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Posts about Parking Maximums


Coast Guard employees are using the Anacostia Metro station in a weird way

Metro recently released data showing where Metrorail riders go from each station, and as one of our commenters noted, the most-frequented destination for people traveling from Anacostia is... Anacostia. That's because Coast Guard employees and contractors use the Anacostia Metro as a pedestrian tunnel.

Entrance and exit through the same station by volume in October 2014. Image by the author.

As commenter Andy pointed out, when a passenger enters at Anacostia during midday, afternoon peak, and evenings on weekdays, they're most likely to exit from the same station. Not only that, but as the chart above shows, entering and exiting at the same station is more common at Anacostia than at any other station in the system. Why?

At St. Elizabeths, where the Coast Guard's headquarters moved in 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission's parking policy allows one parking space for every four employees. That means the Coast Guard is limited to only 931 parking spaces for its 4000 federal employees and numerous additional contractor employees.

Unlike at NIH, the St. Elizabeths campus is over a mile walk from the closest Metro, there are no nearby parking lots, and street parking is limited.

The A4 bus, which leaves from the Anacostia Metro bus bay, runs directly to the campus. So many people who work at St. Elizabeths park in the 800-space garage at the Anacostia Metro, tap into the system at the garage entrance so they can walk through the station, and tap out at the exit closer to the bus bay. From there, they take the A4 to work.

The walking path from the Metro garage to the bus bay. Image from Google Maps.

It's not hard to understand why commuters might opt to use the Metro station as a pedestrian walkway. While the walk down Howard Road from the parking garage to the bus bay is less than a quarter of a mile, it requires commuters to walk an empty stretch of road, under I-295 and across a highway on and off ramp.

The walking path from the Metro garage to the bus bay. Image from Google Maps.

The accidental pedestrian tunnel won't be around for much longer. In the 2014 Coast Guard Transportation Act, Congress overrode the NCPC. Between now and 2017, the Coast Guard will be required to allocate an additional 1,000 parking spaces at St. Elizabeths.


Heritage building 105 parking spaces under 6 rowhouses

The Heritage Foundation plans to build 6 rowhouses near its offices at 3rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue, NE. There will be 105 parking spaces underneath, which Heritage will rent out to employees, though well below market rate, and a Capital Bikeshare station.

Photo by Sam Felder on Flickr.

Heritage has an existing office building with only a small amount of parking on site. The foundation purchased a vacant apartment building on 3rd Street, which isn't considered a contributing structure in the Capitol Hill Historic District, to build a garage for its adjacent offices.

Each rowhouse will get one space, while the remaining 99 parking spaces will be reserved for employees and visitors of the Heritage Foundation at a cost of $90 per month. For secure garage parking one block from Metro, this is far below market rate. For example, the currently monthly rate one block away at Union Station is $263.39.

According to the report from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Heritage has agreed to pay for a new 40-foot Capital Bikeshare station, which costs about $70,000. Heritage also will build 42 new bicycle parking spaces, 6 in a locked room and 36 in the new garage, in addition to 10 existing indoor spaces.

Will this below-market parking bring more traffic and encourage more driving?

In this case, the parking garage on 3rd Street will not create a void in the rowhouse fabric because it will be entirely underground, and Heritage will build the 6 new rowhouses above. These new homes match the historic properties on the block, and won support from ANC 6C and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

Current (top) and proposed (bottom) elevations on 3rd Street, NE.
Images from the application. Click for full PDF.

However, this still may bring negative impacts to the neighborhood. The exhaust shaft for the parking structure will be less than 15 feet high, and the Heritage Foundation has not proposed any special filters, landscaping, or other measures to prevent buildup of particulate matter at adjacent properties.

All vehicles will also enter and exit off of a residential block of 3rd Street. A traffic study by Gorove/Slade (commissioned by the Heritage Foundation) found that the adjacent intersection already has a high crash rate, though they speculate without evidence that recent re-striping may have reduced the rate.

The study claims that this project will have a positive impact on traffic and parking, but that is, at best, still an open question.

The study found that many of Heritage's workers take transit, some park on site or at a nearby Heritage-owned lot already, and others park at other private parking lots or garages in the area. A few also park on local streets in the neighborhood—likely a mix of Ward 6 residents and other workers who plan on paying occasional parking tickets.

The traffic study also claims that "traffic will not increase" because "the cars... already drive to the neighborhood; they just park on the street and in other locations. This parking will eliminate the pressure to use on-street parking and will not generate any new traffic."

