Photo by BarelyFitz on Flickr.

After a little breather for the holidays, it’s time for DC’s most contentious, important, yet timid public policy proposal to roll forward once more. The public meetings on the zoning update resume this weekend in Columbia Heights, with the biggest clash to follow Tuesday in Tenleytown.

Please attend one or more of the meetings this month and let us know which you’ll be going to. It’s especially important to get more folks to the Ward 3 meeting Tuesday. You don’t need to go to the meeting in your own ward, and all meetings cover the same topics.

First and foremost, the meetings are a chance to educate yourself about the details of the plans and ask questions. In addition, you can ask OP to fill in some of the holes in their proposals.

Change is already here

The meetings start out with a presentation by the Office of Planning explaining the issues, the history of DC’s zoning, and what they’re hoping to tweak in the new code. After that, there is an “open house” format where you can write comments on post-its at various stations, and ask staff questions. They end the meeting with a more traditional “town hall” style where people can speak or ask questions one by one.

As they explain in the presentation, DC is very different than it was in 1950 and 1960, even though our zoning code is still substantially the same:

Images from the Office of Planning.

This last decade was the first time DC gained population since 1960, but the population is very different today. There are far more residents 60 years and older, and in the 20-34 age group, while there are far fewer children. The average household is a third smaller as well, which is why our existing stock of housing could be very full despite significant new construction, but still hold over 200,000 fewer people than in 1960. What about the holes? In its efforts to bend over backward and placate opponents, OP has left some significant gaps in proposals that are generally excellent steps forward. The upcoming meetings are also a good opportunity to ask OP to fill in the holes. Parking minimums go away for mixed-use, non-residential, and high-density residential areas near transit and everywhere downtown, but that leaves what Matt Yglesias called the “Logan Circle gap”: R-4 row house areas even right near transit. There’s also a similar “Columbia Heights gap” and others.

Image from the Office of Planning.

There won’t be parking minimums for residential buildings under 10 units, which covers most of the buildings in the “gaps,” but this still leaves parking minimum requirements for some buildings right near Metro stations. Corner stores will only be able to go in corner buildings or ones that have historically served as retail, and only 500 feet away from other retail. This leaves very few potential sites. Accessory dwellings can go in exterior garages but only if they already exist. OP’s early proposals had none of these holes. They added each one to try to address resident opposition and pare down the proposal to the absolute minimum necessary. If the Zoning Commission approves the new code just as OP is proposing, it will be a major step forward for DC. It will fix many of the occasions when property owners have to ask for special exceptions to do things which match residents’ desires and needs for our city. However, a number of these situations will remain, and we’ll get less housing, bigger gaps between neighborhood stores, and more unnecessary parking than we might under a more expansive version. Worse yet, if the Zoning Commission decides they need to “split the baby” and compromise between OP’s plan and vocal opponents, we’ll end up losing some essential component of the changes, since there’s no fat left. There are almost no elements remaining that might be a good idea but maybe have some drawbacks, where you could go either way, since OP took all of those away already. I’d have preferred to see OP leave the holes out, since we’re better off without them, and also give zoning commissioners some room to compromise away elements that aren’t absolutely essential. These public meetings are a chance to show OP that many residents not only support the zoning update but would support a less-timid variant as well. Find the meeting nearest you Here are the 5 remaining meetings over the next 2 weeks:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Saturday, January 510 am-noonWard 1Harriet Tubman Elementary School3101  13th St NW (1 block east of Columbia Hts Metro)
Tuesday, January 86:30-8:30 pmWard 3Wilson High School3950 Chesapeake St NW (adjacent to Tenleytown Metro)
Wednesday, January 96:30-8:30 pmWard 5Foster Auditorium (Ely Building), Gallaudet University800 Florida Ave NE (5 blocks east of NY Ave/Gallaudet Metro)
Saturday, January 1210 am-noonWard 7DOES Building, Room 2309/104058 Minnesota Ave NE (adjacent to Minnesota Ave Metro)
Wednesday, January 166:30-8:30 pmWard 4Takoma Education Campus7010 Piney Branch Rd NW (3 blocks west of Takoma Metro)
Which one can you go to? Let us know on this form and help us make sure we have good coverage at all the meetings!

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.