ANC6B Zoning Committee Endorses Less Parking and More Density for Capitol Hill

ANC6B Zoning Committee Endorses Less Parking and More Density for Capitol Hill – Full ANC Commission Likely to Follow Suit

by Larry Janezich

Last night the ANC6B Planning and Zoning Committee voted to recommend that the full ANC6B endorse the DC Office of Planning’s (OP) citywide proposal to eliminate the requirement that developers provide a minimum amount of parking in multi-unit buildings and other new dwelling units built near public transportation.  This is in accordance with OP’s desire to make DC conform closer to the vision of “new urbanists.” 

Only a few members of the community turned out for Zoning Committee meeting at St. Coletta’s, but that meeting and the following full ANC consideration of this issue represent the best opportunities for public input on the new zoning regulations. 

OP’s revisions are meant to advance widely popular goals, including:

  • Reduce the number of cars and increase reliance on public transportation and bikes
  • Increase density near traffic hubs
  • Increase the number of small commercial outlets throughout the city to provide neighborhood good and services

The first two are accomplished by the proposed change in the Zoning Regulations to eliminate the parking requirement.  The city hopes this will discourage the use of cars and make it cheaper to build multi-unit dwellings.  However, it seems highly likely that some of the new residents of these units will want cars and will park them on the street. 

Whether this proposed change will further the goal of providing more affordable housing – as asserted by Commissioners Oldenburg and Peisch last night – is questionable.  There is no specific reason to believe that costs saved by eliminating parking will be allocated toward additional affordable housing.  The parking changes should be argued on their merits alone.

Such an effort to do so was made by Commissioner Ivan Frishberg, who cited the negative health effects on the community (especially children) of particulate emissions from autos, the increase in population attracted to the community by quality of life issues, and auto pollution’s contribution to climate change.  He said flatly, that additional parking space (referring to the expensive to build on site parking) is not needed, that it is market driven, and “the market is not there for it.”  The fact that Capitol Hill is already a high density residential neighborhood, and that it is routinely cited as a model for urban renewal in its current form, did not come up.  For some reason, the Zoning Commission has decided to make proximity to the Metro and bus lines alone, rather than proximity to the Metro and existing low residential density, as the condition for which it will provide developers relief from parking regulations.

[Editor’s note:  Reliance upon proximity to Metro and bus lines exclusively also releases neighborhoods like Georgetown from the additional parking crunch, rewarding that neighborhood for its historic resistance to public transportation and punishing Capitol Hill for its early adoption and support.]

Commissioner Dave Garrison opposed the proposed changes, saying that “we can’t’ afford more pressure and more people competing for parking space.”  Committee Chair Francis Campbell agreed, pointing out the burden on the elderly and those who don’t have ready access to public transportation.

According to ANC commissioners, the villain in Capitol Hill’s parking woes is the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), whose current policy is to give a parking permit to any DC resident who wants one, though according to Commissioner Oldenburg, the Resident Parking Permit system is “under review.”  Frishberg’s response was that parking is a problem and the solution is to “go after DDOT.”  In other words, in the thinking of these commissioners, the ideal solution would be that new developments would be built, that parking would not be included in those developments, and that residents of those developments would not be able to obtain a parking permit.  Once those residents become voters, it is hard to envision how such a policy could be sustained.

Former ANC commissioner Ken Jarboe, who worked on the ANC’s Regulation Review Task Force, said he opposed the OP proposals because no alternative to taking away the parking had been presented.  He pointed to the problems likely to ensue from the plan to put multiple small units in the Medlink building (7th and Constitution, NE) with no onsite parking.   He said he was frustrated by people trying to use the Zoning Code to fix a problem that you can’t solve by using the Zoning Code, likening the effort to using a hatchet where a scalpel was needed.

Voting for the change in regulations:  ANC Chair Brian Flahaven (6b09), Vice Chair Ivan Frishberg (6B02), Nicole Opkins (6B06), Kirsten Oldenburg (6B04), Brian Pate(6B05), Phil Peisch (6B03). 

Also voting for the change were Resident Members of the Planning and Zoning Committee Christian Alexander (6B08), Jennifer Rosen (6BB03), and Tom Woteki (6B05).

Voting against:  Committee Chair Francis Campbell (6B10), Chander Jayaraman (6B08), and Dave Garrison (6B01).

Commissioner Sara Loveland(6B07) was not present.

