the development from the single-family homes across the street in affluent University Park.
Unfortunately, community response to the Cafritz Property development was negative from the beginning. In 2007, neighbors complained the project would be too dense and that the presence of a Whole Foods would create more congestion on busy Route 1, while the Riverdale Park Town Council has expressed concerns that it would create competition for their town center, a small block of mostly-vacant shops adjacent to the Riverdale MARC station.
In 2008, Cafritz returned with a less ambitious plan, containing half as many homes, a smaller grocery store, and buildings no taller than 7 floors. Where the original proposal could be seen from Route 1, the new plan made the initial move to make it nearly invisible to passersby, ensuring the difficult proposition of selling the site to retailers.
It's ironic that residents of Riverdale Park and surrounding towns have been so opposed to any development at the Cafritz Property, given Prince George's County's long-standing struggle to attract upscale amenities. As one of the county's more affluent sections, the Route 1 corridor has drawn a fair amount of development in recent years. A slew of student apartment buildings have been built in College Park, while work is beginning on a subdivision of luxury homes in adjacent University Park. At Arts District Hyattsville, trendy local restaurants including Tara Thai and Busboys and Poets have opened alongside hundreds of new rowhouses.
There have been struggles as well, however. A lack of foot traffic and visibility has already killed some businesses, like Artmosphere Cafe in Mount Rainier, while luxury apartments sit empty at the massive University Town Center complex in Hyattsville, part of which was recently sold at auction.
If a store, especially an upscale one, is to locate survive in an area like Riverdale Park, it has to have a sufficient number of customers. Those customers could live within walking distance, if there are dense enough communities on site or nearby. Or, the store can draw customers from a large area by car, which would generate significant traffic.
In other words, a Whole Foods means either more buildings or more cars (or both); neither is not an option. The community would be better off going for the buildings and pushing for a design, and non-auto transportation choices, that minimize the associated traffic.
As Richard Layman pointed out yesterday, there are some legitimate concerns about traffic at the Cafritz Property. The site is located close to transit, though many visitors are likely to drive. The market's weak enough that a mixed-use project here could cannibalize existing development at Arts District and University Town Center.
It's possible that Cafritz will build the entire site out as originally planned, as articles in the Examiner, the Post and Patch all describe the larger 2008 proposal, but challenges remain. The developers still face major community opposition (with some exceptions) and a local retail market that's reeling from the recession. They also have to change the zoning, which currently allows 220 single-family homes to be built on the site, to allow for commercial development.
Yet a strip mall is still an inappropriate and wasteful use of land in this location. Even if people drive to a site, clustering more stores and offices together allows one car trip to serve several needs. The classic suburban strip mall development pattern forces drivers to exit and re-enter a major boulevard multiple times in a single shopping trip. That's one of the biggest sources of congestion.
The Cafritz Property developers should pursue a phased development, building the entire site as originally proposed in 2008 over time. Whole Foods alone isn't enough to revitalize this area. But as the anchor of a new town center, it could improve the way people live and shop along Route 1.
In an article last week, Post reporter Katherine Shaver suggests that the prevalence of structured parking in Montgomery County signals a "cultural shift" and an "urban turn" for what many claim is the "perfect suburbia."
What's missing, however, is that the rise of underground garages means we can still accommodate drivers while making room for other things, including more and higher-quality open spaces.
When I used to work at an ice-cream parlor in Rockville Town Square, I'd get phone calls from customers with questions. One thing always seemed to upset my callers: it wasn't about the cost of ice cream, or what flavors we did or didn't have in stock, or even that you had to pay to park there. It was that the only parking came in an underground garage behind the store.
"You mean I have to park in a garage?" they'd ask. "I hate parking garages, and I don't want to shop anywhere where I have to use one."
I don't know how many customers this deterred, but I'm not surprised that people are unhappy parking in a garage to shop at the new Whole Foods in North Bethesda Market. This new development along Rockville Pike in White Flint also contains the tallest apartment building in Montgomery County.
