Photo by Patrick Haney on Flickr.

This Tuesday is a very important day! It’s my birthday. (And Kojo Nnamdi’s.) Also, it’s the zoning update meeting in Ward 3, a ward which houses many of the most strident opponents, but where a great many residents also support growing and more walkable neighborhoods.

Can you go to the meeting? You don’t need to know much about the zoning update; it’s a great chance to learn. It would also help a lot to say something. Many opponents will be there and not shy. The meeting is 6:30 pm at Wilson High School.

Reader Steve asked, “Do you have specific talking points that we should try to convey?” You can say whatever you want, of course, and make up your own mind, but below are a few themes you might want to mention.

In addition, there are many ways OP has backed off earlier plans based on either resident pressure or internal OP decisions to push for a less significant change than they had originally planned. Or there are ways the zoning update could go beyond the original proposals. Therefore, for each policy area, there are a few changes you could request, if you feel they match your own views.

Code organization

What’s happening: The zoning update will restructure the zoning code (while keeping almost all provisions the same). Instead of having to look in up to 3 places for conflicting rules that all apply to your property, the key information will be in one place.

Main positive point: The zoning code is too hard to understand right now. It needs reorganizing into a form that better helps property owners understand what is and isn’t legal on their property.

Parking minimums

What’s happening: The zoning update removes minimum parking rules for buildings downtown, residential buildings under 10 units, and buildings in mixed-use and higher-density residential areas near Metro and frequent bus lines.

Main positive point: Current rules force many buildings to include more parking than their residents or workers need. It’s really important to remove many of the parking minimums, especially downtown and near transit.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Fill in the “holes” in places like Logan Circle and Columbia Heights by making transit zones apply to non-residential uses in R-4 row house zones near transit.
  • Go even farther and have no minimum parking requirements at all, citywide.
  • Add parking maximums as well, in addition to one on 100,000-square foot parking lots. These would not have been absolute caps, but would just make developers do a Transportation Demand Management plan if they want to put in more parking than a set threshold.


Accessory dwellings

What’s happening: In low- and moderate-density residential areas, people can’t rent out a basement or existing garage without going through complex approvals. The proposal would allow this in most lower-density areas for interior units or existing external buildings, but still require a hearing for new or expanded external buildings.

Main positive point: Accessory dwellings help young people afford places to live and seniors age in place. They make housing more affordable and accommodate more residents without fundamentally changing the character of buildings in a neighborhood. They just let neighborhoods house the numbers of people they did 50 years ago.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Allow ADUs by right in new external structures as well (as long as the new external structure conforms to the other zoning rules).
  • Impose fewer restrictions such as on size, balconies, whether an artist can live above a studio, and more.
  • Include ADUs by right in Georgetown as well — the current proposal requires a special exception for them (more on that later).


Corner stores

What’s happening: Retail can locate in moderate density residential row house areas (not low-density or the higher density areas), as long as it’s pretty far from other retail, in a corner building or historically commercial building, and satisfies many more restrictions.

Main positive point: People want to be able to walk to neighborhood-serving retail, and if they live in an area without a neighborhood commercial strip right nearby, they should be able to have a corner store to serve their needs.

Ways OP could go further:

  • Allow stores on properties besides literal “corners” and historically commercial buildings.
  • Allow corner stores even within 500 feet of mixed-use zones.
  • Let corner stores locate in row house and apartment zones (now R-5) as well; now they do not count.
  • Let the Board of Zoning Adjustment waive more of the conditions in a special exception hearing.


Green Area Ratio

What’s happening: New or substantially changed buildings will need to get a certain score of environmental sustainability features, such as grass, green roof, stormwater management, or green walls, based on the property’s size.

This will help reduce stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect and potentially make DC a more pleasant place to live even as it grows. Some fear it will also further disadvantage urban development versus exurban greenfields.

Other changes

There are many other small tweaks in the zoning update, mostly good.

Some top positive changes:

  • The new code requires more bicycle parking for buildings. There would be “long-term” spaces, such as in a locked room inside the building for employees or residents, and “short-term” outdoor racks for visitors or shoppers.
  • Larger garages will have to have a number of car sharing spaces. Surface parking lots need canopy trees to shade some of the lot.
  • Rules for building homes on alley lots become a little bit more permissive.


Proposals OP dropped:

  • The previous proposal had the same limits on the actual size of a house but did not prescribe how many stories you can have inside (except as the fire code limits). In low-density zones, OP reinstated a limit of 3 stories.
  • The original proposal let homeowners build a house of similar size to others nearby even if their lot has an extra-short rear yard. The Zoning Commission approved this idea but OP removed it.


The meeting is at Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St NW by the Tenleytown Metro. It starts at 6:30 with a presentation by Harriet Tregoning, an “open house” format where you can ask OP staff questions, and then a “town hall” where people can speak to the entire group about their views.