The Committee subsequently agreed to endorse the OP’s plan to make the opening of small commercial outlets in existing townhouses – provided they meet certain criteria.  In an effort to give residents immediately adjacent to such retail a voice, the Committee voted to require that such use be only through the special exception process.  Among the uses which would be allowed for such conversions are the following:  artist venue, antique shop, drugstore, department store, grocery store, clothing or gift boutique, appliance repair, shoe repair, tailor, hair salon, deli, coffee shop, and ice cream parlor.  The number of such establishments per block and the hours of operation and number of employees would be limited.

The full ANC6B will consider the Planning and Zoning Committee’s recommendations next Tuesday, April 12, at 7:00pm in Hill Center.  Since six of the ten commissioners have already voted for the zoning regulation changes, the result of the Commission’s consideration next week is unlikely to be different.

16 Comments

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16 responses to “ANC6B Zoning Committee Endorses Less Parking and More Density for Capitol Hill

  1. Annie

    This is a handout to developers, nothing more than more corporate welfare.

    • Carole Jacobs

      No, Annie. The Zoning Commission allowing 260 market rate underground parking spaces to be built as part of the Hine site development IMMEDIATELY across the street from the Eastern Market Metro Station is corporate welfare.

      At Tenley, Douglas Development is betting its own capitol that there is a market for dwellings near Metro that provide parking only for bikes and a Zipcar, with residential parking permits specifically excluded at that address. The success of that building will signal to other developers whether there is a critical mass of people who want to live in DC without the bother and expense of owning personal cars.

      • Kathleen

        Wow, its own capitol? Does it have a dome? Because we all know that developers will never put money into anything that they know they can’t make money on… they wouldn’t get their $$$ (capital) otherwise.

        On Hine: the developers would have loved to free themselves of even that trivial amount of “welfare” and build fewer parking places and rely even on street parking. Like the Republican agenda your voice echoes, your claims on behalf of a culture of ownership and responsibility masks the real agenda of taking public goods and turning them into private gain.

        More use of public transport is a good thing. The question is whether a universal rule enforced through zoning regulations is a good idea for new urbanism. On Capitol Hill, we are entitled to ask this question, since many residents rightly consider themselves the original new urbanists. We are also entitled to ask whether their has been adequate public input on this process, especially given the potential effects.

        In an already residentially dense neighborhood, does this make sense? Isn’t it just imposing a burden on residents who should instead be congratulated for making home investments during a precarious time of high crime and mass exodus. And on that point, Alex B., I would have liked to see you here on Capitol Hill circa 1991.

  2. RD

    A Mistake in the Making….

  3. A few comments:

    The fact that Capitol Hill is already a high density residential neighborhood, and that it is routinely cited as a model for urban renewal in its current form, did not come up.

    Capitol Hill’s current form largely predates the zoning regulations. Removing things like minimum parking requirements and allowing corner stores are all things that were allowed by right in places like Capitol Hill when it was built out – which pre-dates the 1958 zoning code by quite a bit. Ergo, citing the virtues of Capitol Hill is great, but that does not therefore mean that the current code is responsible for that greatness. If all of the Hill burned down and had to be rebuilt according to the current code, you would not be able to re-build it as-is.

    Capitol Hill is nicely dense, but it’s not all that dense compared to other areas in the city. Calling it ‘high density’ needs some frame of reference.

    In other words, in the thinking of these commissioners, the ideal solution would be that new developments would be built, that parking would not be included in those developments, and that residents of those developments would not be able to obtain a parking permit.

    I’m not sure why you assume the new developments would be parking-free. I suspect some would, but if parking is as scarce and valuable as you imply, then developers would bend over backwards to include it in their properties.

    • Tom G

      My original reply seems to have gotten lost somewhere, please forgive if this turns out to be a duplicate.

      The new developments we are talking about will initially be parking free. Why on earth would a developer put considerably more money into an investment than is required?

      However, over time, as the residents of these buildings park in the street, street parking will become intolerable to anyone with a car near such developments.

      THEN, when new residents with a car will be willing to pay considerably more in order to be able to park near home at night, developers will include parking because they will be able to charge a high price for it.

      The market does work, as you say, Alex. But first you have to make street parking intolerable, which this new policy will do, to the detriment of the people who have lived here many years, and who need cars.

      On a related note, some people seem to think that new units will be cheaper if developers don’t have to build parking. But aren’t the costs of condos or of renting set by the market? Isn’t it a leap of faith to think that if a developer can save, say, 5% or 10% on the cost of a unit, that such costs will be passed on to the renters or buyers? Do we really think developers are magnanimous this way? And if we don’t believe in such magnanimity, perhaps this is why people call this policy a giveaway?

      • Why on earth would a developer put considerably more money into an investment than is required?

