At Wednesday’s Dupont Circle ANC meeting, architect Eric Colbert presented revised plans for the 14th and U development proposal. The ANC still wants to make it smaller, but beyond the classic fight over density, this project is a perfect example of the silly and detrimental effects of minimum parking requirements.
Current zoning requires one space per two units for half of the building, and one space per three units for the other half, meaning two full levels of underground parking. These spaces will cost $60,000 per space, or $20,000 to $30,000 per unit. Developer Bob Moore said they would gladly reduce that to a single level if they could. Since this building is only one block from a Metro entrance, on several bus lines, and a short walk from downtown, there is no good reason they should be forced to build so much parking.
Having so much required parking will encourage more residents to have cars, since parking will be available in excess of the actual market demand. By adding $20,000 to $30,000 per unit in costs, they have to build the building larger than they might otherwise need to, and include fewer affordable units. Parking requirements also push developers to build larger units, which are consequently more expensive, because smaller units would require more mandatory parking.
The nearby residents are very concerned about traffic, and are fighting to put the garage entrance on the front of the building, on 14th Street, instead of in the alley behind. Less parking would mean less traffic in and out, and less on the streets.
Most people’s instinctive reaction to less parking is to assume that people will park on the streets instead. But this is often not true, since supply creates demand. Architect Eric Colbert explained that they’d like to devote some spaces to Zipcars, which can enable residents to drive on occasion without owning cars. The building will be rental units, and is likely to attract residents who don’t intend to drive. And finally, creative pricing strategies for the surrounding streets could fix the imbalance of supply and demand, not just for this building but for the neighborhood in general.
By reducing the parking requirement, we could have less traffic, less pollution, more affordable housing, and possibly even less density, though I support the project’s size as do others. Unfortunately, the ANC was not particularly interested in thinking creatively about parking, preferring to merely spar over density.
They have downsized the project a little from the original drawings. The southern end is now the same height as the adjacent apartment building on T Street, and the northern end matches the storage building on U. But ANC Chairman Ramon Estrada, who lives nearby, still wants the building to be smaller, and the other members of the ANC voted with him, though without comment and without much apparent enthusiasm one way or the other.
It’s too bad the ANC isn’t interested in expanding their thinking about this project. Reducing the parking could make the project much better.