A grocery store on Rhode Island Avenue NE. Photo by AlbinoFlea on Flickr.

This is the fifth of ten daily posts about why the Zoning Commission should approve the Office of Planning recommendations on off-street parking, leading up to the hearing on Thursday, July 31 at 6:30 pm. Please attend and testify if you can, or submit comments to the zoning commission in this thread.


Today’s topic: How requirements damage the viability of our neighborhood retail.

A common topic of discussion in many neighborhoods is retail. Once upon a time, most people shopped at local stores for groceries, hardware, clothes, or vacuum cleaner repair. Today, more and more commerce happens online, at major mall-like destinations like Georgetown, or in suburban malls.

These trends have harmed neighborhood retail corridors. In some areas, like upper Georgia Avenue, the debate centers around how to bring any successful retail to the area to avoid being nothing more than fast food restaurants, check cashing establishments, and liquor stores. In richer neighborhoods like Dupont Circle and Cleveland Park, it is about maintaining a mix of stores to serve neighborhood uses instead of becoming a monoculture of bars and nightclubs.

Parking requirements undermine these neighborhood efforts. When we require parking, we force residents of newly constructed building to pay for it, either through parking spaces bundled with units or higher housing prices needed to cover the cost of the garages. If residents have already paid for parking, they’re more likely to have cars; if residents already have cars, they’re more likely to drive when shopping instead of patronizing neighborhood retail.

Along the Rhode Island Avenue retail corridor, retail is struggling as it is in many other areas. When we build new residential buildings with required minimum parking (and often lots of it, those new residents are more likely to drive out to Prince George’s Plaza than to visit a nearby establishment on Rhode Island.

With fewer patrons, we have fewer businesses, making it even less appealing to shop in the District. It’ll take a lot of work to break out of this vicious cycle. As long as our zoning code subsidizes and encourages driving, it inhibits that process. The Zoning Commission should adopt OP’s recommendations and start us down a path toward stronger neighborhood retail.

I may have a reason every day to eliminate parking requirements, but the Zoning Commission needs to hear from more citizens, not just me ten times. Please write your own comments for the Zoning Commission here and testify on the 31st.

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.