However, it seems unlikely that the workers already parking on the street—whether legally or illegally—will shift their patterns to park in the new garage. In addition, any existing spaces in other private garages will likely be used by other drivers to the neighborhood, driving more traffic to the neighborhood through induced demand.

The DDOT report says that:

DDOT is generally opposed to Applicants providing more vehicle parking than is necessary for land development projects. Adding parking capacity to an existing facility while holding the development program relatively constant creates potential for additional vehicular trips and increased congestion. ... The additional vehicle parking has the potential to encourage additional commuters to switch from transit, biking, or carpooling to single occupant vehicle travel.
Heritage needs zoning approvals

In order to build this project, the Heritage Foundation is seeking relief from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) from several sections of the zoning code including those related to expanding an existing non-conformance for FAR (771, 2001.3); exceeding the height limit on penthouses (1203.2(b)); vehicles parking across lot lines (2303.1(b)); and building accessory parking in the R-4 zone (214).

Zoning regulations prohibit parking from spanning multiple parcels or serving as accessory to other uses in the R-4 zone in part because it has the potential to mar rowhouse neighborhoods by disrupting home spacing in these dense, historic neighborhoods. For example, some area churches have purchased rowhouses just to raze them for parking lots. This is not allowed by right in the zoning regulations.

In 2011, HPRB denied an application by the Third Street Church of God in Mt. Vernon Triangle to raze 3 historic buildings to create a parking lot (for a net gain of 5-7 parking spaces). If the raze had been granted, the church would have needed similar variances and special exceptions to the ones that the Heritage Foundation is seeking.

Lawyers for the Heritage Foundation claim that zoning relief is justified because of the unique aspects of the property, including that the multiple properties are irregularly shaped, span across two different zones, and the two large buildings facing Massachusetts Avenue NE (214 & 236) are nonconforming in both FAR and height.

The application claims a hardship in part because these lots proposed for the parking garage are zoned residential, which they label an "accident" of history. However, the lots have been zoned R-4 for decades. This block of 3rd Street NE is narrow and has been lined with residential rowhouses for over a century.

One variance that the Heritage Foundation doesn't have to seek is one to exceed maximum parking requirements. There are none in DC, although proposals have been considered as part of the zoning update. Some other cities, such as San Francisco, have instituted parking maximums in certain areas which are close to downtown or otherwise well-served by public transportation. These maximums range from ½ to 1 spaces per unit, with a special exception required for additional parking.

The new rowhouses included in this proposal by the Heritage Foundation will likely be a positive addition to the neighborhood. However, that portion of the project is allowed as a matter-of-right. There does not appear to be much positive impact for the neighborhood or District from a new parking structure, serving a commercial use, in a historic and residential zone.

BZA will hear this proposal at its April 9th meeting, as case number 18531.

Update: We mistakenly first published an earlier draft of this post which did not include more recent information that Heritage is adding a Capital Bikeshare station and indoor bike parking as part of the project. The post has been updated.


Epic Ward 3 zoning update meeting Tuesday night

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.

Photo by Patrick Haney on Flickr.

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.

Code organization

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.

Parking minimums

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.
Accessory dwellings

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).
Corner stores

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.

Other changes

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.


In Ward 2, residents ask for lower parking minimums

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:

Potential "Transit zones" in Ward 2. Click for full 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.


What's in the zoning update: Fewer parking minimums

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.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

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.

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.

Let's talk about what's in there about parking.


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
  • Downtown
The final set of "transit zones" isn't set, but OP created this preliminary map showing where they probably will be:

Image from the Office of Planning. Click to enlarge (PDF).

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!


To discourage building empty garages, unbundle parking

The DC Office of Planning (OP) wisely proposes eliminating most minimum parking requirements as part of the zoning update, but this does not affect developers who voluntarily build more parking than required and "bundle" it into condo sales or office leases.

Photo by jgrimm on Flickr.

This bundling leaves residents and workers with no option to save money by forgoing parking. Rules to "unbundle" parking in new residential and commercial buildings would ensure that genuine market forces govern development.

Excessive parking, whether by government mandate or developer choice, has tremendous costs to society. In The High Cost of Free Parking, UCLA Professor Donald Shoup called parking a "fertility drug for cars."

OP originally proposed setting parking maximums along with eliminating many minimums in the zoning update, but has now shelved the idea. OP still argues maximums have merit, but says that it's too difficult to set the right numbers without more work, which it still might undertake after the current zoning update is complete.

