People milling around during the “open house” portion of the meeting. Photo by the author.

Dupont ANC commissioner Kevin O’Connor summed up the tenor of Tuesday’s Penn Quarter meeting on the zoning update simply: “Consensus of Ward 2 zoning meeting seems to be that [reducing the] parking minimums need[s] to go even further than proposed.”

During the question and answer session, the dominant theme was that the update is moving in the right direction, but could do even more. Many residents attended this meeting beyond the usual faces in civic involvement, as well; one attendee told me this was his first ever public civic meeting in DC.

Tonight (Thursday), ANC 3B (Glover Park and Cathedral Heights) will discuss the zoning update at their regular meeting, and the Office of Planning will present at its third public meeting, this time in Ward 8.

Tomorrow (Friday), OP will come online, with a Twitter Town Hall at noon. Submit your questions with the hashtag #ZRR. I will also embed a feed of the town hall here.

At the new AIA center in the Penn Quarter, speaker after speaker thanked the Office of Planning for all their hard work on the zoning update, including many meaningful improvements, but also expressed hope that the update could do a little more. A few people asked about opportunities to adjust the height limit. One lamented new rules that limit a rooming house to 8 unrelated people.

The greatest number voiced disappointment at the giant “hole” in the likely transit zones around northern Logan Circle on the map:


Potential “Transit zones” in Ward 2. Click for full map.


The amount of development this “hole” and other exclusions affect is actually fairly small, since the excluded areas all have 1-2 family row houses and the zoning doesn’t allow apartment buildings; it’s also almost entirely built out today. Mainly, it means that any new non-residential use would have minimum parking requirements, even right next to a Metro station.

OP has very narrowly drawn the rules in this and many other ways to minimize the scope of each change. The zoning update allows corner stores, but subject to so many rules that there might be only a bare handful of corner stores that open in the entire city as a result. Accessory dwellings are allowed, but with strict limits on size, numbers of people, balconies, and a special exception requirement if it’s in a new external building to ensure people don’t build new garages just to house an accessory unit.

They did this to accommodate pushback from some neighborhoods, especially in Ward 3, for all the good that did them; emails from a few people in Chevy Chase haven’t stopped claiming that this is all a nefarious plot to radically remake the District and force a car-free lifestyle upon everyone.

If anything, this update bends over too far to limit the scope of each change. The risk is that Zoning Commission members, hearing opponents, will decide to “split the baby” and find a “compromise” between OP’s proposal and no change at all, when in fact, OP’s proposal is also a major compromise from early drafts and even from what the Zoning Commission approved in principle in 2010.

The Zoning Commission agreed to a rule that if you have an unusually short lot, such as on a triangular block near a diagonal avenue, you could still build a house of typical depth even though that might break the required rear setback. OP abandoned that idea.

The Zoning Commission also approved parking maximums, but except for a rule that developers will need a special exception and Transportation Demand Management plan for surface lots over 100,000 square feet, OP removed maximums; the 2010 hearing report shows that OP was trying to decide between requiring the special exception and TDM plan for garages over 1,000 spaces, or a DDOT suggestion to require it for garages over 500 spaces away from transit and 250 spaces near transit. Ultimately, they chose neither.

The zoning update is still a meaningful step forward in making the District more affordable, better accommodating the many car-free new residents, and enhancing neighborhood amenities, but it’s a small step that doesn’t warrant the level of anger it’s engendered in upper Northwest and which shouldn’t become any smaller of a step than it already is.

If you live or work or even often visit Ward 8, come to the meeting tonight at Savoy Elementary, 2400 Shannon Place from 6:30-8:30. If you’re near Glover Park or Cathedral Heights, please stop by the ANC meeting, 7 pm at Stoddert Elementary; they’ll also be talking about residential parking. And if you’re on Twitter, head online at noon tomorrow for the town hall.