Tag: land use

Malleable: Willow Lawn returned to its roots. Cloverleaf was torn down. So what will become of Regency Square?

Meeting the surging demand for walkable urbanism is one of the great challenges facing Henrico today. Most of the county’s development took the form of post-World War II suburbia – low-density subdivisions and shopping centers knitted together by connector roads and arterials. By design, no one walked anywhere; everyone drove. But it’s not clear that the development formula that worked for Henrico in the 20th century will continue working in the 21st century.

Newton looks for state and county APFS input

Mayor Bridget Newton hopes to temporarily stop the council’s consideration of the city’s adequate public facilities standards (APFS) for schools in order to wait for county and state input.

The APFS for schools determines how much school capacity must be available for residential development to move forward in the city. On Nov. 17, Councilmember Tom Moore made a presentation arguing for aligning the city standards with the county standards, which some consider more lax toward developers.

At the council’s public hearing on Jan. 5, Newton said the county will soon convene a workgroup to look at school standards and she would prefer to wait to see the results of that before moving forward.

She also said she intends to write to the Maryland Attorney General for an opinion on the council’s authority to change the APFS in the first place. Don Hadley, chair of the city’s Planning Commission, told the mayor and council in December that a recent reconfiguration of state law as well as opinion from the attorney general to the city of Mt. Airy indicates the APFS falls under the master plan which is ultimately Planning Commission territory.

The city attorney reviewed Hadley’s reasoning and said the mayor and council have control because the APFS is a resolution implementing Rockville’s comprehensive plan, rather than part of the plan itself. Newton said she still wants the attorney general opinion and believes she has the authority to write to the state as the presiding officer of the council, even without majority support.

“I really think it would be the smartest thing we could do to step back and make sure that we are on the right path and that we do have the authority that some of us think we have,” Newton said.

In the meantime, former mayors and city officials as well as residents and developers weighed in at the public hearing.

In advocating for changing the standards, Moore has said the standards have hurt the city because the county is less inclined to fund city schools. Rockville evaluates program capacity for two years from the time an application is approved and does not allow development to bring the projected enrollment to more than 110 percent of program capacity per school. Rockville also looks at capacity per school. In contrast, the county evaluates program capacity for five years from the application date, sets the limit at 120 percent and looks at capacity on average for each cluster.

Rose Krasnow, mayor from 1995-2001, said the county standards would have fewer negative consequences for the city than the current standards.

“The city has no control over construction of new schools since that is strictly a county responsibility,” she said at the hearing. “They view Rockville’s attitude as somewhat antagonistic and not willing to work with them.”

But others involved in the original adoption of the APFO in 2005, such as former councilmember John Hall, said it is disingenuous to describe the APFO as “harmful” to the city.

“What we have is a well-founded, well-researched, rational set of standards regarding school capacity when it comes to the APFO and I really encourage folks to recognize that these suggestions that somehow Rockville’s standards have harmed the city are entirely without merit. It’s really a misleading argument to suggest that that’s the case. The county has made it clear to us has absolutely no impact whatsoever on their approach to capital improvement funding,” Hall said.

Former Mayor Larry Giammo, also involved in the original adoption during his terms from 2001-2007, said it is also a myth the standards have hurt the city. He said the 13 most overcrowded schools are not in Rockville and only two of the top 30 are. In addition, the county recently funded an addition to Julius West Middle School and is pushing for a fifth elementary school in the Richard Montgomery cluster.

“If you were the captain of a boat and the boat was given to you so you had no control over how big the boat was, and you have a long line down the dock of people wanting to get on your boat, at some point, wouldn’t you want to say ‘enough, I can’t have any more people on the boat. It’s going to sink,’” Giammo said.

But others originally supportive of adopting the APFO now want it to be changed. Steve Edwards, a Rockville resident since 1976 and on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, said the APFS takes away the city’s “leverage” with the county.

“It has become very apparent that the school board does not recognize the APFO in considering funding projects,” he said at the hearing.

Some also said development is necessary for the city to thrive and would benefit the schools. Kelly Blynn, a campaign manager with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said she supported aligning the city and county standards to create walkable, transit-oriented communities.

Andrea Jolly, president and CEO of the Rockville Chamber, said the standards do not help schools, hurt business and so hurt the city overall.

But to Giammo, slowing overcrowding is just as important to development and the planning issues need to be thought about at a broader county planning level.