Setting maximums right is not simple. If proposed maximums are too low, developer pushback may jeopardize their survival. If they're too high, the standards are essentially useless, and developers will continue to build all the parking that they want regardless of whether the District's roads can handle the traffic resulting from this "fertility drug."

Minimum parking requirements distort the marketplace. Nixing them would remove this distortion, but other market distortions and subsidies remain. For example, parking is a tax-exempt fringe benefit the government allows—and even encourages—employers to provide. If rules required users to pay for their own parking without passing its cost off to others, developers would have a strong incentive to "right size" parking instead of oversupply it.

OP has taken the first key step in discouraging parking oversupply by forbidding developers in Planned Unit Development (PUD) projects from building excess parking and then just leasing it to outside parties. An additional, even more effective strategy would be to forbid bundling parking costs with unrelated charges, such as including parking in the cost of a housing unit or an office lease. In those cases, the parking costs are masked from the user, or paid for entirely by someone other than the one making the choice to drive and park. When users pay directly for parking, they demand significantly less of it.

Legislation would ideally apply these policy changes to all parking throughout the District. However, the politics may be more manageable to start with the zoning code rewrite, whose rules will only apply to new development. There is also a good policy reason to take this approach. Parking is often oversupplied because there are very few limitations on its use. By constraining the use of new parking spaces, developers would build fewer of them.

How could this work? Rules could require unbundling parking. The details would vary between office, retail, or housing use. All parkers would pay directly for parking, or get money back for not parking, but the nature of the charges would differ by building type.

  • In multi-unit housing structures, except where parking is physically connected to only one unit, the developer would make parking available at market rate separate from the cost of the housing.
  • For office buildings, employers could provide a parking benefit, but then must also give employees the option to instead receive a transportation allowance (or "cash-out") of equivalent value. This could take the form of tax-free transit, vanpool, or bicycling benefits, for employees whose commutes make them legally eligible for such benefits, plus taxable cash. The total would equal or exceed the market value of the parking.
  • In buildings with retail tenants and parking, tenants would have to adopt and enforce a policy to charge market rates for parking for their customers. Retailers could give customers small discounts from market parking rates, but not more than 25% of the hourly market value of the parking.
A building's certificate of occupancy would require the owner to adhere to the standards (which would also need to be publicly displayed), and the Zoning Administrator could strip the certificate for noncompliance.

There is precedent for regulating on-site transportation accommodations through zoning: DC enforces bicycle parking standards this way. By eliminating the benefits to developers of oversupplying parking, developers would become much more judicious about building in parking that may not be used and whose costs would only drag down the project's bottom line.


Green Area ratio hearing, parking testimony deadline today

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.

Front yard parking restrictions. Image from DC Office of Planning (PDF).

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 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 .

Example "Green Area Ratio" for a property.
The 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.


Live chat with NCPC on the federal Comprehensive Plan

Today, we're chatting with NCPC planners about the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for the Nation's Capital, particularly the transportation element.

