Zoning Regulations Revision Proposes Major Parking Changes for Capitol Hill – City Proposes Shifting Parking Costs From Developers to Residents

Zoning Regulations Revision Proposes Major Parking Changes for Capitol Hill

City Proposes Shifting Parking Costs From Developers to Residents

by Larry Janezich

Tuesday night, ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee will consider proposed citywide revisions to current Zoning Regulations.   

ANC6B formed a special Zoning Regulation Revision Task Force headed up by Commissioner Dave Garrison to consider these changes.  At its meeting last Thursday night, the Task Force agreed simply to refer the most contentious items to ANC 6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee, chaired by Francis Campbell, which will deliberate these issues before the full ANC takes them up on March 12.  

The proposed revisions would have the effect of increasing density near Metro and bus stops and reducing parking in an attempt to further the currently in-vogue city planning concept of creating a livable, walkable city under the rubric of “new urbanism.” 

Less discussed, but no less important, is the fact that proposed changes would benefit developers because the change in regulations would shift the burden of new parking from them to the residents.  By changing the rules about who can park on the street and by reducing the number of spaces available, you reduce traffic, but you also create a more competitive parking environment.  An official embrace of “new urbanism” also makes it cheaper to build developments by freeing developers of the obligation to build parking into their plans.   While few would disagree with the goal of reducing traffic, the question of who should bear the burden of that reduction is not being discussed in explicit terms or with full candor.  Nor are the long term consequences for the city and the nature of urban living being considered.  Many on Capitol Hill, especially older residents, find that owning a car is necessary in order to live here. 

Among the most important revisions being considered by the Planning and Zoning Committee next Tuesday are proposed regulations that would eliminate the requirement for developers to include on-site parking for new town houses or apartments or condos with up to ten dwelling units.  Off-street parking would not be required for residences in the historic district.  In addition, there would be no on-site parking required for apartments or condos of any size, as long as they are built within a half mile of Metro or a quarter mile of a high service bus line. 

Two other proposed regulations would promote increase population density in ANC6B with the likely result of increasing the street parking demands.  The first would make it easier to turn carriage houses into dwelling units if they are associated with a single dwelling unit townhouse; owners of a townhouse with an English basement could not convert a garage or carriage house unless the basement unit was eliminated.  The second would permit building on alley lots.  Although ANC6B only has a dozen or so vacant alley lots of the minimum 450 square feet, the number of alley lots with existing buildings such as garages or other buildings which could be converted is unknown. 

Another proposed change would allow for commercial use of any building in residential areas, including corner stores under certain conditions.  This could have a potential impact on parking and traffic, though no projections have been offered. 

While these regulatory revisions have received a sustained discussion within certain DC circles, they have by and large been under the radar and escaped the attention of the residents most affected by them.  Task Force Chair Garrison noted that there will be two opportunities for ANC input:  first, when the recommendations of the ANC go to the Office of Planning, second, when the Office of Planning submits the final proposal to the Planning Commission later in the spring. 

In sum, these regulatory revisions amount to a city planning effort that represents a departure from current code.  There have been community meetings designed to garner resident input but some attendees have left the meetings unsatisfied that their concerns and issues were being heard. 

The Planning and Zoning Committee will meet Tuesday night at 7:00pm at St. Coletta of Greater Washington, 1901 Independence Avenue SE.

22 Comments

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22 responses to “Zoning Regulations Revision Proposes Major Parking Changes for Capitol Hill – City Proposes Shifting Parking Costs From Developers to Residents

  1. David Healy

    What bothers me the most about the “new urbanism” is the transitory nature of the proponents who have neither history nor future in the neighborhoods of this city.

    • imgoph

      Oh my god, where is this guy’s proof?

      Just a soft version of using the “native Washingtonian” bit to shout people down and tell them that their POV is worth less (or worthless).

    • The franchise is no longer limited to white male property owners. Minorities, women, and even renters are allowed to vote and have an equal say in how our city is run.