Those used to the vast, free parking lots outside Whole Foods' former location in Congressional Plaza, a few miles away, probably aren't happy about going down a steep ramp and paying $1.50 an hour to store their car. Not only that, but I went there a couple of weeks ago and found the garage crowded and difficult to navigate, though this may be partially due to construction of the still-unfinished shopping center.
Structured parking has been a fact of life in Montgomery County for decades. Silver Spring, Singular found this 1970's-era ad for Bethlehem Steel showing a then-new garage on Ellsworth Drive. There are parking garages, with aboveground and underground portions, in the downtowns of Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and Wheaton. Across Rockville Pike from North Bethesda Market is White Flint Mall, which has had parking garages since it opened almost forty years ago.
I like parking garages because they can keep my car cool in the summer and dry when it rains or snows. However, a poorly designed and poorly lit garage can feel really uncomfortable. They can also give a lousy first impression to people going from their car to a shop, office or apartment building. Underground garages can also make users feel unsafe. When a developer proposed replacing a public parking lot in downtown Silver Spring with a garage to make room for other uses, one neighbor worried it would be a draw for crime.
One way to alleviate these concerns is to bring more natural light into underground parking areas. The garage below Ikea's College Park branch is set into a hill, meaning that two sides are open to the outside. At University Town Center in Hyattsville, underground garages are lit by a shaft reaching to the street above.
Parking lots along Rockville Pike are giving away to other uses,
like housing, retail, and open space. Photo by author.
There are trade-offs to parking garages. You can't just pull up to a space, you might have to take stairs or an elevator back to the street, and you usually have to pay for a space. But they do conserve land, which can go to other uses.
In North Bethesda Market, there are wide sidewalks with lush plantings and lots of benches. The first thing you see when you come out of the garage is an elegant plaza with a fountain at the center and lined with shops and restaurants. Eventually, this will be just one part of a larger network of urban open spaces throughout White Flint, none of which would be possible with the surface parking lots that line Rockville Pike today.
Building up on parking lots is one of the changes that the Post calls a "threat" to the suburban way of life, whether in Montgomery or across the river in Fairfax, which is undergoing similar growing pains. While there are a few special places where parking lots can be a suburban community's gathering space, most are just places to store cars. If done well, structured garages can do that while making room for the places where people gather and form community. That sounds like a way to make suburbs stronger, not eradicate them.
Don't forget that Greater Greater Washington is hosting a happy hour this evening. We'll be gathering starting at 6pm at Tynan in NoMa.
The venue is just steps from the New York Avenue Metro station, located at 1275 1st Street NE. They've offered us $2 off beer and wine, so you won't want to miss this meetup.
Tomorrow, be sure to come out and support new rules proposed by the Office of Planning to restrict the construction of parking in front of buildings. The hearing will be held tomorrow night at 6:30 at 441 4th Street NW (One Judiciary Square), Suite 220-South.
Mark your calendars for some upcoming events, including a Greater Greater Washington happy hour.
Greater greater happy hour: Next Wednesday, April 27, we're having a happy hour 6pm at Tynan in NoMa. Tynan is located at 1275 1st Street NE, near the New York Avenue Metro station. They've graciously offered us $2 off beer and wine. Be sure to come out and meet contributors, commenters, and fellow readers.
Metro map contest ends soon: If you haven't yet submitted your entry to our Metro map contest, be sure to do so by the April 30 deadline.
Livable Communities Leadership Awards: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is hosting its annual Livable Communities Leadership Awards program. It will be on Tuesday, May 3 from 6:30-8pm at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1785 Massachusetts Avenue NW. RSVP required.
DC parking hearing: The DC Office of Zoning is holding a public hearing about making it illegal to place parking in front of commercial buildings. The meeting will be on Thursday, April 28 at 6:30 at 441 4th Street NW, Suite 220-S.