 Greater Greater Washington live chat: Transportation in the Federal Comprehensive Plan(11/16/2010) 
David Alpert: 
Welcome to our live chat with NCPC planner David Zaidan on the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for the Nation's Capital, particularly the transportation element.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:46 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
We'll get started at noon. In the meantime, NCPC has put together a little introductory video:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:47 David Alpert
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:47 
David Alpert: 
Feel free to submit your questions now. We'll try to get to as many of them as we can.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:49 David Alpert
Are you employed by the federal government?
 ( 32% )
 ( 68% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:58 
David Alpert: 
Let's get started. David Zaidan is here to talk with us. Welcome David!
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:01 David Alpert
David Z: 
Pleasure being here. Thanks for having me!
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:01 David Z
David Alpert: 
We're talking about the transportation element of the comp plan, which you can read here:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:02 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
David Z, how does the comp plan affect federal agencies' decisions?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:03 David Alpert
David Z: 
The Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan provide policy guidance for the operations of the federal establishment in the National Capital Region. It covers areas such as transportation and environment to vistiors and historic preservation. The plan was last published in 2004 and we are beginning a process to update the policies given today's priorities. We also are looking to add a new element—Urban Design— to the Plan. It is the basis for everything we do here at NCPC from reviewing federal development projects to our own planning efforts.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:03 David Z
David Alpert: 
Walk me through a typical federal agency process. Say an agency is looking to move into a new headquarters somewhere. What makes them consider the Comprehensive Plan instead of just doing whatever is cheapest or moving to near where their director lives?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:05 David Alpert
David Z: 
Well, siting is a complex process- but the optimal situation is the agency consults with NCPC and our Comprehensive Plan which identifies certain areas of the city and region as priority areas for federal facilities. Generally, these areas are close to transit locations. Then they would move foward with their own process in selecting a site, considering these priority areas. A good example of this is the new ATF Headquarters which was developed on a site in the NoMa area which is a priority area identified in our Comp Plan. However, there are a host of issues to consider (cost, land availability, etc). But our plan does guide the process.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:10 David Z
David Alpert: 
One element of the comp plan is a set of maximums for parking. It calls for one space per 5 employees in the downtown core, one per 4 in the original "square", one per 3 near Metro, etc. How often do federal agencies comply with these requirements? Is NCPC able to really force them to, or is it more persuasion?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:11 David Alpert
What method of travel do you use most frequently to commute to work?
Drive alone
 ( 5% )
 ( 10% )
Public transportation
 ( 61% )
 ( 24% )
 ( 0% )
 ( 0% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:15 
David Z: 
That is an important part of the Comp Plan where our plan acts as "zoning" for facilities. NCPC was one of the first planning agencies to develop parking maximums for development. Most zoning codes began with minimums. New federal developments must show compliance with these ratios or must show strong justification for why they cannot meet them. Historically, our Commission has been very focused on making sure the facilities meet them. So, generally they have been sucessful.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:15 David Z
[Comment From Ben RossBen Ross: ] 
In my experience, the parking requirement is badly in need of qualification. I have seen the ratios interpreted as referring to the number of on-site parking spaces, rather than the total number of parking spaces provided. Agencies have been allowed to build parking spaces on their own property up to the ratio in the plan, and then rent more spaces in satellite lots. This defeats the entire purpose of the parking ratio and should be explicitly forbidden.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:17 Ben Ross
David Alpert: 
What do you think of this point Ben makes? Do the parking rules need to be strengthened to avoid agencies "cheating" by having satellite lots as well?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:17 David Alpert
David Z: 
Its an interesting point. We do consider all parking spaces that serve a site to be included within the ratio. But really it is an issue of enforcement because if an agency does lease space nearby we often times don't know. However, if it is a satellite lot that promotes a good modal split than we will work with the agency to allow that in their Transportation Management Plan.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:21 David Z
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
Our office continually fights off requests for more parking citing the NCPC guidelines. People want more parking, but it's given away for free. Does NCPC have guidelines for how parking is allocated, or is that left up to the agency involved?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:22 Michael P
David Z: 
We do have guidelines for how parking is allocated. Generally, priority spaces should be given to sharing/pooling of vehicles. We hope to expand this to include environmentally friendly vehicles such as hybrid cars. When agencies develop their Transportation Mangement Plan they must show how they are giving priority to these types of vehicles.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:25 David Z
David Alpert: 
Speaking of agency TMPs, Michael has another one:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:27 David Alpert
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
Do federal agencies have to pay for their transit subsidies out of the agency (personnel) budget, or do they get some sort of direct appropriation through OPM or something like that? Is there an incentive for agencies to promote transit?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:27 Michael P
Do you "slug" to work, and if not, would you ever consider doing so if slug lines were more readily available?
Yes, I slug
 ( 0% )
I might if they were more available
 ( 20% )
I wouldn't "slug"
 ( 80% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:29 
David Z: 
I believe there are special funds available from OPM for transit subsidies, but I am not entirely sure. In any event, there are many existing programs that agencies are using to promote transit (smart trip for example) and things like bicycling where employees can be eligible for up to $20 a month reimbursement for biking to work. Beyond that, GSA is working on additional programs to promote transit and that will actually be discussed tonight at our event.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:29 David Z
