Photo by Sam Felder on Flickr.

The Heritage Foundation plans to build 6 rowhouses near its offices at 3rd Street and Massachusetts Avenue, NE. There will be 105 parking spaces underneath, which Heritage will rent out to employees, though well below market rate, and a Capital Bikeshare station.

Heritage has an existing office building with only a small amount of parking on site. The foundation purchased a vacant apartment building on 3rd Street, which isn’t considered a contributing structure in the Capitol Hill Historic District, to build a garage for its adjacent offices.

Each rowhouse will get one space, while the remaining 99 parking spaces will be reserved for employees and visitors of the Heritage Foundation at a cost of $90 per month. For secure garage parking one block from Metro, this is far below market rate. For example, the currently monthly rate one block away at Union Station is $263.39.

According to the report from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Heritage has agreed to pay for a new 40-foot Capital Bikeshare station, which costs about $70,000. Heritage also will build 42 new bicycle parking spaces, 6 in a locked room and 36 in the new garage, in addition to 10 existing indoor spaces.

Will this below-market parking bring more traffic and encourage more driving?

In this case, the parking garage on 3rd Street will not create a void in the rowhouse fabric because it will be entirely underground, and Heritage will build the 6 new rowhouses above.  These new homes match the historic properties on the block, and won support from ANC 6C and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

Current (top) and proposed (bottom) elevations on 3rd Street, NE.

Images from the application. Click for full PDF.

However, this still may bring negative impacts to the neighborhood.  The exhaust shaft for the parking structure will be less than 15 feet high, and the Heritage Foundation has not proposed any special filters, landscaping, or other measures to prevent buildup of particulate matter at adjacent properties.  All vehicles will also enter and exit off of a residential block of 3rd Street. A traffic study by Gorove/Slade (commissioned by the Heritage Foundation) found that the adjacent intersection already has a high crash rate, though they speculate without evidence that recent re-striping may have reduced the rate. The study claims that this project will have a positive impact on traffic and parking, but that is, at best, still an open question. The study found that many of Heritage’s workers take transit, some park on site or at a nearby Heritage-owned lot already, and others park at other private parking lots or garages in the area.  A few also park on local streets in the neighborhood — likely a mix of Ward 6 residents and other workers who plan on paying occasional parking tickets. The traffic study also claims that “traffic will not increase” because “the cars… already drive to the neighborhood; they just park on the street and in other locations.  This parking will eliminate the pressure to use on-street parking and will not generate any new traffic.” However, it seems unlikely that the workers already parking on the street — whether legally or illegally — will shift their patterns to park in the new garage.  In addition, any existing spaces in other private garages will likely be used by other drivers to the neighborhood, driving more traffic to the neighborhood through induced demand. The DDOT report says that:
DDOT is generally opposed to Applicants providing more vehicle parking than is necessary for land development projects. Adding parking capacity to an existing facility while holding the development program relatively constant creates potential for additional vehicular trips and increased congestion. ... The additional vehicle parking has the potential to encourage additional commuters to switch from transit, biking, or carpooling to single occupant vehicle travel.
Heritage needs zoning approvals In order to build this project, the Heritage Foundation is seeking relief from the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) from several sections of the zoning code including those related to expanding an existing non-conformance for FAR (771, 2001.3); exceeding the height limit on penthouses (1203.2(b)); vehicles parking across lot lines (2303.1(b)); and building accessory parking in the R-4 zone (214). Zoning regulations prohibit parking from spanning multiple parcels or serving as accessory to other uses in the R-4 zone in part because it has the potential to mar rowhouse neighborhoods by disrupting home spacing in these dense, historic neighborhoods.  For example, some area churches have purchased rowhouses just to raze them for parking lots.  This is not allowed by right in the zoning regulations.  In 2011, HPRB denied an application by the Third Street Church of God in Mt. Vernon Triangle to raze 3 historic buildings to create a parking lot (for a net gain of 5-7 parking spaces).  If the raze had been granted, the church would have needed similar variances and special exceptions to the ones that the Heritage Foundation is seeking. Lawyers for the Heritage Foundation claim that zoning relief is justified because of the unique aspects of the property, including that the multiple properties are irregularly shaped, span across two different zones, and the two large buildings facing Massachusetts Avenue NE (214 & 236) are nonconforming in both FAR and height. The application claims a hardship in part because these lots proposed for the parking garage are zoned residential, which they label an “accident” of history.  However, the lots have been zoned R-4 for decades.  This block of 3rd Street NE is narrow and has been lined with residential rowhouses for over a century. One variance that the Heritage Foundation doesn’t have to seek is one to exceed maximum parking requirements.  There are none in DC, although proposals have been considered as part of the zoning update.  Some other cities, such as San Francisco, have instituted parking maximums in certain areas which are close to downtown or otherwise well-served by public transportation.  These maximums range from ½ to 1 spaces per unit, with a special exception required for additional parking. The new rowhouses included in this proposal by the Heritage Foundation will likely be a positive addition to the neighborhood.  However, that portion of the project is allowed as a matter-of-right.  There does not appear to be much positive impact for the neighborhood or District from a new parking structure, serving a commercial use, in a historic and residential zone. BZA will hear this proposal at its April 9th meeting, as case number 18531. Update: We mistakenly first published an earlier draft of this post which did not include more recent information that Heritage is adding a Capital Bikeshare station and indoor bike parking as part of the project. The post has been updated.

Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002.