Photo by katmere on Flickr.

A representative of the DC Office of Planning responded to Topher’s summary of the C100-OP debate on the zoning rewrite and a number of comments on our earlier articles, especially concerning the possibility of allowing commercial uses in residential zones. Below is their statement. There has been a good deal of debate on this blog concerning the comprehensive zoning update being undertaken by the DC Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission. We at the Office of Planning would like to take the opportunity to clarify some of the questions that have been asked about the process and its outcomes.

The zoning update was authorized by the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, which stated that “the Zoning Regulations need substantial revision and reorganization, ranging from new definitions to updated development and design standards, and even new zones.” OP’s objective throughout the process has been not to introduce new policies, but to implement the policies stated in the Comprehensive Plan.

We invite all readers to take a look at the dozens of presentations, meeting notes, and recommendations reports that appear on our website (www.dczoningupdate.org). If you do, you will see that Comprehensive Plan policies and action items appear, over and over, as the basis for our discussions and recommendations.

There have also been some misunderstandings regarding our proposals. For example, an earlier comment stated:

“I’ve been told that one of the new zoning regs means that if your house is within a quarter mile from a Metro stop (bus or rail), ANYTHING can set up shop in the house next door to you. I.e., You could very well wake up one morning to see a dry cleaners opening up in what used to be your neighbor’s house.”

This statement is inaccurate. We’re not sure exactly where the confusion is coming from, but apparently two separate recommendations that OP has made are being conflated.  First, OP has recommended that areas already zoned for mixed-use development and apartments have some different zoning standards when they are within ½ mile of a Metrorail station or ¼ mile of a high-ridership bus corridor (or in the future, a streetcar line).

OP has proposed only a few “automatic” zoning changes to such areas. They would not have minimum parking requirements, and they might have lower maximum parking limits than other parts of the city. (A discussion on the specifics of parking maximums is anticipated at a yet-to-be-scheduled Zoning Commission hearing.) No specific changes to building heights or densities, or to the mix of land uses, would be applied to such areas as part of the Zoning Review, nor will this be done in the future without an open discussion about the planning objectives for these areas.

Second, OP has proposed that some very limited allowances be put in place for non-residential uses in residential zones. OP’s proposal, which can be read in our recommendations report, suggests that limited neighborhood-serving commercial uses could be allowed in order to provide services where they currently are unavailable within walking distance. The mention of “dry cleaner” is interesting in light of the conversation we had with members of the citizens task force. Some members expressed concern about exactly that type of use.

OP responded that concerns about the use of dry cleaning chemicals in a predominantly residential area are understandable, and that we would set conditions to prohibit such use. However, a valet service that provides limited drop-off and pick-up services for off-site cleaning might be desirable in an apartment zone.

Concerns have also been raised about over-concentration of commercial uses, or the potential for such uses to price out residential. The concern has been raised that, in effect, OP’s proposals would “do away with” residential zones. Whatever you might think of such an outcome (and it appears that some commenters might support the idea), this is not OP’s proposal. As Travis Parker discussed at the CAG event Monday night, our proposal would place strict limits on commercial uses, including:

  • Limiting the size of any such establishment to less than 2,000 square feet

  • Limiting certain uses only to the ground floor of buildings in apartment zones

  • Concentration limits to restrict the number of non-residential uses on a block

  • Distance restrictions to prevent such uses from undermining commercial centers and main streets

Again, the full description of our proposed conditions is in the report.

The Office of Planning appreciates that it can be difficult to sort through the volume of information that we have produced over the three years (and counting) of this process. It’s natural—and to be encouraged—that citizens will rely on trusted intermediary sources to sift through the information. But the best way to learn about what we’re doing is to see for yourself. Review the information we’ve posted on www.dczoningupdate.org.

We’ve had approximately 60 working group meetings to date, which have been advertized on the website and in local media, and have been open to anyone. Come to any of the upcoming hearings before the Zoning Commission and listen and/or testify. OP has also come to speak to every ANC and community group that’s asked for dialogue on the update, and we continue to make ourselves available.

We look forward to continuing to work with the citizens of the District as we move forward with this process. The end result will be a zoning code that better implements the vision of the Comprehensive Plan, and is clearer, easier to use, and more relevant to the challenges faced by the District today and in the decades to come.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. 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.