  2. Tom G

    I sent the following email to the Mayor, Council Chair Mendelson, Council Member Wells, and ANC Commissioners Pate and Garrison:

    Mayor Gray, Council Chair Mendelson, Council Member Wells, ANC Commissioner Pate, ANC Commissioner Garrison,

    It has come to my attention that new zoning provisions will eliminate the requirement, in certain new buildings, for parking spaces for building residents. This will mean that residents of such buildings who own cars will have to park them in streets which already have no room for added cars.

    This result would be a major problem for many people on Capitol Hill, and I presume elsewhere in the city, as explained below. Here is my understanding of the regulations (taken from link at bottom):

    Among the most important revisions being considered by the Planning and Zoning Committee next Tuesday are proposed regulations that would eliminate the requirement for developers to include on-site parking for new town houses or apartments or condos with up to ten dwelling units. Off-street parking would not be required for residences in the historic district. In addition, there would be no on-site parking required for apartments or condos of any size, as long as they are built within a half mile of Metro or a quarter mile of a high service bus line.

    I still walk two miles to work, in my late 60s, as I have done for several decades. I like Washington DC and Capitol Hill because they have always been walkable. (After four knee operations, I can no longer use a bicycle, however.)

    I very much need my car for many reasons — food shopping, medical visits, seeing friends and playing bridge on the weekends.

    It is obvious that these new regulations will make it very difficult for existing residents who depend on their cars. Already, if I come home after 9 PM, I usually have to park my car three blocks from my home. These zoning regulations will make it considerably harder for my wife and I to park near our home. So these proposed new zoning regulations constitute a very unreasonable burden on people who have lived on the Hill for a long time, should we have to search for parking spaces many more blocks from our home, and perhaps not be able to find one at all.

    I don’t begrudge younger residents their bicycle lanes, although they cause me worry about the potential for accidents. I recognize that the city needs to be open to new ways of transport, and new attitudes. It is called striking a balance, compromise.

    I also support most of the “new urbanism,” meaning that I support denser development near Metro stations as a general rule.

    But it does seem to me that these new proposed regulations do not strike a balance between the needs of older and younger residents. Instead, it seems to me, that they will create a very unbalanced situation, with the needs of older residents very much neglected.

    I urge you very much to do everything you can to prevent from coming into effect the proposed regulations which eliminate the requirement for developers to build the needed parking in new buildings.

    Thank you,

    Thomas J. Grahame
    1008 North Carolina Ave., SE
    Washington, DC 20003

  3. William

    The elimination of parking minimums does not eliminate parking. People can keep complaining about it, but it won’t make it true. And for the residents complaining, you realize Councilmember Wells is one of the majn proponents of these initiatives, no? The Mayor too. Almost everyone in the city supports the OP proposals, as do I.

    • Kathleen

      Yes, we kind of do realize our politicians are in the pockets of local developers… but thanks for the useful reminder!

      I think the point here is whether appropriate community input has been provided given the scale and significance of the changes being proposed. And even, whether OP has provided appropriate projections for what these changes would entail.

  4. Jason Mitchell

    Thomas, you do realize that for the most part the people that would be looking to live in a building with no parking would either eliminate all or (in the cases of couples) at least one of their vehicles? That’s the whole point. Make the city a place where car ownership isn’t necessary. My wife and I are a prime example, our street happens to have public housing across from us. Most of those residents do not have cars so parking is easy and we kept both of our vehicles. However, if we lived more over by say 3rd and C SE, we would have gotten rid of one of them at a minimum.

    What this would do is yes, raise prices for those who have a requirement for parking, but decrease prices for those which do not, while also providing more housing for our growing city.

    This is yet another prime example of politics in our nation where we want what’s best for ‘us’ and not necessarily what’s best for the majority.

    And more specifically in regards to your one question Thomas, I would fully support special parking ‘zones’ that are reserved for either handicapped or elderly, say right in front of their house. Maximum of 1 such spot per home. The vast majority of streets wouldn’t have every home in this situation and so it wouldn’t create a parking nightmare. Proof of occupancy obviously would apply. As to apartments, I don’t really have an answer for older ones but as I stated, as a new resident you would obviously know that parking would be difficult if none is provided.

    • Tom G

      Jason, thanks for your reply.

