Harvard Street in Columbia Heights. Photo by Kent Boese.

Councilmember Tommy Wells re-introduced legislation this week to let a developer of a new building promise that tenants can’t get stickers to park on neighborhood streets, if they choose to offer such a guarantee to neighbors. Would this alleviate the parking angst that erupts over nearly every development project, like ongoing controversies in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant?

In Tenleytown, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) supported a new building with no underground parking last year, on the condition that new residents not be able to get residential parking stickers. That was fine with developer Douglas Jemal, but government agencies may not enforce this provision, leaving it entirely to the private agreement between Douglas Development and the ANC.

Neighborhood opposition to growth often revolves around traffic and parking. Even if a developer wants to market a new building to car-free and car-lite new residents, people worry that residents will bring cars anyway and park them on the street.

Building underground parking isn’t a solution, either, because some people will still park on the street to save the monthly garage fee, and that underground parking means a lot of cars which add to traffic.

Just look at this message on PoPville’s forum, from a resident in Columbia Heights. Some people have been double parking on Harvard Street, stopping emergency vehicles from getting through. Clearly, people should not double park and ought to get tickets, but the resident then went on to use this case to argue against a parking-free condo project:

The reason I’m asking is that a developer is seeking to build an 8 unit apartment building on Harvard Street, NW and they are asking the board of zoning to waive the parking requirements to have parking for their building. We submitted over 70 signatures and 10 letters of opposition today, but apparently the planning department is planning on supporting this application.

It is my feeling that worsening the parking problem on Harvard street will effectively cut off access to local hospitals for residents in Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights, and will make it impossible for the fire trucks in Adams Morgan to help out at fires east of 16th street.

It’s not possible to solve a double parking problem by ensuring that there are 8 more parking spaces off street. The only solution, as many commenters pointed out, is to ensure that we enforce the double parking rules so that parked cars don’t block emergency vehicles. Still, we know that the prospect of more residents makes people worry that parking on the street will get harder.

Meridian Hill Baptist Church. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Not far away, Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner China Terrell worries about a development project at the former fire-ravaged Meridian Hill Baptist Church:

[The developers] want to build 75 condos in the church (mostly 1-bedroom units), with no on-site parking. Instead, homeowners would have the option of leasing parking spaces at DC USA in Columbia Heights. When this plan was introduced at the May 21 ANC meeting, residents were not supportive for obvious reasons. Increased parking and population pressures? The residents said no, thank you.

DC USA is just about 2 blocks from the church, so actually, parking off-street in that garage is probably a shorter walk than trying to find an on-street space in the neighborhood at busy times, where you might circle for a while and end up as far away.

It’s bad policy to require parking in every new building, like the Harvard Street condos and this church, but it’s also understandable that residents would worry about the impacts. There’s an existing shared resource that’s often scarce. People are used to consuming that resource.

One solution is to ensure that new growth doesn’t impact the resource. We want new residents, but don’t want parking pressure. Just like it doesn’t affect neighbors whether a new building has a fitness center or not, or whether there are 2 bathrooms for 2 bedrooms versus just one, Wells’ bill could let parking be another issue that’s up to the building and its tenants rather than a neighborhood impact.

It ought to be a basic value we all share (though not everyone does) that we want to welcome new people into our neighborhoods. New residents mean more vitality for local businesses, more tax revenue to shore up our city’s budget, more people on the street to make neighborhoods safe.

Some people are nervous about treating new residents differently from existing residents. Why should one group of people get to use the public space and not others, they ask? We already give existing residents a break on property taxes, for instance. On the other hand, we shouldn’t say that new residents can’t use a public park, or send kids to a school, even though sometimes people oppose adding neighbors because they fear those resources will get more crowded as well.

Unlike those, however, driving is just one of several methods of getting around. In a place like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, there are many other alternatives, like Metro, buses, bicycling, and more. Some people still need to drive, but it’s very reasonable to internalize that cost. If you want to drive, you will have to rent a place with a parking space, or rent a separate space at DC USA, or otherwise provide for this just as you pay for your bathroom space.

Wells’ bill might not eliminate all opposition to growth. People will still also say they don’t want to have to look at buildings, or don’t want population in general. But trouble parking seems to be the biggest fear residents have from most projects. It doesn’t need to be.

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.