Photo by rllayman on Flickr.

Proposed zoning rules that require putting parking spaces to the side of or behind a building, instead of in front, may become law this year, perhaps quickly enough to influence some big box store plans that are in the works.

New developments that put their parking in front significantly diminish the pedestrian environment. They also make it less appealing for other, adjacent projects to address the street, creating a vicious cycle away from an active streetscape, while new buildings with their parking in the rear start a cycle in the opposite, positive direction.

Because of this, DC’s Comprehensive Plan calls for locating parking behind or underneath buildings. Actually, the zoning code already requires parking for residential development to be either behind, to the side, or in a garage, but commercial uses can place it anywhere, resulting in stores with large front parking lots in walkable areas or areas that could soon become walkable.

The zoning rewrite proposals include changes to codify the parking location rules for commercial projects as well. Unfortunately, the zoning rewrite is still potentially years from being complete, and projects are going forward now which will lock in bad urban design for decades or more.

In testimony on the parking rules, a number of us asked the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission to accelerate this specific piece, writing it into the current zoning regs while we wait for the complete overhaul.

OP has now proposed a text amendment to do just this, and submitted it to the Zoning Commission. The commission will then review the proposal and schedule a public hearing, likely in March. If they approve it, there are then various steps (proposed action, final action, publication in the DC Register, and so on), but it’s possible these changes could become part of the DC zoning code by mid to late summer.

That may nto be early enough to affect the Aldi, but there are lots more commercial development projects in various stages that will catch fire as the economy improves. Putting the zoning in place now will ensure that the next development boom isn’t destructive to neighborhoods’ walkability.

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.