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.