“It’s disappointing to hear folks from the business community saying those kinds of things because at the end of the day high quality public education is essential to success of business community,” Giammo said. “If anything, ensuring that schools don’t get overcrowded in the long run is about the best thing for business possible.”

Residents have also advocated going to the county to work for lowering the county’s standards, which allow schools to reach 120 program capacity — the highest of any county in the state.

Moore has said he’s supportive of that but changing the standards to align with the county is the first step in moving the conversation to the county council.

The city first passed the APFO, the ordinance related to the standards, in 2005 after about a year of talking to different stakeholders, including developers and residents. The city of Gaithersburg also passed its own APFO that took effect in 2007.

The council amended the APFS in 2011 to exempt the addition of portable classrooms and delineate when the county test could apply to some applications rather than the city test.

In 2011, now-Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr chaired a committee to review the APFO and APFS and issued recommendations about how the city can be more transparent, keep track of enrollment and advocate at the county level for updated numbers and Rockville projects.

The committee also supported the two-year rather than five-year capacity evaluation.

In 2012, the Planning Commission recommended the city keep the key components of its APFS for schools and reiterated those recommendations in a December memo to the mayor and council.

The city plans to hold a second public hearing on the city’s APFS on Jan. 26.

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JOINT LETTER: CSJ joins concerned stakeholders in letter to Senators and Virginia officials

Dear Senators, Delegates, Supervisors and Director:
We understand that the next public meetings have been delayed to October and that analysis work is continuing, but wanted to communicate to you three key issues of concern.

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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Letter to Stephen Walter, Parsons Transportation Group Re: I-66 Tier 1 Draft EIS, Comments by the Coalition for Smarter Growth

Dear Mr. Walter:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, with members and partner groups in Northern Virginia, hereby submits these comments on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for I-66 (“outside the Beltway”).

We agree that addressing transportation in the I-66 corridor should be a top priority. We are pleased that the study considers a range of transit modes and focuses on person-trips.  However, we are concerned that this 2040-oriented study fails to offer a long-term, sustainable and effective solution both for 2040 and the decades following. Presuming one of the build alternatives meets the capacity needs for 2040, what happens after 2040? More lanes?

The study appears to favor the managed lane (congestion-priced, high occupancy toll lane scenario), but does that scenario really offer the long term demand reduction and capacity that a high-capacity transit with transit-oriented land use would offer?

Documentation is far too limited for why this study favors managed lanes and there is no analysis of the comparative effects on land use of each of the modes.

The most significant shortcoming is the failure to evaluate an integrated land use and transit scenario that would offer a way to more effectively reduce the growth in driving demand and provide the capacity to handle the demand that does come. We have made this comment repeatedly with VDOT studies, yet never do VDOT studies include such a scenario.

The land use discussion is particularly thin and at too high a level (see 4.1.1.1). As was found in the Tysons study, mixing uses, providing a local grid of streets, and measuring the results using more compact traffic analysis zones can show remarkable SOV trip reductions and transit mode share increases — networking these centers with Tysons could provide synergistic vehicle demand reduction benefits, while improving reliable access to jobs.

The study should evaluate an alternative land use scenario linking transit-oriented development (compact, walkable, mixed-use communities linked to transit), with land conservation of rural areas, and high capacity transit, in order to maximize transit trips, minimize vehicle trips, and to provide the means to handle future growth. The study explicitly states that it has excluded a systems oriented transit scenario, but a systems oriented transit and TOD scenario is exactly what’s needed and should be combined with TDM measures and targeted bottleneck and safety improvements in a composite scenario.

Table ES-1 shows that a transit approach matched with TDM and addressing chokepoints would rank highest in meeting the needs identified in the Purpose in Need, yet the study did not provide an integrated scenario linking transit, TDM and addressing chokepoints.

Since the Council of Governments adopted Region Forward Plan and Compact is framed as a transit-oriented future for the region, this study should have studied such a regional scenario. Once again a too narrow corridor focus improperly exclude the networked transit and TOD solution.

The Purpose and Need Statement fails to include what should be key goals for the corridor.  While the stated purpose ” is to improve multimodal mobility along the I-66 corridor by providing diverse travel choices in a cost-effective manner, and to enhance transportation safety and travel reliability for the public along the I-66 corridor,” it should also include goals to reduce demand for single occupant vehicle trips (including vehicle miles traveled and vehicle trips), by increasing mode share for non-auto trips through transit and changes in land use — changes in both the location of future development and improved community design which would result in higher transit ridership.  Again, looking to the long term, the stated goals cannot be met unless demand reduction goals are also a core goal and focus of this study.