Kojo Show tomorrow: Tune in to WAMU 88.5 FM tomorrow at noon to hear a discussion on bicycling. Shane Farthing of WABA and Eric Gilliland of Capital Bikeshare will talk biking on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.
Kidical Mass: Don't forget, Kidical Mass is this Saturday. Families, bring your kids to the Eastern Market Metro plaza to ride around Capitol Hill in support of kid-friendly streets. The event starts at 10am this Saturday, April 23.
You can get more information about these and other events on the Greater Greater Washington calendar.
Last week, Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. introduced two bills to encourage diagonal (angled) parking. They sound like they'll increase the amount of parking. But is that what we want?
Both bills would require DDOT to establish procedures for adding diagonal parking. One would let businesses on a street apply for diagonal parking if 60% agree. The other would let religious institutions apply for diagonal parking, but only on Sundays, and with approval from the area ANC.
Diagonal parking means more parking spaces, which most business owners think will increase customers. But how do people get there? Who comes there? And why are Thomas' bills relevant?
DDOT already puts in angled parking in DC, but without a formal process. Requests usually come from Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), churches, ANCs, councilmembers, the Mayor's office, or citizens. The requests go to DDOT's Ward Planner, the Parking Specialist, or the Curbside Specialist. Several divisions discuss the idea based on the need, construction or other plans already in place, and, of course, traffic counts.
For businesses without a BID, this bills to establish a formal process could be helpful. For areas where double parking for churches often happens anyway, this might be a way to make some peace between neighbors and churches. If these requests are common, DDOT should have a formal policy.
When DDOT turns down requests, people usually aren't satisfied. They go higher, to the Council or the Mayor, and the order comes down to put it in. Given that, why would DDOT ever say no to diagonal parking? Is DDOT anti-business? Is DDOT anti-church? Here are a couple of reasons.
- The street's not wide enough. Parallel parking requires 7-9 feet, travel lanes are 10-12, and bike lanes are 5. Angled parking, depending on whether the angle is 45, 60, or 90, consumes 16-20 feet. Unless there's an travel lane that isn't needed, angled parking isn't possible.
- The space is already being used. What's occupying the space today? If vehicle counts are high enough, then the answer is traffic. If not, there might be a bike lane or a sidewalk widening planned. To install permanent diagonal parking, the city needs to decide if enough space can be taken out of the transportation network permanently during the week. This is not an easy decision. Once angled parking is installed, an act of Congress seems to be the only way to undo it.
On Sundays, traffic is likely not an issue. While at DDOT, planners recognized that permanent diagonal parking often kills the possibility for bike lanes on certain blocks (11th ST NW between Vermont and Q Streets, for example). Does it matter if the bike lanes are blocked on Sundays, since there's so little traffic anyway? Can people on bikes simply use the travel lane? This might not be problematic on Sundays, but could be slippery slope to losing the integrity of bike lanes.
Now the broader question: Do we want more parking? It has generally been treated as good. But what else comes with more parking?
More traffic. It's a fact (proven over and over and over) that more parking creates more traffic. But in a retail area that seems barren, isn't more traffic a good thing? Maybe, but so is a good streetscape to make people want to shop there in the first place.
Diagonal parking has a traffic calming effect, but so to other techniques. After the protected bike lanes on 15th Street NW were installed, the number of vehicles driving over 20 mph over the speed limit decreased from 147 a day to 3 (a 98% reduction). Calmer traffic means people are driving slower, looking around more at businesses, and watching for cars exiting spaces. But it's just one tool in the traffic calming toolbox.
Diagonal parking is just one way to address parking shortages. There are many ways to manage parking, from building a garage to alternating pricing and time limits at meters. A bill that calls out a single solution to an often complicated problem ties the hands of experts whose job it is to keep up with innovations and to understand limits of each one.
