Testimony on Babe’s Billiards Redevelopment in Tenleytown

Testimony before the D.C. Zoning Commission:

Support Case No. 10-23
Jemal’s Babes LLC – Consolidated PUD and
Related Map Amendment at 4600 and
4614 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Square 1732, Lots 817 and 820
(Zoning Case number 11-24, PUD & Map Amendment for Sq 901, Lot 801)

by Cheryl Cort, Policy Director
November 1, 2012

Please accept our testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington D.C. region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.

I am here to express our strong support for this application. We concur with the many supporters of this PUD, that the proposed project is a good fit for the neighborhood. The project takes advantage of its proximity to transit — the Tenleytown Metro station, local bus routes, the major bus corridor of Wisconsin Avenue. It enhances this commercial node, and helps meet demand for more housing in convenient locations, and close to American University Law School. The site has sat vacant for many years and is one of the broken teeth of the streetscape along Wisconsin Avenue that mars the pedestrian experience. We welcome this thoughtful redevelopment and appropriate mix of uses to contribute to a better Wisconsin Avenue and Tenleytown neighborhood.

We commend the decision by the developer, in consultation with the community, to fit a building sensitively into its context, including retaining the existing structure, an environmental best practice. By retaining and reusing the existing structure, the development was particularly limited in providing vehicle parking. We agree with ANC 3E and the many other supporters, that retail to animate the street is a far better use of the ground floor than parking. The decision to not build any vehicle parking save one ADA space, is a sensible, site-specific decision. Given the specific context which includes the transit-rich environment, key local destinations such as grocery stores, consumer goods stores, and the AU Law School, marketing to car-free households is a logical decision. As our city and country experiences a demographic shift to young professional singles as the predominate household type, this project is a good response. In the case of D.C., we are now experiencing growth of more than 1,000 new people in the city each month. These people tend to be young professionals looking to live in an interesting urban environment. These are people who are far less likely to own a car, or are likely to shed a car as they move to a walkable, bikable, transit-accessible environment. The expanded choices for car sharing (Zipcar, Car2Go, Hertz On Demand) are making individual car ownership even less necessary, economical or appealing.

The decision to opt for retail rather than vehicle parking is also a positive contribution to the neighborhood in a number of ways. Car-free households make the best neighbors since they walk, bike and ride transit more. They patronize local businesses more, and drive far, far less. Constructing this modest rental apartment building at this accessible location will provide more housing choices, including Inclusionary Zoning units, and help address the growing demand to live in the city. Given the move of the AU Law School a few blocks, more rental housing in the area addresses demand for smaller rental units.

While parking is also a part of supporting retail, an assessment of parking availability demonstrates that there is plenty of nearby parking to support retail uses at this location. Surveys conducted by the developer show low to moderate levels of occupancy of on-street metered parking close to the site, as well as hundreds of off-street garage parking spaces are nearby and available for retail customers who want to arrive by car. These numbers also suggest plenty of parking for new residents, should desire to pay the market price for off-street parking.

In addition to public amenities, the developer has agreed to a detailed list of actions to mitigate any vehicle parking demand generated from the development, and also a Transportation Demand Management program to encourage alternatives to car ownership and driving. The provisions for eliminating access to $35/year residential parking permits (RPP) for public street parking, locating 20 off-site parking spaces for lease in a nearby underutilized garage, should residents wish to pay for it, are ways to manage the impact of potential demand from new residents on existing parking capacity. This is a reasonable approach for this specific case.

We commend the public benefit of committing to a new Capital Bikesharing station. We do, however, concur with DDOT’s recommendations for an expanded number of bicycle parking spaces, and the provision of a shower and lockers to make bike commuting for retail workers a better option. We also agree with the recommendation of a more substantial encouragement of bikesharing by paying annual fees for five years.

We note that banning RPP privileges for new residents is increasingly common in development negotiations. This is a stop-gap measure, better addressed through DDOT adjusting the RPP system so that it better manages parking demand (and expectations) for residents, their visitors and others. DDOT is in the process of engaging the public on these parking policy issues and considering reforms. Adopting Transportation Demand Management program requirements for all new development is another more comprehensive approach to create a fairer and smoother process for accommodating new housing and businesses as our city grows and changes.

Overall, we strongly support this application and ask the Zoning Commission to approve it. The project is carefully designed to fit its context, address nearby neighbors’ concerns, and fully capitalize on its accessible location. It will be a positive contribution to the Tenleytown neighborhood by restoring a long vacant building with community-serving uses like ground floor retail and rental housing which includes Inclusionary Zoning units.

Thank you for your consideration.