In addition Purpose and Needs states, “the identified needs to be addressed include: transportation capacity deficiencies, major points of congestion, limited travel mode choices, safety deficiencies, and lack of transportation predictability,” orients the study too much toward capacity expansion and fails to include as key needs, such as reducing driving demand and improving land use to reduce driving demand and increase non-auto mode share.

The study is also artificially separated from the analysis of I-66 inside the Beltway even though a substantial proportion of inbound trips travels inside the Beltway and will have impacts all the way into D.C..

The study also inappropriately and without explanation excludes a dedicated transit and HOV scenario, leaving expanded HOV scenarios completely out of the study.

While the practice is to include all projects in the CLRP in the No Build scenario, inclusion of the controversial Route 234 extension (TriCounty Parkway western alignment) which would open up rural areas to more development and increase traffic would likely make the No Build perform worse than it would otherwise.

By separating a full tolling analysis from this story, it’s not possible to get a full picture of the effects of HOT lanes on transit usage, carpooling, general purpose lanes and parallel roadways. A full toll effects analysis should not be deferred to a separate study.  Moreover the relative benefits of privately tolled should be compared to public tolling, including the ability to use public tolling to fund more transit service in the corridor.

We were very concerned by the way Tiering of the I-81 study, which also failed to study a composite solution recommended by our group, was used to later foreclose the offering of a composite alternative at Tier 2. In addition, by tying the Tiering with the concept of “projects of independent utility,” a too general and flawed Tier 1 study can then open the door to allowing VDOT to move forward with whichever project it wishes and to foreclose more effective system wide alternatives.  Here, the issue may involve specific segments, but equally likely it would allow VDOT to move forward with just one component of the Integrated Concept Scenarios — such as tolled, managed lanes. In fact, the discussion of the ICS, very clearly proposes to allow VDOT to move forward with just one component. Read with other chapters of this study, it appears that the study is framed to favor the tolled, managed lanes.

The study cites the 1999 MIS in a history of previous studies but fails to note the stated preference of elected officials at that time (at least Fairfax County and probably others) for a transit-first solution.

We are also concerned that the Memorandum of Understanding, which we do not believe was subject to public comment, is also structured to focus on and favor a tolled, managed lane scenario, rather than another potentially non-tolled scenario.  The study states that per the MOA, decisions on the following will be made upon completion of the Tier 1 study:

  • The concepts to be advanced for the I-66 corridor, including transit improvements, transportation demand management strategies, and/or roadway improvements. Within these concepts, consideration will be given to managed lanes and tolling;
  • The general location for studying future highway and transit improvements in Tier 2 NEPA document(s);
  • Identification of projects with independent utility to be evaluated in Tier 2 NEPA document(s) and evaluated pursuant to other environmental laws; and
  • Advancing tolling for subsequent study in Tier 2 NEPA document(s).

With points one and four focused on tolling, and the potential intention to use the “projects of independent utility” to advance only the tolled portion of an ICS, the study appears to improperly lean toward one approach over others — the tolled, managed lanes.

The entry and exit tables are confusing because it’s not clear from the use of eastern, middle and western tables where the greatest demand may lie nor what the primary origin and destination data might be.

The COG growth projections which are used by this study fail to account for the dramatic changes in demographics, market demand and energy prices, nor a future of higher energy prices.  In turn, having had one of the largest expansions of the federal government in recent history shifting to a very likely downsizing, especially in defense, means that the growth projections should be reevaluated.  This can mean substantially less growth in outer areas. In turn, it’s important to note that the allocation of growth within the region is a subjective exercise and that high growth assigned to outer areas is not inevitable, nor is the form of that growth.

In addition, use of percentages for growth can be misleading and tables should be provided to show the magnitude of growth.  In addition, the report may overstate Gainesville/Haymarket growth while understating Tysons Corner growth.

While VDOT might argue that it is not responsible for land use, when billions of dollars are at stake, a thorough analysis of cost-effective alternatives must look at alternative growth scenarios.  And simply because an agency is not responsible for a subject area like land use, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be studied in an EIS as a potential piece of an alternative. VDOT itself has published a report on the benefits of “Transportation Efficient Land Use” yet inappropriately eliminates such demand management solutions from this corridor.

Again in chapter 3 (figure 3-1), the process for evaluating solutions is flawed by ruling out TDM and system/out of corridor solutions early in the proces.

