Photo by bossbob50 on Flickr.

Developers of a planned apartment building at 17th and O in Dupont Circle are building more parking than they believe their tenants need, because of zoning regulations that mandate often too-high parking minimums.

DC’s ongoing zoning rewrite will lower the minimums in areas zoning for multi-family development and near transit, both of which apply to the 17th and O project. But they won’t change the minimums fast enough for this project, which will have 57 spaces for 185-230 apartments (plus 36 for the church) just a few blocks from Dupont Circle.

The developers, Keener-Squire Properties, could ask for a variance to reduce the amount of parking. However, representative Michael Korns told community members at a meeting last night that they are reluctant to ask for this exception since they are already applying for other variances. The main one, and the most controversial, would shift the bulk of the building to the west to leave more room around the existing church, which owns the property and uses it today as a parking lot.

Lydia DePillis was also at the meeting and focused her article on the above-ground issues, including the opposition and the economic loss to the city from further restricting already-constrained development. She quotes Korns saying, “We’re building more vacant parking spaces, because we don’t want to listen to people complain about parking.”

Afterward, Korns said that at the nearby Hamilton House, on New Hampshire Avenue near N Street, there are 77 parking spaces but only about 55 are rented out at any time. The Chastleton, at 16th and R and managed by Keener-Squire, has 300 units but only 69 spaces; despite this low ratio, they aren’t in high demand.

A new 46-unit condo Keener-Squire constructed at 24th and I had only 4 dedicated spaces for 46 units, and sold out quickly even in a bad real estate market, Korns added. But the parking spaces didn’t: only 2 of the 4 sold.

Keener-Squire will probably be able to rent out the remaining parking spaces to office workers or residents in the area. But they likely won’t make back their investment. Korns said they consider the extra parking just an expense they have to bear. That’s too bad, since the funding from the project will help the the First Baptist Church fund repairs and programs. The project also would benefit from more affordable housing than the 8% mandated by inclusionary zoning. Unnecessary parking costs detract from both of these.

The extra spaces will also surely draw some additional traffic. That’s one of several concerns voiced by residents of an adjacent condominium. At the meeting, however, the complaints seemed more to be the urban equivalent of “get off my lawn, young whippersnappers”: fears that residents will party on the roof, that some of them might be students, and that renters don’t care about the community as much (a comment which made ANC Commissioner Kevin O’Connor, himself a renter, jump in with a sharp rebuke).

Relevant policy-makers in DC already decided to lower minimums. The Zoning Commission, which combines mayoral appointees and federal representatives, approved the general concept back in October 2008. That was one of the first pieces of the zoning rewrite, and others have followed since. But the changes won’t actually become law until the final language for the entire new zoning code is written and approved.

This fall, the DC Office of Planning hopes to roll out its draft of the new code, which will likely spark a new round of debates leading up to final approval. The longer the process takes, the more buildings will be constructed under antiquated 1958 zoning rules such as this one, which force property owners to dig costly 3rd levels below ground even when they are confident their residents won’t need the parking spaces.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.