Few people argue with building in undeveloped areas like Near Southeast, with empty lots and where the few existing residents want more neighbors. But there are few of these sites. Most undeveloped land is in or next to an existing neighborhood. Where do we put housing?

Is it better to build new tall buildings near low-density neighborhoods, as has been proposed for the Armed Forces Retirement Home? Should two-story row houses grow to three, as often happens in non-historically designated neighborhoods like Bloomingdale or Petworth where the zoning allows it? Or should we fit more people in between the current housing, in alley dwellings?

In the recent discussion about inclusionary zoning, several people brought up alley dwellings. DC has a rich history of people living in alleys, but current zoning and codes don’t allow them. Should we bring them back? Some people in the Low and Moderate Density zoning working group brought it up as a possible alternative to pop-ups. Some have suggested giving more local control, at the neighborhood or even block level, over certain zoning decisions. Should we let each block pick—allow taller new buildings on commercial streets, continue allowing pop-ups, or legalize alley units?

Alley dwellings have drawbacks, too. Right now, we use alleys for parking and loading. But when people live in the alleys, they can create pressure to build garages and loading areas right on the street to avoid impacting the alleys, like on the 14th and U project. Access for fire trucks can be a problem. What other issues do alley dwellings bring up? Would you prefer them to taller buildings in your neighborhood?

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.