The four step evaluation approach (3-2) is also flawed for failing to look at alternative growth scenarios and changes in land use combined with other TDM approaches, meaning that the total travel demand entered in the first step may be higher than it would otherwise be.

We don’t understand and are concerned by the statement on 3-6 that “Demand is also based on
unconstrained capacity on I-66 itself (although connecting roads were constrained) in order to
ascertain total demand.”  That would seem to inflate the travel demand and overly favor capacity expansion solutions.

It doesn’t appear that the study factors in the congestion feedback signal from congestion in the general purpose lanes which would lead to higher transit use or new residents and jobs moving to transit-accessible locations as has been happening in recent years.

It’s not clear from Table 3-1 if the transit ridership numbers are based on transit-efficient land use or a continued pattern of auto dependent development in Prince William and western Fairfax, where transit efficient development might result in higher transit ridership.  It’s also not clear whether the managed lane scenario counts transit trips in the lanes — trips that could also be achieved by HOV/transit lanes without tolls.

Again, Table 3-3 shows that combining transit with a chokepoints solution could meet more components of the Purpose and Need than the managed lanes.

Table 3-4 lacks adequate supporting documentation and is a virtual “black-box” to the public.  The ICS alternatives fail to include non-tolled HOV with transit in any of the alternatives, which biases the study to managed toll lanes. It does not appear that the transit ridership factors in congestion feedback from the general purpose lanes.

It is unclear how Table 3-4 and Table ES-2 footprint widths are calculated.

The “Key Findings” (3-9) don’t appear to be fully substantiated.  For example, it states:

  • “Other than the two-lane Managed Lanes concept (ML2) which accommodates autos and buses alike, single mode improvement concepts result in large corridor width, high cost, poor efficiency, and/or inability to serve total demand.”  Would that indeed be true of Metrorail or an HOV/BRT approach, with each tied to transit-efficient land use?
  • Another stated finding is that:  “The share of trips made either by transit or in multi-occupant vehicles for those ICSs that perform best against the Table 3-4 metrics reach over 80 percent. While accommodating such high percentages of trips by transit and multi-occupant vehicles would be very difficult, the fact that these percentages are so high is indicative of the benefit of including transit and managed lanes that can carry large numbers of person-trips as part of the solution.”  If that is the case, why not use an HOV and transit solution rather than only use tolled, managed lanes with the various transit modes?
  • Another stated finding is that “The projected peak period travel demands in the corridor highlight the need for a transportation solution that provides space efficiency – the ability to carry large numbers of persons within limited spaces. Managed Lanes and fixed-guideway transit (in descending order of carrying capacity: Metrorail Extension, Bus Rapid Transit, and Light Rail Transit) provide space efficiency.  But do managed lanes really provide space efficiency when the interchange needs of having dual sets of ramps are factored in?  The interchanges on the 495 HOT lanes have taken a substantial number of acres with a profound impact on surrounding communities.

Conclusion:  It is critical to get this Tier I study right because completion of this study will likely foreclose consideration of alternatives at the Tier 2 stage. The study appears biased toward the managed lane approach by failing to analyze non-toll HOV with transit alternatives and by failing to analyze a composite transit, transit-efficient land use, TDM and chokepoint alternative (a systems oriented approach and one that would meet the regional goals in Region Forward).  The study does not substantiate the footprint, ridership, table 3-4 ratios, and costs; and the “findings” are also unsubstantiated. Effects on land use are not addressed.

  • We request the opportunity for additional time for peer review of this study by independent transportation planners.
  • We also request that VDOT’s report on Transportation Efficient Development be considered in this study along with the goals of Region Forward.
  • Finally we request that this study be delayed until the composite alternative that we highlight is analyzed using alternative growth and land use.

Thank you.

Stewart Schwartz
Executive Director

Testimony before the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board, Support for McMillan Sand Filtration Plant Master Plan Update

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.

We wish to express our support for the revised Master Plan for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant proposal. The new plan takes an already thoughtful plan and provides additional open space and careful treatment of the unique historic resources of the site. The plan will restore and provide public access to key elements of the distinctive historic resources. This would not be possible without the redevelopment program that helps pay for the cost of the restoration.

We recognize that the expansion of park space on the site was in part driven by D.C. Water’s enhancement of stormwater management and flood mitigation efforts. The expanded park space, driven both by D.C. Water and public demand for a larger park, has traded off a significant loss of affordable housing for the space. This is a major disappointment and a loss of D.C.’s use of public lands to address the housing needs of many residents, especially at lower income levels of 60 percent of AMI and below.

