Bruce DePuyt and I talked Tuesday about the Babe’s project, a planned 55-65-unit apartment building one block from Tenleytown Metro which will not have underground parking and whose residents will not be able to get resident parking stickers.



A lot of people are nervous about this proposal, but it really should be a no-brainer. The Office of Planning report said that there are 560 parking spaces available for rent nearby. In just the garage at Cityline at Tenley (the building with the Container Store), there are 110-120 spaces going unused each night, and 50 during the day.

That means that even if almost everyone brought a car and just rented a space, everything would be fine. There’s a strange legacy assumption that everyone who parks would need to either park in their own building or on the street, but there are actually a lot of garages in Tenleytown.

Plus, Douglas Development is explicitly planning to market the building to people who don’t want to have cars. The Container Store at Cityline only sells containers. That doesn’t make it a bad store because it doesn’t also sell furniture or clothing. If you want containers, go there. If not, shop somewhere else. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with having a building for people mostly without cars, and other buildings and houses and neighborhoods can serve people with different needs.

Bruce was worried that someone with a car would want to buy a unit from an initial owner (actually, it’s an apartment building, not condos, but I forgot to mention that on the segment). Regardless, I pointed out that some apartments in some buildings have decks, or more bathrooms, and others don’t. People choose where to live based on the available amenities, and not every apartment, condo or house has to serve every need for every person.

This is a simple economic concept, but it seems to escape many people, like Council­member Jack Evans (ward 2), who was on the show before me. Bruce asked Evans about the proposal. Evans made the odd argument that a building designed for people to ride transit one block from the Tenleytown Metro is a bad idea because there isn’t a Metro station in his own neighborhood of Georgetown.


Evans said,

I think it’s a major mistake to do that in the District of Columbia. The reason being that the Metro system, the bus system does not work well enough to get people around in the city. I live in Georgetown. There is no Metro. For me to get around I’m taking buses, transferring, it takes me a long time to get anywhere.


This thinking reflects one of the most common cognitive errors we see in policy debates. People extrapolate their own experiences to everyone else. If I need to drive, everyone must. If I need a certain size apartment, everyone must. Therefore, the government must force the market to build those things.

We don’t all need the same type of housing. Some people do need, or want, large suburban houses with big yards and 4 bedrooms and 2-car garages. We have a lot of those. Other people would rather save money and time and buy or rent a small unit without parking if it lets them live near the Metro.

Our zoning need not force everything into a single mold. That’s what 1960s planners tried to do, and we know it was a failure. With the agreement to withhold residential parking permits to residents of this building, there’s no way it can negatively effect anyone else. That means there’s no reason to forbid Douglas from constructing the apartments they think the market demands.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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 here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.