        Well, that depends on who is ‘requiring’ it. Zoning is but one ‘requirement.’ A developer still has to get financing for the project, and many banks will demand at least some parking. All of that goes back to the market for the development itself: if the market is there for parking-free development, then that sets the ‘requirement.’

        The real question is this: why do we assume that the zoning code does a good job at determining how much supply is needed?

        However, over time, as the residents of these buildings park in the street, street parking will become intolerable to anyone with a car near such developments.

        I don’t think this is true. There are plenty of examples where residents in buildings with garages do not use the parking there. It is too expensive. So, they either park on the street or forgo having a car entirely. The ‘problem’, then, is not that on-street parking is intolerable (it actually seems quite tolerable, otherwise people with options would not choose it) but rather the value of on-street parking is not reflected in the price.

        But first you have to make street parking intolerable, which this new policy will do, to the detriment of the people who have lived here many years, and who need cars.

        As I said above, I don’t think this will make parking intolerable, particularly in a place like the Hill. There aren’t that many devleopment sites. Furthermore, the current parking intolerance isn’t due to your neighbors, but other parking uses. Like people from other parts of zone 6 commuting to the Metro, or visiting Eastern Market. These are not residents using RPP for residential parking, they are using parking for another purpose. Yet we confuse the impact, and argue that the zoning code is at fault.

        Just as there is nothing sacred about our current zoning code, there is nothing sacred about our current parking regulations.

        On a related note, some people seem to think that new units will be cheaper if developers don’t have to build parking. But aren’t the costs of condos or of renting set by the market? Isn’t it a leap of faith to think that if a developer can save, say, 5% or 10% on the cost of a unit, that such costs will be passed on to the renters or buyers? Do we really think developers are magnanimous this way? And if we don’t believe in such magnanimity, perhaps this is why people call this policy a giveaway?

        You are right, markets set prices. But developers cannot even offer a product if they can’t make a modest profit on it. Removing the parking requirement will have the impact of lowering the cost of building. With a lower cost of building, a developer can get a building to ‘pencil out’ with a lower asking rent, allowing for more development in less-ideal market conditions. It is then the addition of new housing supply that lowers the rent in the market, not necessarily in that new development.

        If a policy change were beneficial to consumers, would you still call it a giveaway? I would not.

    • Larry is assuming that because it serves his point. The Maples which is being built across the street from me will have parking on site at great expense to the developer. The new development at Mt Baptist has parking. Both of those make sense to me.

      I don’t remember ever opposing or arguing against those parking plans as Larry suggests I would by my ideal solution. In fact, having to start that paragraph with “In other words, in the thinking of these commissioners…” sort of tells you that something is being assumed or made up here.

      Larry’s supposed quotes from me that there is not a market for parking on the hill is also grossly inaccurate. See the previous cases, see my work on parking and fighting for resident parking North of PA Ave. None of that squares with the idea that there not a parking crunch or a market for more parking.

      So, setting aside the quibbles with the reporting here, here is a little bit about what I actually think.

      The removal of the minimums allows the market to decide it without setting an arbitrary minimum and expecting that to be the standard for the next 50 years. It has to be done in a way that does not allow shifting of the problem to the commons, but that is where agencies outside of OP come in.

      The problem of residential parking needs to be addressed in part by tougher parking restrictions. Hell, I spent almost 2 hours at DDOT this morning pushing for that. On the Hine case I argued for no Residential Parking for the tenants. It also needs to be addressed long term by other transit solutions and changes that we can’t even imagine right now.

      I would never of guessed only two years ago that we would have services like Uber and Car2Go to match up with the bikeshare program. Who knows what choices we will have ten years from now.

      What I do know is that with 1000 net new residents per year coming to the City (a good thing), the costs of gas continuing to rise, the impacts of global warming and particulate pollution, the health costs of this pollution, that to make long term plans for auto-dependence is a lack of forward thinking. In 2010 the district suffered 42 premature deaths and health related economic costs of $330m according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Transportation is an enormous part of our global warming pollution problem. No matter how much parking you have congested streets don’t make great City’s (sorry NYC that is not why you are cool.)

      Parking is a real problem. We need to figure out ways to fix it. I spend a LOT of time dealing with parking issues and am happy to talk about that for a long time. Clearly we have to be sensitive to the way people live now. But for long term policy and forward thinking we need to be prepared to do business another way.

      (Editorial note: (I am using this term with humor because obviously pretty much everything I write is editorial and subjective but somehow I hope to convey some greater factuality to my previous writing) Larry, you have my vote and my support for the OP proposal right but the reporting here doesn’t really do justice to the very good debate we had on Tuesday. I am happy to have this debate again next Tuesday and to have more people participate.)