More parking means businesses tend to market to people driving in, not neighbors. When residents can walk, bike, take the bus or a taxi to businesses nearby, businesses will cater to them. But when people can drive to your neighborhood restaurant, the restaurant will start giving them what they want, not what you want.
That means more emphasis on parking and valets, and less on sidewalks, trees, benches, bike racks, and bike lanes. While more parking for businesses and churches seems like a good way to deal with struggling businesses and too many people driving in on Sundays, it enforces the idea that these aren't really for neighbors.
More parking hurts the taxicab industry. Taxis are demand-responsive, on-demand transit. But the taxi system works best without congestion and when people aren't driving themselves. Taxis are also a great way to get home from bars at 2am, when Metro is infrequent and people do not want to be driving.
Are Councilmember Thomas' bills necessary? Do we need more permanent parking? If the honest intent of these bills is to issue procedures, and not simply to force DDOT to approve more diagonal parking, then they could have some benefit, but may not be necessary. But let us not forget that more parking often comes at the price of other aspects of city life we enjoy.
Proposed zoning rules that require putting parking spaces to the side of or behind a building, instead of in front, may become law this year, perhaps quickly enough to influence some big box store plans that are in the works.
New developments that put their parking in front significantly diminish the pedestrian environment. They also make it less appealing for other, adjacent projects to address the street, creating a vicious cycle away from an active streetscape, while new buildings with their parking in the rear start a cycle in the opposite, positive direction.
Because of this, DC's Comprehensive Plan calls for locating parking behind or underneath buildings. Actually, the zoning code already requires parking for residential development to be either behind, to the side, or in a garage, but commercial uses can place it anywhere, resulting in stores with large front parking lots in walkable areas or areas that could soon become walkable.
The zoning rewrite proposals include changes to codify the parking location rules for commercial projects as well. Unfortunately, the zoning rewrite is still potentially years from being complete, and projects are going forward now which will lock in bad urban design for decades or more.
In testimony on the parking rules, a number of us asked the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission to accelerate this specific piece, writing it into the current zoning regs while we wait for the complete overhaul.
OP has now proposed a text amendment to do just this, and submitted it to the Zoning Commission. The commission will then review the proposal and schedule a public hearing, likely in March. If they approve it, there are then various steps (proposed action, final action, publication in the DC Register, and so on), but it's possible these changes could become part of the DC zoning code by mid to late summer.
That may nto be early enough to affect the Aldi, but there are lots more commercial development projects in various stages that will catch fire as the economy improves. Putting the zoning in place now will ensure that the next development boom isn't destructive to neighborhoods' walkability.
DC's extensive zoning update process continues with a hearing tonight on the Green Area Ratio proposals and the deadline for submitting written comments on car and bicycle parking minimums and maximums.
First, today is the last day to submit written testimony to the Zoning Commission on the parking chapter, including relaxing parking minimums, adding limited parking maximums for very large projects, and guiding the location of parking on a lot.
I'm particularly focusing my written comments on the need to accelerate section 1506 (PDF) of the parking proposal, which disallows putting parking in front of buildings. OP and the Zoning Commission should enact this section before the complete zoning rewrite takes effect over a year from now.
Projects like the Aldi in Carver-Langston or the Van Ness Walgreens (later changed) will keep getting proposed while the zoning rewrite is underway. Developers will design a project the way zoning requires, but in the absence of guidance, they'll just fall back on the standard suburban models. These projects will last for 50 years, so the least we can ask is that the developer put the parking behind the buildings.
To submit comments, fax or emailed a signed PDF of not more than 10 pages to firstname.lastname@example.org by 3 pm today.
The Green Area Ratio (PDF), the subject of tonight's hearing, incorporates a standard of environmental sustainability into development. New development or large-scale renovations for buildings will have to meet a GAR standard, except for single-family homes, 2-unit condos/apartments, or accessory dwellings .proposed text sets scores for different kinds of landscaping and stormwater management. Trees count for a certain number of square feet depending on their size. Landscaped areas count for 30-60% of their size depending on the depth of their soil, permeable pavers about 40-50%, green roofs 60-80%. That score is then divided by the total size of the lot to generate a GAR.
