Photo by jgrimm on Flickr.

On Monday, November 15th, we need your help to testify before the DC Zoning Commission. They are holding the public hearing to decide on parking requirements for cars and bikes in DC’s new zoning code. Detailed information on how to sign up to testify in person or submit written testimony can be found at the end of this article.

In the summer of 2008, we advocated for removing minimum off-street parking requirements from DC’s zoning regulations. The Zoning Commission approved general principles around removing most minimums for car parking, requiring bike parking and car sharing spaces, landscaping and more.

Now is the second phase. The DC Office of Planning has written more specific zoning language for review, including specific minimums, maximums, and location of parking.

Parking minimums would disappear in most cases. In neighborhood commercial corridors or low-density residential areas without good transit, commercial, institutional, or multi-family residential buildings would still need to provide some parking. But any area with good transit service, or high-density areas, would have no requirements.

For bicycle parking, new buildings over a certain size would have to include some outdoor visitor bicycle parking (like bike racks), and for non-residential buildings, also a certain amount of indoor, secure bicycle parking along with shower facilities. Access to parking and showers is one of the most significant obstacles to people being able to choose to bike to work.

The parking location proposal would disallow parking between buildings and a street, such as in strip malls like the H Street Connection. This would have ensured that Walgreens designed the somewhat more pedestrian-oriented store they ultimately built at Van Ness instead of the very suburban style one they originally pushed for.

Surface parking lots would need to have 10% of the lot landscaped and trees that at maturity would cover 30% of the lot in tree canopy.

The requirements will also serve to limit on-street loading zones and require more off-street loading docks and berths, while ensuring minimal impacts on urban design, public space, and the pedestrian environment. This will be a boon for all users of the street, including automobile drivers, cyclists, and transit riders, as trucks parked on the street cause congestion, block bicycle lanes, and negatively impact the efficiency of bus routes.

Currently, there is no upper limit to the amount of parking that can be built in either surface lots or parking garages in the city. The Office of Planning and DDOT have both recommended setting a maximum for the amount of parking that could be included with a new building or development.

OP’s original recommendation was more conservative, setting the following limits:

  • 100,000 square feet of land area
  • 4 spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area
  • A total of 1,000 spaces for any single parking facility
  • There could be lower limits in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) areas, based on DDOT input

DDOT recommended more stringent maxima, and a separate standard for TOD and non-TOD areas.

  • 100,000 square feet of land area
  • For retail uses, 2.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of building area in TOD areas, and 4.5 spaces in non-TOD areas
  • For non-retail uses, 1 space per 1,000 square feet in TOD areas, 3 in non-TOD areas
  • A total of 500 spaces in TOD areas, 750 in non-TOD areas

In either option, the Board of Zoning Adjustment would have the latitude to increase caps under the relatively light special exception rules.

As an example, DDOT took a look at planned development in the NoMa neighborhood. They found that, at full build-out, 20 million square feet of development is expected. There are currently 7,400 parking spaces in the neighborhood, and 16,500 would be expected under current plans.

This could potentially lead to 12,000 new trips during peak hours. The street network would be unable to handle the additional traffic. Streets in adjacent neighborhoods would see increased use due to spillover, and arterial roads leading to the neighborhood, such as New York Avenue, would see significant increases in delays due to demand.

Since we can’t widen the streets and won’t be building freeways through the neighborhood, the city needs to find ways to encourage less automobile traffic and more utilization of the investments we’ve made in transit.

DC USA, the oft-cited example of building too much parking, is only 15 spaces too much for the less stringent OP standard, though twice as big as allowed under the DDOT proposal. Except for that total cap, at 2.1 spaces per 1,000 square feet, it comes in well within the parking ratios in both, meaning that a shopping center half the size of DC USA with just under half as much parking would still be permissible.

Meanwhile, the 9-acre, 860-space Home Depot and Giant parking lot near Rhode Island Avenue Metro would far exceed the 100,000 square foot land area limit, but has neither too many spaces in total nor too many compared to the building size for the OP standard. It would exceed both under DDOT’s standard for a TOD area, but not the per square foot limit and not the total by much if it had been built in a non-TOD area. Worth noting, also, is the proposed shopping center at New York Avenue and South Dakota Avenue NE that would have over 3,000 parking spaces.

Please set aside time on next Monday evening to head down to Judiciary Square and testify in favor of parking regulations that will help shape a better and greater Washington, DC in the years to come. The hearing begins at 6:30 pm in Suite 220 at One Judiciary Square (441 4th Street NW). Call ahead (202-727-6311) to get on the list and say you are a “proponent” of the parking regulations, Case No. 08-06. You can also sign up to testify if you arrive on time to the Zoning Commission hearing room.

If you can’t make it to the hearing, you can submit comments to the Zoning Commission by fax or email. You can email comments, but only if you sign your comments and send as a PDF of not more than 10 pages. Email your signed PDF to: Written testimony must be received on or before November 15th.