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Proposed D.C. Zoning Code Rewrite Could Shape Parking Patterns In Future

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Under a proposed rewrite of D.C.'s zoning code, parking spot requirements would be eliminated in downtown areas and halved in areas close to transit.
Victoria Pickering: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vpickering/3795010023/
Under a proposed rewrite of D.C.'s zoning code, parking spot requirements would be eliminated in downtown areas and halved in areas close to transit.

When it comes to accommodating the needs of motorists with the vision of creating a less car-dependent Washington, District planners say they have struck a balance in proposed changes to parking rules that are part of the first major rewrite of D.C.’s zoning code since 1958.

This week the Office of Planning wrapped up six years of work when it submitted a 997-page document to the Zoning Commission, triggering what will be another lengthy public process before a new zoning code is finalized. The revised code includes a number of changes on everything from housing to retail, but parking may attract the most attention—and controversy.

“We feel it is the right balance,” said Joel Lawson, the associate director for development review, the number three official at the Office of Planning. “We went through this long, long process of meeting with the public, doing research, contacting other cities on what they’ve done. It’s also consistent with the direction we got from the Zoning Commission early in this process.”

In its final submission to the Zoning Commission, planners proposed eliminating the mandatory minimum number of parking spaces developers will be required to construct in new buildings in an expanded downtown D.C., leaving the decision entirely to the marketplace. In transit corridors, mandatory parking minimums would be reduced by fifty percent.

“The amount of the impact will vary by zone. In some zones the difference outside the transit areas will be relatively small. Inside transit areas we are proposing a fifty percent reduction,” said Lawson.

The move to potentially reduce the number of new parking spaces that will accompany D.C.’s booming housing, office, and retail real estate market has sparked a heated debate. AAA Mid-Atlantic and several neighborhood organizations have contended the proposal will leave motorists with even fewer spaces to choose from, forcing them to circle city blocks searching for a place to park.

Opponents of mandatory minimums counter the regulation has forced developers to build more parking than is necessary in a city with excellent public transit options and nearly 40 percent of households are car-free already, pointing to the D.C. USA shopping development in Columbia Heights as an example. Located next to a Metro station and between the 14th Street NW and 16th Street NW bus corridors, hundreds of parking spaces go unused at D.C. USA, the location of a Target and other large retailers.

To complement the proposal to eliminate or reduce the mandatory minimums, Lawson said planners came up with an idea to make better use of existing parking, targeting spaces in places like church parking lots, for example, that could be used by others.

“Parking spaces would be allowed to be located offsite for use and those spaces would be allowed to be shared for different uses, provided those uses don’t need those same spaces at the same time,” said Lawson. “Church parking lots are a great example that are used mostly on Sundays and can often sit vacant for the rest of the time. Even a straightforward office building gets used most heavily from 9-5 and then in the evening when theaters open up and people are going to restaurants, that parking may not be available.”

Lawson said in Tenleytown, where a 60-unit apartment dwelling will be constructed with no on-site parking, future residents may be able park their cars in neighboring department store parking lots that are dark and empty at night.

The Zoning Commission is expected to hold its first public hearing on the proposed zoning regulations revision in September.

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