Zoning Update

[box][featured]The Washington DC zoning code has not been comprehensively updated since 1958, when suburban-style planning predominated, cities were built only to accommodate cars, and gas cost $0.24 per gallon.[/featured]

Throughout the DC Office of Planning’s 8 year public process to update the zoning code, the Coalition for Smarter Growth has tracked the Office of Planning’s outreach efforts to the community, educated our DC supporters on the importance, content, and proposed changes to the zoning update, hosted numerous events and workshops, and rallied community members to get involved in the process.

Read on below for ways to get involved, for helpful resources in learning about the proposed update, for a background on the update, and recent news clips.[clear]

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What’s happening now  |  Resources to learn more  |  About the Zoning Update  |  News

What’s Happening Now

Victory! On November 18, 2015, the Zoning Commission UNANIMOUSLY voted to approve the DC Zoning Update!

After 8 years of advocacy, literally hundreds of opportunities for public input, and so many of you — our supporters! — speaking up in letters and in person, we’re finally going to see the new zoning code go into effect.

The Office of Planning still has to make a few more small, mostly technical tweaks and present a final version. The commission will take “final final” action onJanuary 14. Then the Office of Zoning will publish it in the DC Register, and 6 months after that, the code will apply!

Congratulations to all of us who worked so hard to make this update a reality! [line]

The progressive update to the DC zoning code will:

  • Drastically reduce unnecessary and costly parking requirements, especially near transit and including major bus corridors (see here for the main parking reforms)
  • Permit a basement or carriage house apartment in an owner-occupied home where currently banned (look here to learn more)
  • Legalize corner stores — with a lot of caveats, but still, a big step (learn more here)

Opponents have worked to delay the process for a number of years now, claiming that there has not been enough public input. But in truth there have been hundreds of public meetings, hearings, committees, and other discussion over the last eight years. This proposed update has been vetted and tested and DC badly needs modernized zoning code to help create a more walkable, sustainable and inclusive city.

The Zoning Commission has supported a number of our critical issues that will make the zoning code support the kind of neighborhoods and business districts that give more people better housing and transportation choices. The updated zoning code can help build a greener DC with more affordable housing options for the long haul.

While we didn’t win everything we hoped, the updated zoning code is a major step forward for the city. The new code provides better rules for allowing accessory apartments, corner stores, and parking. These changes help the city offer a wider range of less expensive housing, and more walkable neighborhoods.

It’s time to let the Zoning Commission know, we support moving ahead with this meaningful change to our city’s outdated zoning code. After eight long years, it’s time to finish this discussion. It’s taken so long that the 10 year update to the city’s overall comprehensive plan is due again. Let’s tell the Zoning Commission to follow through on reforms to parking, corner stores and accessory apartment, so we can catch up with all the changes happening in our city.

This is an important step forward for a sustainable DC. These progressive steps can help create more housing options, and encourage more people to use a variety of transportation options, rather than relying on a car for everything. That means a victory for a more inclusive and walkable DC – exactly what the Coalition for Smarter Growth works for every day.



About the Zoning Update

The DC zoning code code is older than 78 percent of the District’s population and places little emphasis on historic preservation or sustainability. Simply put, it does not befit a modern, dynamic city like DC.

50 years of accumulated amendments have made the code far too complicated and difficult to navigate. It outlaws traditional, walkable neighborhood forms and requires more parking than residents need. It prohibits neighborhood corner stores. It frowns on accessory dwelling units that could help families pay their mortgage. And it’s nearly impossible to understand without a lawyer!

The proposed update makes positive, progressive changes to the code in several key areas. The most important areas that we have centered our work around are parking regulation changes (parking minimums), provisions around accessory apartments (ADUs or granny flats), regulations around corner stores, and the overall readability of the code. The proposal does not make substantive changes to inclusionary zoning (IZ) policy or the DC height limit, which are separate issues.

The DC Office of Planning and Zoning Commission have conducted extensive public outreach since 2008 through the present seeking input from ANCs, residents and other stakeholders, including: 81 public work group meetings on 20 topic areas, with a total of 1,000 participants; 42 task force meetings by a representative task force of 25 residents; 59 public hearings and meetings by the Zoning Commission on specific topics; 8 meetings in each ward in December 2012 and January 2013 to discuss the zoning revision; over 100 ANC, community group, and special interest group meetings with DC Office of Planning; and made publicly available the draft proposed text to the Zoning Commission July 29, 2013.



What’s the latest on the zoning code update? Here’s a roundup of press coverage over the past year for more information:


Resources to learn more

Full draft Zoning Update at Office of Planning
Full draft zoning update at the DC Office of Planning website
10 things you need to know about the DC Zoning Update parking proposals
10 things to know about the update’s parking proposals
Basics on accessory apartments & corner stores
Basics: accessory apartments & corner stores
Full schedule: November Zoning Commission hearings
Zoning Commission 2014 hearing schedule


DC Office of Planning's Zoning Update fact sheets
DC Office of Planning’s Zoning Update fact sheets
Template for Written Testimony
Template for written Zoning Commission testimony
Step by step: How to testify
Step by step: How to testify at the Zoning Commission
Office of Planning's Zoning Update blog
Office of Planning’s Zoning Update blog