Will developers start getting pinched between inclusionary zoning and historic preservation, and the wishes of neighbors? Will some push to weaken one or the other? Do we need to do that, or is that just an argument meant to increase profits?

The proposed inclusionary zoning law requires some affordable housing (reducing the potential for profit), while also allowing some extra height (increasing the potential for profit). Meanwhile, residents don’t want the extra height, and HPRB shrinks the sizes of floors to get buildings to fit with the historic neighborhood.

To build a building, a developer must get financing from big national investment funds which demand a certain return. Deliver it, and they’ll finance the building; otherwise, no building. At last week’s Dupont Circle ANC meeting, the developer of the 14th and U project claimed that HPRB’s shrinking of the top two floors is threatening the ability of the project to get funded. Further, they could afford to do without the top two floors entirely (as many neighborhood activists want) if the inclusionary zoning rules didn’t exist.

At the behest of developers, Mayor Fenty’s administration is proposing to trim back the inclusionary zoning rules that were agreed upon by the Council but not yet implemented by the Mayor. The argument for weakening is that the IZ rules will cut profits too much and buildings just won’t get built; the argument against is that developers may simply be looking for more profit at the expense of affordable housing.

This discussion led one observer at the meeting to speculate that historic areas might become exempt from IZ. That’d be dangerous (and a bad idea). Preservation already sometimes appears to be a tool of rich white neighborhoods to divert change away from their areas; any serious push by people in historic districts against IZ would seem like more of the same with a tinge of class warfare or racism. Other advocates might be excited about the pinch of IZ and historic preservation restrictions if it stops buildings in their neighborhoods that they don’t want.

We have three competing interests: developers, preservationists, and housing advocates. Let’s hope the final outcome effectively balances all three. We need to preserve historic areas, need new housing and stores throughout the city, and mustn’t exclude the middle class and lower-income people who form the backbone of the city’s workforce.

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.