      • anon

        Ivan — have you ever installed a toddler car seat in Car2Go, Uber car, or even a typical DC cab? [not an option for C2G, lots of cabs don’t even have funtional seatbelts let alone Latch, and Uber is a ? — 1st come 1st served model, right?] Guess Zipcar could work if I spent like wasting precious time installing the things. And don’t get me started on strapping both my kids to Capital Bikeshare to pick up groceries. We do fine on public transit for most of our commuting, but sometimes we just needs to use the car.

        Then again, our zoning officials are mostly ok with giving developers carte blanche to pack in ant farm units for singles instead of balancing with muliple bedroom units for families. If DC can require low income housing subsidies in new developments why not a diversification of units?

      • Hill Resident

        @Anon (below, message of Mar 11), a huge part of:

        Then again, our zoning officials are mostly ok with giving developers carte blanche to pack in ant farm units for singles instead of balancing with muliple bedroom units for families.

        is historic preservation law which blocks expansion of homes in the historic district. If you want to make Capitol Hill more amenable to families, loosen the ridiculous historic preservation constraints.

  4. Meg Maguire

    I find the votes of the 6 commissioners and 3 resident members to support the Office of Planning’s draconian, short-sighted and one-size-fits-all policies on parking to be astonishing, particularly given the detailed analysis and high quality discussion of the zoning revisions that occurred under David Garrison’s outstanding leadership. Handing power to “the market” — ie. developers with different motives from neighborhood residents — to make sole decisions on how the Hill develops is stupid governance and our beloved neighborhood will pay the price down the line. Voters should take careful note how their own commissioner voted and let him/her know if they disagree. The Hill deserves better from our elected officials.

    • A Streeter

      It’s the current minimums that are “draconian, short-sighted and one-size-fits-all” and I welcome the OP recommendations as a modest step toward allowing a few more “sizes” of parking.

      I will certainly take care to let my commissioner know that I agree with his vote in favor!

    • Hill Resident

      Hang on, Meg Maguire.

      Your comment,

      “Handing power to ‘the market’ — ie. developers with different motives from neighborhood residents — to make sole decisions on how the Hill develops” is probably hyperbole but even stated less forcefully is still misguided.

      The market is very effective at aligning and prioritizing interests. You and I –and all the other current and potential residents of Capitol Hill– are “the market.” If the developers don’t build something that we want at a price that we are willing to pay, their project fails and they lose money. It is the greatest wish of developers to give us what we want.

      Your problem with the market, I suspect, is that you want something that you are not willing to pay for: in this case, certain parking regulations that you favor. You are happy to externalize the cost (i.e., the lower value of future real estate development, the inconvenience of certain parking arrangements, the lower cost of future existing home sales, etc.) and inconvenience of your preferred policy while you reap the benefits.

      A market-oriented solution to the policy preferences that you wish to impose on the community is to raise enough money to buy easements, deed covenants, etc., from developers and homeowners. The challenge, of course, is two-fold: the amount of money would be significant and some people don’t are not for sale at any price. Hence, the easy (but non-market) solution of achieving one’s policy goals through government regulation.

      In a market situation, individual home buyers developers choose what is important by agreeing on a price for such a good as parking. And –painful as it may be for neighborhood busybodies– happily ignore the input of the rest of us. As well they should. And if those busybodies want things a certain way, well, let them carry the cost by actually paying market rate.

  5. Georgetown Resident

    “Editor’s note: Reliance upon proximity to Metro and bus lines exclusively also releases neighborhoods like Georgetown from the additional parking crunch, rewarding that neighborhood for its historic resistance to public transportation and punishing Capitol Hill for its early adoption and support.]”

    Reader’s Note: you don’t know what you’re talking about. The bus lines through Georgetown qualify it as a “transit zone” under OP’s proposal. And while we’re correcting your ignorance, I’ll point out that Georgetown residents didn’t block a metro station, geology did.

    • Georgetown Resident: Correct use of the “Note” terminology. Nicely down.

      Commissioner Note: We noted that this was the case at the meeting with reference to all of ANC6B. All resident members of the committee were able to vote on this because each of our SMDs is impacted by the policy. Not just those by a metro, but also those served by major bus lines. This was an interesting point of fact which was used to support increased participation. Editor obviously did not take “note” 🙂

  6. anon

    I’m less concerned about parking for residents than available parking for visitors, both to the Market and to the Hine development. Yes Eastern Market is well served by transit, yet many of the weekend visitors arrive by car and that number will likely increase. I’d prefer a dedicated multi modal shuttle from Virginia Ave (ie provide tie in between below SE Freeway lot and DC Circulator which already operates on that route — ie paid parking = free ride up 8th)