Testimony: Proposed rezoning of the U Street police/fire station sites (DC, Support)

Nov. 18, 2023

Mr. Anthony Hood
Chairman, Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia
441 4th Street, NW, Suite 210S
Washington, DC 20001

RE: Support for ZC 23-02: MPD Third District & EMS Engine Company Number 9 

(Map Amendment to Rezone 1617 U Street, NW and 1620 V Street, NW from the MU-4 Zone to the MU-10 Zone) (revised testimony)

Dear Chairman Hood:

Please accept this updated testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way for the Washington, DC region to grow and provide opportunities for all. 

We want to again express our support for the proposed rezoning for the U Street police and fire station sites from MU-4 to MU-10. This proposal follows the land use designation change adopted in the 2021 Comprehensive Plan amendments and will make the site’s zoning consistent with the Future Land Use Map (FLUM). 

The change allows for a larger mixed-use development of this public site which is appropriate to its U Street context, and offers the significant benefit of potentially creating over 200 new affordable, mixed-income homes in a highly accessible, in-demand and high-priced location. While we recognize that rebuilding new police and fire facilities will be top priorities for a redeveloped site, we are excited to see affordable, mixed-income housing, and potentially other public benefits resulting from this rezoning. Adding affordable, mixed-income housing on top of modernized public facilities realizes the full potential of public land for public good.

The public land disposition law requires a minimum of 30 percent of the homes to be affordable at 30 and 50 percent median family income. The law also requires these affordable homes to be affordable in perpetuity. While these are excellent requirements, we could potentially get more affordability out of the RFP process, depending on how the new police and fire stations are paid for.

Adding a significant amount of new affordable housing at this site helps address the District’s priorities for housing and racial equity. New permanently affordable homes here contribute to stemming the loss of affordable housing, especially benefiting African American residents who face greater barriers to housing security.

We support the Office of Planning’s proposed additional zoning text amendment to address transition heights on the V Street side of the property to mitigate the impact of taller buildings on adjacent homes. This is a reasonable approach to making the most of the opportunity for new housing, supporting new public facilities, while also being respectful of nearby neighbors.

Nov. 18, 2023

We recognize that building design, streetscape, and other concerns can be addressed through the RFP process. We look forward to staying involved and supporting public input and ANC engagement in the process. We certainly look forward to design and streetscape approaches that preclude the parking of police vehicles on the grassy area next to the building on 17th Street. 

This public site is grossly underutilized today and the two-story garage and driveways on U Street are a particularly negative presence on a busy transit corridor. Given the poor urban design of this public site, and its potential for new public facilities and affordable housing, this rezoning provides important public benefits. 

Adding new housing while replacing the police and EMS facilities will not be easy, but a competitive RFP process for an MU-10 zoned site could generate innovative solutions.

We note that a number of people who have expressed opposition to the rezoning have misconceptions about the proposal. 

  • Police and fire services: several letters opposing the rezoning cite concern about and assert that the existing public services displaced. We certainly agree that the police and fire services should be provided with state-of-the-art facilities in this neighborhood to better carry out their duties. The redevelopment will likely improve the function of these public safety services by providing updated facilities. We agree that the temporary provision of services while rebuilding the site will be a major challenge, one which must be addressed, or the redevelopment cannot occur. 
  • Affordable and market rate housing: a number of people opposing the rezoning have expressed the concern that the housing will be all market-rate and unaffordable. By law, at least 30 percent of the housing will be affordable to deeply affordable levels, but this is a floor not a ceiling. Building new affordable, mixed-income housing will provide new, permanently affordable homes for future low income residents, where none exists today. Additional market rate homes provide benefits by helping cover the cost of affordable homes, and supplying needed housing that mitigates competition for housing. Building less affordable housing and less market-rate housing means less affordability, and more intense competition for what housing exists in this in-demand neighborhood. 
  • Public land: by adding housing on top of public uses located on the public land, we are not losing public land or public facilities, we are gaining a use — housing, that helps low income people have the opportunity to live in the neighborhood.
  • Traffic and parking: this neighborhood is rich in transportation choices that make car ownership and car use optional for many households. Providing more housing here gives more people opportunities to live car-light or car-free. Living here lets them take advantage of the robust transit, bicycle, walk, and other travel options available. This location lets households pollute less and have a smaller carbon footprint given how many non-driving or short trip options are available. Other neighborhoods do not offer this kind of convenience and travel choice. 

Thank you for your consideration.


Cheryl Cort
Policy Director