Notwithstanding this significant loss, we recognize the important historic preservation, public space, housing, and commercial space contributions of the revised Master Plan. For decades, access to this large area was prohibited, creating a wide gap between surrounding activities and neighborhoods. The revised plan would make this historic resource featured in a major public park a citywide destination.  The Master Plan honors and replicates the historic landscape elements of the Olmsted Walk that have disappeared from the site. We agree with the staff comment that additional work should be done with DDOT to ensure that the Olmsted Walk connection to the sidewalk design is more than a standard sidewalk.  This might require some flexibility in DDOT’s design standards.

The plan appropriately focuses taller office buildings towards Michigan Avenue and tapers building heights and forms as the development moves south to meet rowhouse neighbors. The plan adds separation to the neighborhood to the south with a large public park. Large scale buildings are needed close to Michigan Avenue to give a sense of enclosure and connect to the Washington Hospital Center. Eventually, we hope these new buildings will encourage reconfiguration of the hospital complex to create more pedestrian-oriented designs.

Preservation of Cell 14 and recreation of the Olmstead Walk along North Capitol Street highlight the historic features of the site; however, they should be balanced with the need to support a better pedestrian environment along these busy streets by better connecting the pedestrian to adjacent uses on the site.

The plan for complementary new uses of retail, offices, and residential will strengthen the facing hospital complex and reconnect the site the city. These proposed uses are likely to build upon and amplify the contribution that current hospital center-related activities make to D.C.’s economy and employment base.  While the northern components of the plan better connect the site to its surroundings, the large park and recreated Olmsted Walk also allow the site to stand out as a distinctive and special place.

Overall, we support the revised master plan as a sensitive approach to preserving and making publically accessible this industrial architectural and public works heritage. The housing, retail, and office components help address the needs of a growing city and hospital district. Given that we have already lost a significant number of low income housing units planned in the first Master Plan, we ask that historic design guidance work with existing proposed levels of housing and commercial space, and not force further reductions.  While we would like to see significantly more affordable housing in this plan, the redevelopment plan does contribute to important community and citywide needs. The proposed plan for preservation and development is a compromise to enable the restoration of this distinctive historic resource.

Thank you for your consideration.

Cheryl Cort
Policy Director

Why It May Soon Become Harder To Park In Some D.C. Neighborhoods

The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal that would potentially reduce the number of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods.

Planning officials may submit a proposal this spring to the zoning commission eliminating the mandatory parking space minimums required for new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington. The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand.

Opponents, however, say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive, and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal. We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.

A city where a car isn’t a necessity

Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free. Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.

“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used, so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.

Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums, because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive. Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. It was last updated in 1958, when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.

“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with. That’s really a stranded asset.”

Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown

On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eye-sore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.

“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking. There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can’t find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.

Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).

Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.

“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you? How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson.

Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?

In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists, who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year District resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, District officials are making car ownership a hassle.

“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”

Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable. On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.

“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, except to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the District, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”

In 2012 the city of Portland, Oreg., commissioned a study (pdf) to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.

The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”

About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.

To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don’t give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit. In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.

Decision could come this spring

The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.

“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”

Photo courtesy of Victoria Pickering on Flickr

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D.C. Considering Lifting Mandatory Parking Minimums

The District of Columbia’s Office of Planning is considering a proposal to potentially reduce the number of available parking spaces in some neighborhoods as new development attracts more residents and jobs. If successful, it will mark the first major change to the city’s zoning code since it was first adopted in 1958.

It’s part of a growing city attempt to reduce congestion by offering its residents alternatives to the automobile – from bikes to buses to making walking more attractive.

Planning officials may submit to the zoning commission this spring a proposal to eliminate the mandatory parking space minimums required in new development in transit-rich corridors and in downtown Washington.  The idea squares with the vision of making the district less car-dependent and would let developers decide how many parking spaces are necessary based on market demand.  However, opponents say the plan denies the reality that roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive and removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal.  We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents motorists and advocates road construction as a solution for traffic congestion.

A city where a car isn’t a necessity

Thirty-nine percent of D.C. households are car-free. In some neighborhoods with access to public transit, more than 80 percent of households are car-free.  Some recent developments wound up building too much parking to adhere to the mandatory minimums, including the D.C. USA shopping center in Columbia Heights, which is right next to a Metro station and busy bus corridor.

