Tag: DC Office of Planning

Proposed D.C. Zoning Code Re-Write Sparks Debate

zrrThe first major re-write of Washington’s zoning code since it was established in 1958 is expected to be submitted by the Office of Planning today, ending six years of work and triggering another lengthy public process before the District’s Zoning Commission, which will have the final say on new zoning policies.

Among the most controversial proposals is the effort to make D.C. less car-dependent by eliminating mandatory off-street parking space minimums in new development in downtown D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning had also proposed to eliminate parking minimums in transit corridors, but recently changed her position to only reduce those minimums.

Tregoning’s change has left advocates on both sides of the debate unhappy.

“We’re encouraged that there’s not going to be an absolute rule that there will be no parking minimums. We think that’s a step in the right direction, but we are still very concerned because the planning director of the District of Columbia has shown her hand. She, for whatever reason, does not believe there is a parking issue throughout much of the District,” said AAA MidAtlantic spokesman Lon Anderson.

“We are disappointed the city has listened to the opposition to progressive reforms and is backing down on the important reform of removing parking minimums in areas that are well served by transit. The proposal would address a number of the biggest problems with parking minimums but we still maintain that parking minimums are not the right approach to building a more affordable, sustainable city,” said Cheryl Cort, the policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

At the heart of the controversy lies the question: how much parking does a growing, thriving city need as developers continue to erect new housing, office and retail space near Metro stations, in bus corridors, and downtown D.C. The alleged scarcity of parking spaces today is a common complaint of motorists, but those who favor dumping the parking minimums say residents and visitors will have adequate alternatives to automobile ownership, like car-sharing services, Metro rail and bus, and Capital Bikeshare.  Smart growth advocates also point out developers will still be able to build parking if the market demands it, but the decision will be left to them, not decided by a mandate.

“We’re building a lot of parking that generates a lot of traffic, undermining the best use of our transit system,” Cort said.

“We spent the last 100 years building our society to be automobile dependent and then to try to change that in a very short period of time is really imposing an awful lot in a region that is still very, very dependent on the automobile,” counters Anderson.

About 38 percent of all D.C. households are car-free, according to U.S. Census data.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Michael Dwyer. Copyright 2013 by WMAL.com. All rights reserved.

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Zoning Rewrite Will Keep Parking Minimums Intact Throughout Much of D.C., But Not Downtown

zrr2Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, just made some big news as far as the city’s developers, smart-growth advocates, and car owners are concerned. The long-overdue update to D.C.’s 55-year-old zoning code, which the office is currently working on, will preserve mandatory parking minimums in transit zones for new residential and commercial developments.

Tregoning made the announcement during a segment on WAMU’s The Politics Hour. While D.C. has quite a large car-free population—38.5 percent of households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—car owners have worried that the end of parking minimums at new developments would tighten the availability of on-street parking.

Developers that construct new buildings in transit zones—within a half-mile of a Metro station or quarter-mile of a busy bus stop—are required to outfit those projects with a certain number of parking spaces. Critics of the policy say the requirements drive up costs of new housing units by an average of 12.5 percent, WAMU reported earlier this month.

Instead of allowing developers to install as many or as few parking spots as they like, Tregoning said the minimums will be reduced. The Office of Planning will submit its code overhaul to the city’s Zoning Commission later this month.

UPDATE, 5 p.m.: Tregoning adds that the elimination of parking minimums will still apply to downtown D.C., the definition of which is being expanded according to a map she sent to DCist. The area colored in orange is what current zoning laws consider to be “downtown,” but when Tregoning’s office submits its report to the zoning commission, downtown will be expanded outward to include the entire shaded area, which stretches from Dupont Circle to NoMa. The map also includes a southern swath of the city encompassing Southwest Waterfront and Navy Yard.

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Even though the areas the Office of Planning include many of D.C.’s construction sites, Tregoning told Housing Complex she expects some backlash from the smart-growth advocates who would have preferred the entire city to lose its parking requirements. And sure enough, the backlash came quickly in the form of the Coalition for Smart Growth.

