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Report: How Land Is Used Locally Can Help Address Transportation Challenges

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The region’s residential and business hubs with potential for significant commercial development should employ a range of strategies to manage growth, including zoning changes, public-private partnerships, affordable housing initiatives, and tying land use strategies to transit projects, according to a study of 92 ‘activity centers’ by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The 83-page report, Place + Opportunity, emphasizes the relationship between transportation projects and land use focusing on the real estate changes expected in certain corridors where new transit is being built.

“We know that in order to get the most out of transportation investment we have to develop supportive land uses, and in order for our activity centers to be thriving, accessible places we have to make sure we have a range of transportation options,” said Sophie Mintier, a regional planner at the Council of Governments. “Some of our activity centers don’t have Metro stations, but if they are places that are still walkable, we think those activity centers will be more successful and stronger over the long term.”

The report creates categories to guide development strategies in each activity center as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, downtown D.C. and Bethesda are considered urban centers, the category where planners suggest local governments should leverage their strong real estate markets to possibly subsidize affordable housing.

Tysons Corner, H Street in Northeast D.C., and the hubs along the planned route of the Purple Line in Maryland are considered ‘transitioning’ corridors because of the presence of new transit: the Silver Line in Tysons, the streetcar along H Street in Washington, and the aforementioned light rail system in Montgomery and Prince George’s County.

The report said as H Street experiences gentrification spurred by the economic development expected in the wake of the streetcar, planners should prioritize the preservation of affordable housing, then focus on opportunities to create new units on vacant or redeveloping parcels.

“A number of the strategies and tools that we would recommend for a community that is a ‘transforming center’ have to do with preserving the affordable housing that already exists,” Mintier said. “We also look at strategies to support local businesses in the area, including façade improvements or micro-loan funds, things like that.”

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