“The parking garage there is probably as twice as big as it needs to be, and the second level is basically not used so the city has had to scramble to find another use for it,” says Cheryl Cort, the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and advocate of the zoning change.

“Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it’s better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units,” Cort added.

Developers favor eliminating the mandatory parking minimums because the construction of parking garages, especially underground, is enormously expensive.  Each underground space adds $40,000 to $70,000 to a project’s cost, according to Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, who is working on the overhaul of D.C.’s zoning code. The code was last updated in 1958 when planners assumed the automobile would remain the mainstay of individual transportation.

“No matter how much mandatory parking we require in new buildings, if the landlord is going to charge you $200 per month to park in the building and the city is going to let you park on the street for $35 per year, you may very well decide… to park on the street,” Tregoning says. “Many developers are finding they have parking that they can’t get rid of, that they don’t know what to do with.  That’s really a stranded asset.”

Parking-free building coming to Tenleytown

On the corner of Wisconsin Avenue NW and Brandywine Street NW stands what used to be a billiards hall. The property, just a block from the Tenleytown Metro station, has been an eyesore for years. Douglas Development is expected to redevelop the site this year, turning it into a mixed-use retail and residential space with 40 apartment units and no on-site parking.

“When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking.  There are actually hundreds of parking spaces around this Metro station that go dark at night,” says Cheryl Cort, whose group contends the construction of parking spaces drives up housing costs an average 12.5 percent per unit. If developers can’t find a market for those parking spaces, they pass the costs onto tenants.

Douglas Development, which declined to comment on this story, received an exemption from the zoning commission to avoid the parking minimum at the Tenleytown property. Situated close to Metro and planning to market the apartments to car-free residents, the developers escaped having to build 20 spaces under the current regulations in the zone (C-2-A).

Douglas’s plan may look sensible given the conditions in the neighborhood, but AAA’s Anderson says it will cause problems.

“Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you?  How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? Do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? If so, where are they going to park?” says Anderson, who says the past three years have seen 16,000 new car registrations in Washington.

Fewer cars in D.C.’s future?

In its fight against the parking policy change, AAA is being joined by community activists who claim their neighborhoods will be clogged by drivers looking for parking. Sue Hemberger, a 28-year district resident who does not own a car, says Tregoning’s proposal is too harsh. In her view, district officials are making car ownership a hassle.

“What I see us doing in the name of transit-oriented development is pushing people who won’t forgo car ownership off the edge of the transit grid,” Hemberger says. “I’m worried about the future of certain neighborhoods and I’m worried about the future of downtown.”

Anderson says D.C. is waging a “war on cars,” but Tregoning says changes to zoning regulations are not designed to make motorists’ lives miserable.  On the contrary, the planning director anticipates the number of drivers in the district will grow but they will have enough options to do away with car ownership, like the car sharing services of Zipcar and Car2Go.

“How does your walking, biking, or taking transit affect his ability to drive, accept to make it easier?” Tregoning says in response to Anderson. “The national average household spends 19 percent of income on transportation. In the district, in areas well-served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So we happen to think lots of choices are a good thing.”

In 2012 the city of Portland, Oregon, commissioned a study to look at the relationship between car ownership and new development, after apartment construction with little to no on-site parking in the city’s inner neighborhoods raised concerns about the potential for on-street parking congestion.

The study found “that 64 percent of residents are getting to work via a non-single-occupant vehicle. Almost a third (28 percent) of those surveyed belong to car-free households; however, cars are still the preferred mode of travel for many of the survey respondents.”

About two-thirds of the vehicle owners surveyed in Portland’s inner neighborhoods “park on the street without a permit and have to walk less than two minutes to reach their place of residence, and they spend only five minutes or less searching for a parking spot,” the study found.

To Hemberger, the Portland study’s key finding is that people don’t give up car ownership just because they commute to work via public transit.  In a city like Washington, Hemberger says, there will not be enough street spot to accommodate new, car-owning residents.

Decision could come this spring

The Office of Planning will submit the proposed removal of parking minimums to the Zoning Commission later this month or early April, where it will go through the public process again before a final decision is made.

“We are a really unique city because we have an amazing number of transportation choices. Our citizens end up paying a lot less for transportation than the rest of the region,” Tregoning says. “I don’t understand why that would be considered a war on cars to try to give people choices, the very choices that actually take automobiles off the road to make it easier to park, to make it easier to drive with less congestion.”

Photo courtesy of vpickering on Flickr

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