“We are disappointed that the opposition to progressive reforms has caused the city to back down on the important reform of removing minimum parking requirements,” Stewart Schwartz, the group’s executive director said in a statement. “The costs of too much parking are being passed on to all residents even if they want to save money by living car free. Moreover, parking requirements will still be lowered in the city’s transit zones. That’s as it should be. With the expanded transit, walking, biking, and carsharing options that DC now offers, we shouldn’t be mandating more parking than we need or than people will use.”

Photo Courtesy of Kerrin Nishimura, DCist.

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Walking tour explores Fort Totten’s present and future

Development at Fort Totten has been slow despite access to 3 Metro lines, its close proximity to both downtown DC and Silver Spring, its access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, its green space and its affordability. But as demand increases for housing in the District, this previously-overlooked neighborhood could become a hot spot.


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.Last Saturday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth concluded their spring walking tour series with “Fort Totten: More than a Transfer Point,” a look at future residential, retail and commercial development near the Fort Totten Metro station. Residents and visitors joined representatives from WMATA, DDOT and the Office of Planning on a tour of the area bounded by South Dakota Avenue, Riggs Road, and First Place NE.

Today, vacant properties and industrial sites surround the station and form a barrier between it and the surrounding area. Redeveloping them could improve connections to the Metro and make Fort Totten a more vibrant community.

There is a significant amount of new residential, retail and commercial development planned within walking distance of the Metro station. But Saturday’s tour began with the only completed project, The Aventine at Fort Totten. Built by Clark Realty Group in 2007, the 3-building, garden-style apartment complex consists of over 300 rental units as well as ground-floor retail space.


The Aventine at Fort Totten, the newest apartment complex in Fort Totten. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.Visitors were ambivalent about the success of the Aventine due to its small amount of retail space and lack of connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods. While residents noted that it created more options to live close to Metro, representatives of the Lamond Riggs and North Michigan Park civic associations agreed the development differed from the original vision for the project.

They called it an example of the need to continually engage real estate developers and local government agencies to ensure that new development is of a high quality and responsive to the local context. Throughout the tour, residents said that future development proposals should adhere to DC’s urban design guidelines, improve pedestrian access and have a plan to mitigate parking concerns.

Between South Dakota Avenue and the Metro station, the Cafritz Foundation will redevelop the old Riggs Plaza apartments to build ArtPlace at Fort Totten. When finished, the 16-acre project will contain 305,000 square feet of retail, 929 apartments, and 217,000 square feet of cultural and art spaces, including a children’s museum. Deborah Crain, neighborhood planning coordinator for Ward 5, noted that ArtPlace will include rental units set aside for seniors and displaced Riggs Plaza residents.


An ad for ArtPlace at Fort Totten at its future home.As one of the largest landowners near the Fort Totten Station, WMATA has a huge stake in future development around the station. They own approximately 3 acres of land immediately west of the station along First Place NE that is currently used as surface parking lot for commuters. Stan Wall, Director of Real Estate at WMATA, discussed the great potential for development on the current parking lot mentioned that the agency will solicit proposals for development of the area in the near future.


Parking lot at Fort Totten station.Anna Chamberlain, a DDOT transportation planner, talked about how streetscape improvements could calm traffic, making streets around the Metro station more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. DDOT is also working to improve connections to the Metro, as some areas lack clearly defined walking paths. The agency will begin designing a path connecting the Metro to the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the next few months.


New sidewalks and street trees on Riggs Road.The final stop on the tour was Fort Totten Square, a joint effort by the JBG Companies and Lowe Enterprises to build 350 apartments above a Walmart and structured parking at South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. DDOT has completely rebuilt the adjacent intersection to make it safer for pedestrians and more suitable for an urban environment, replacing freeway-style ramps with sidewalks, benches, crosswalks and improved lighting.

Jaimie Weinbaum, development manager at JBG, says they’re committed to working with the city and residents to make Fort Totten Square an asset to the community. They’ve promised to place Capital Bikeshare stations there and would like to have dedicated space for Car2go as well.

With help from the private sector and public agencies like DDOT and WMATA, Fort Totten could become a model for transit-oriented development, but much of the new construction won’t happen for a long time. Until then, residents eagerly await the changes and continue to work with other stakeholders toward creating a vision that will benefit everyone.

Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington

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