The actual GAR each property will have to achieve has yet to be determined, and the Office of Planning will propose specific thresholds as they write zoning text for each individual type of zone.
Implementing the GAR will cost some money, though statistics from a similar program in Seattle showed that it added only ½% to 1% to the total cost of the project. In addition, buildings have to pay impervious surface fees from the District Department of the Environment and DC Water, and higher GAR will directly lower those payments. GAR features on buildings will also help DC reach its EPA-mandated stormwater quality goals, improve air quality, and reduce air conditioning costs.
OP estimated the current GAR of properties in DC. For commercial zones, the GAR today falls between .2 and .3, with industrial zones a little lower, moderate density residential between .3 and .4, and lower density residential zones higher due to their lower lot coverage.
The Zoning Commission asked OP to estimate what GAR requirements it might set for a zone. OPS ran the analysis for Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR) zones, which are designated C-M for Commercial and Manufacturing or just M for Manufacturing in the old zoning code. PDR zones average .137, the lowest category in DC.
Each 0.1 of GAR would add about $1.50 per square foot to projects. OP would recommend a starting GAR requirement of 0.2, with the opportunity to reevaluate raising the threshold in the future. This would add less than 1% to the construction costs of new projects.
The hearing is tonight, 6:30 pm at 441 4th Street, NW (One Judiciary Square), room 220-South. Typically in these hearings, OP presents first, then the Zoning Commission asks questions, and finally public witnesses can speak, first witnesses in support and then those opposed. Fill out two of the little witness cards that are on the table next to the far right door while you wait.
Carver-Langston is a dense, urban neighborhood, and is about to benefit greatly from the H Street-Benning Road streetcar, which will run across the entire southern edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, commercial developers still seem to think they are located in a far-flung suburb, miles from the city.
Along with the increase in transit options for the over 5,500 residents of the neighborhood, a new grocery option is on its way. Aldi will be opening a new store in the neighborhood, but the design and layout show absolutely zero creativity or understanding of how to build in a transit-friendly, walkable area.
Much of the entire southwest corner of the neighborhood is commercial in nature, but has been laid out in a suburban style. This isn't just inappropriate for this part of the city, it's clearly a waste of prime real estate.
Here's the preliminary site plan for the new Aldi store:
As you can see, the store, which will be located at the southeast corner of 17th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, will not address the street. Rather, a majority of the lot will be an asphalt parking lot, which is almost identical to the standard plan that Aldi provides to developers (PDF):
It doesn't have to be this way. Aldi's European operations have shown that they can operate stores that fit into an urban environment:
This store, located in Frankfurt, Germany, is at the junction of multiple streetcar lines and shares a building that includes other uses (which appear to be offices) above the ground floor. Bicycle parking in front (and a U-Bahn station below) add to the transportation options available to shoppers (of course, access by foot is a given).
Why couldn't a store like this be built in Carver Langston? There's little incentive to do so. Sure, this isn't the central business district of the city, but there's no reason that we shouldn't prioritize every parcel of limited commercial land in DC to serve a higher purpose. More property taxes could come from a multi-story building that has office space in addition to a grocery store. Income tax could come from residents living above such a store. Instead, the city has settled for the lowest common denominator.
How can we make sure things like this don't happen again? A first step is to make sure that the Zoning Commission passes the parking regulations from the zoning update. The Commission extended the period when they'll be accepting testimony, so there is still time to send in a letter stating your agreement that we need to prioritize non-automotive growth within the city.
Submit your comments to the Zoning Commission by fax or email. Emailed comments must be signed and sent as a PDF of not more than 10 pages. Send your signed PDF to: email@example.com. Written testimony must be received before 3 pm on Monday, December 20th.
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