      You ask if I realize that “for the most part” people who would live in a building without any parking spaces wouldn’t have cars (singles) or would have only one (couples). Is that a reality, or perhaps an assumption? Why wouldn’t someone take advantage of rents (or condo prices) that (arguably) might be a little lower, due to lower construction costs (no parking provided), but also have a car? Such a person would not be bound by a planning goal which implicitly would say, please don’t own a car if you live here.

      Yes, I do understand that the point is to make the city a place where car ownership isn’t necessary. My worry is that that way this goal will be achieved in actuality is by creating too many cars for too few spaces, as the city continues to add population. Some people might feel forced to leave. To me, this policy doesn’t strike a balance with the needs of existing residents, people who chose to live on Capitol Hill before it was cool to do so, when (ignorant) people in Virginia at the time openly questioned your sanity.

      The proposed new zoning policy also seems unnecessary. City people don’t drive nearly as much as suburban people; my wife and I between us, drive about 8,000 miles a year, 4,000 miles a year each. Just the fact of getting people to move into the city, near their jobs, reduces a huge amount of driving and of CO2 emissions (I assume that is part of the goal of the new policy). So why not strike a balance with those people who moved to the city 30 and 40 years ago because they didn’t want to commute by car, back then?

      With regard to a handicapped parking space for a resident in front of their home, I think that already is an existing policy. My wife and I are not there yet, and hope not to be. Can you recommend a similar policy which would work for people who need their cars, who may have knee or hip issues and are elderly but not handicapped? If you CAN think of such a policy — call it “elderly” or “near handicapped” parking — I would be all for it.

      I wouldn’t mind paying a bid more for my residential parking permit, IF that were balanced by NOT having a new policy that allows developers to build residential buildings with no parking spaces. THAT would look like balance to me.

  5. I don’t think these really qualify as major changes – these are changes that merely go back to the kind of regulations that were in place when the bulk of Capitol Hill was built.

    Those rowhouses we all love were not built with minimum parking requirements. These changes will be a welcome benefit to the city and to the city’s dense neighborhoods, like the Hill.

    I find the arguments about ‘giveaways to developers’ to be utterly unpersuasive. Developers can only develop stuff if there is a customer for it. Force them to take on additonal costs, and they only choice they will have is to pass those costs through to the customer – e.g. us.

  6. transitory new urbanist

    I wouldn’t mind paying a bid more for my residential parking permit, IF that were balanced by NOT having a new policy that allows developers to build residential buildings with no parking spaces. THAT would look like balance to me.

    What, exactly, would this accomplish? It just sounds like it would make parking more expensive, not actually reducing demand or lowering rents.

  7. Steve Davis

    Oh, my sides!!! Laughing too hard! You think the proposed changes represent “new urbanism???” It’s very old urbanism, and it’s in line with the way that Capitol Hill and most of DC was designed. Designed first for walking, and then for transit quite a few years later, and then we found a way to squeeze a whole bunch of cars into the mix after most of the Hill was already a vibrant part of DC for 50-75 years. (Hmm, I don’t SEEM to recall any developer parking requirements when your historic Capitol Hill rowhouse was built….) I’ll leave it to others to point out the folly of the poorly understood economics here.

    • Tom G

      Steve, there were no developer parking requirements when our row house was built, which was in the 19th century, just about the time that cars were invented.

      We are talking about how the new urbanism — in particular, more dense developments near Metro stops, which I support — can go forward in balance with existing residents and their needs.

      To repeat from an earlier post, I moved to the HIll 35 years ago so that I could walk to work. We very much enjoy the walkability of the city. But we also need our car.

      I hope you support balancing the needs and goals of existing AND new residents, because that is what these email exchanges are about.

  8. Elizabeth eby

    What does walkable city mean? My experience is that decreasing the number of parking spaces will only add obstacles to “walkability” and increase traffic congestion. Double parked vehicles, vehicles “temporarily” parked in driveways, bus stops, waiting zones and cross walks are hazzards to pedestrians. Why focus on parking when deterioriated sidewalks and curbs, and poorly placed construction fences and dumpsters pose greater threat to my notion of walkabity than parked cars.

    In my neighborhiod, the number of single family homes rented to multiple housemates has increased residential parking by four or five per home. As the number of parking spaces decreases, the number of double parked delivery vans including UPS, laundry and grocery delivery.

