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.