David Alpert: 
Let's talk more about bicycling. The District and Arlington now have the Capital Bikeshare program. Is that something that could go into the Comp Plan? Can agencies be enticed to locate (and pay for) stations on their property?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:31 David Alpert
David Z: 
I think this is a great direction to head and many agencies are very supportive of Capital Bikeshare. There are some concerns about things such as security and funding for these types of programs, but we can work through these issues to find a solution through the update process. So, I expect to see some policies related to bikesharing come through in the Comp Plan update. We have already heard from agencies saying that they want to be involved with these types of programs.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:35 David Z
David Alpert: 
A few commenters wanted to talk about buildings. It says in the Comp Plan update notice that NCPC is working on a new element around urban design. And there are a few questions about that:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:37 David Alpert
[Comment From Adam LAdam L: ] 
What can be done on the federal level to liven up Washington's downtown? I know of no other city in the world that maintains a massive downtown infrastructure (roads, parks, utilities, rapid transit system, restaurants, shops) that is only used efficiently 40 hours in a week. Since much of the property is federal, what can be done in the comprehensive plan to make better use of facilities that lie dormant nearly 75% of the time?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:37 Adam L
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
What is NCPC doing to encourage federal agency buildings to be better neighbors, to incorporate retail that engages the street, to be more permeable to foot traffic so they're not a giant wall that yu have to walk past?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:38 Michael P
David Alpert: 
What issues will this urban design element address?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:38 David Alpert
How often do you telecommute from home?
1-2 days a month
 ( 0% )
3-5 days a month
 ( 0% )
5 days or more a month
 ( 0% )
 ( 67% )
My employer does not have a telecommuting policy
 ( 33% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:40 
David Z: 
Well two points. First, DC's downtown has suffered the same historic decentralization as other cities in the US where residents and night time retail activity has fled to other areas. But, as a downtown resident you can see its resurgence. Going to the Verizon Center and other areas will demonstrate this. I think the second point is, how can federal buildings enhance this activity and make it better. The initial answer is to allow other uses into the builldings at its street level. We have been working with GSA to encourage this and we are seeing progress with GSA choosing to add retail into the ground floor of its headquarters on F Street, NW. What we want to do in the Urban Design Element is take these efforts further and create policies where federal buildings will have to demonstrate how they are promoting activity and enhancing the public space around them.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:49 David Z
David Alpert: 
That's great. Has GSA actually decided to go ahead with retail on its ground floor? Last we heard they were debating whether they had to have too much security. Will security make many agencies nervous about doing ground floor retail?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:50 David Alpert
David Z: 
It is my understanding they are moving forward with that option. Security is always going to be a concern, but through many of our efforts such as the NCPC Security Task Force we are making progress in getting agencies to look at security in a much more pragmatic and holistic manner.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:53 David Z
David Alpert: 
Great. As you go through the comp plan process, what would be helpful for you to hear about from residents and federal employees? How can we influence this process in a constructive way?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:54 David Alpert
David Z: 
We will be holding public forums such as the one tonight at 5:30 PM as we go through each element. We hope to get ideas from the general public and particularly federal employees at these events. Furthermore, proposed policy ideas will be put before the Commission at their public meetings and will be released for public comment. So, we hope to really hear from everyone on how best to update the plan.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:59 David Z
David Alpert: 
Thanks very much. That's all the time we have, and sorry we couldn't get to everyone's questions.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:00 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Stop by NCPC tonight to give more input on the plan and stay tuned for more coverage on Greater Greater Washington.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:00 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
And thanks to David Zaidan for taking the time to talk with us.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:01 David Alpert
David Z: 
Thanks to Greater Greater Washington for hosting this chat. Please keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for updates on this and other projects. For those who have some questions that didn't get answered or ideas they want to share please feel free to email them to . Hope to see everyone tonight.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:02 David Z



Live chat on federal Comprehensive Plan, tomorrow at noon

NCPC planners will be joining us tomorrow for our next live chat on the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan defines broad policy directions for Washington, DC. Since Home Rule, it has had two portions. The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) defines the Federal Elements, and the DC Council sets the District Elements with input from NCPC.

The transportation section defines some important federal policies, like the parking ratio for federal facilities, which limits parking to one space per five workers in the downtown core, one per four in DC, Arlington, and Old Town Alexandria, one per three near suburban Metro stations, and one per 1.5-2 employees elsewhere.

It also pushes federal agencies to define Transportation Management Plans, use Transportation Demand Management strategies, run shuttles and circulators around larger campuses, plan for bicycle accessibility, and more.

As NCPC updates this section, they will consider how to better comply with President Obama's executive order requiring the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How will new bike sharing systems fit into federal plans? What about streetcars? Can anything be done to improve transportation in new BRAC federal facilities very far from transit?

The chat will lead in to a public forum tomorrow evening at NCPC headquarters.

Also, don't forget to testify at tonight's parking zoning hearing, support the H Street/Benning Road streetcar on Wednesday afternoon, and hear about the future of Fairfax while supporting the Coalition for Smarter Growth at their forum and fundraiser Wednesday night.

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