    In terms of walkabity, let’s focus on improving the walkway. Provide adequate parking for the increasing number of bicycles. Create taxi stands in shopping centers and grocery stores. Improve cross walk patterns, enforce pedestrian right of way, improve deteriorated sidewalks and curbs. Improve placement of construction barriers. Reduce the breadth of side walk cafes and improve dog parking so pedestrians are not forced into tree boxes. I’ve even come to resent SUV baby strollers and potted plants.

    • Jason Mitchell

      Elizabeth, your ideas on walkability are all valid and good ones. However, double-parking, parking spaces, etc… all have nothing to do with walking itself. Providing a walkable city *encourages* them to not have cars, as does not just adding new parking. If it’s a pain to park, and you provide services that people do not have to drive to, you reduce the percentage of people in the city that do not have cars.

      Also, not having a car allows more people to afford the ever-raising housing costs in the city as well.

  9. Tom C

    Why not simply bar some or all of the residents of new apartment buildings that don’t provide off-street parking from getting on-street parking permits? This is commonplace with new developments in London (UK) and seems to meet the ambitions of new urbanism – encouraging those in new developments to walk/use transit – without imposing additional burdens on current residents who are, for whatever reason, reliant on their cars?

    [I should admit that I am relatively new to the city and do not have a car. As a result, I do not know much about how the on-street parking permit system currently works.]

    • Tom G

      Tom C, you suggestion is a logical one: if you chose to rent or own in a building with no parking spaces, would it make sense to have a law or regulation that would say that you can’t own a car if you are in such a building?

      I’d like to hear from others on this, because I have a sense that such a requirement might not be legal. But I’m not a lawyer — does someone on this thread know more about the subject?

  10. C.C.

    If someone needs a car, why don’t they just use ZipCar, Car2Go, or MetroAccess? Why do they need to own a car?

    • Tom G

      CC, a good question. I drive about 4 to 5 times a week. At least twice to the suburbs (weekends or after work), one or twice for grocery shopping, and a few other times a month, usually doctors’ visits in the burbs. When you drive that frequently, it is much more convenient to just hop in your car. It is also less expensive when you own your car, if you drive it for over a decade, as we do. The amortized annual cost in that case for us is about $1300 per year, whereas Zip Car 250 times a year would be much more.

      • William

        Given that little amount of driving, I would challenge that it is less expensive to own than to use car sharing and rentals. I walk to the grocery store on most occasions. If I have a quick suburban errand, the car sharing option works well. If I am taking a road trip, I rent a car from Hertz. In total, my transportation costs are about 1/3 of what it used to be.

  11. Nancy Sturm

    Thank you Tom G for your well thought out views. i completely agree with your point of view.

    Nancy S
    300 block 10th SE.

  12. PG

    A few thoughts:
    (1) Living in reasonable proximity to where one works. This may have made sense in days past where one could easily be with a single employer for their entire career life, but in our near 20 years on Cap Hill, my partner and I have held full-time positions at no fewer than 12 companies, agencies, or organizations. While our employment has been located within the Greater Washington Region, some of our prior (and potentially future) office locations (Tysons, northern Bethesda, upper Northwest, DC) and required work schedules do not fit into the happy, 9-5, “use transit” patterns that pervade the thinking behind alternate transportation backers. Missing a career-building opportunity or relocating closer to the office every four years just isn’t feasible; sacrifice via extended commute is easier to calculate.
    (2) Building around transit hubs is a logical and good thing, provided that the transit system is reliable, timely, safe, and gets you (reasonably) close to your destination. For me, WMATA regularly doesn’t meet the bar on three of the four of those expectations. In good conscience, I couldn’t recommend that someone invest in a condo with assumption that they could hop a bus or train in this city and get where they needed to go without undue hassle. If zoning regs are modified as discussed, the District needs to pressure WMATA to step up to levels that will support this new construction.
    (3) As the city grew, transit did become important. A massive undertaking was made to install the trolly system. The region grew, technology changed, buses provided the extent of travel, and the trolly system was dismantled. Reverting back to a transit-heavy method of thinking will take more than well wishes, changes in building requirements, and making it more difficult to park.