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After Six Years, D.C. To Get Six More Months To Debate Zoning Code Rewrite

The long-brewing debate over D.C.'s zoning rewrite is not over yet.
D.C. Office of Zoning
The long-brewing debate over D.C.'s zoning rewrite is not over yet.

D.C. residents and officials have been debating changes to the city's 60-year-old zoning code for the last six years, and there will be at least another six months of discussion before the plan can be voted on.

On Tuesday, the Zoning Commission approved a request from Mayor Vincent Gray to extend a period of public comment on the zoning code rewrite, moving it back to Sept. 15, 2014. The period of public comment was originally set to close at the end of April.

This is the second such extension since December, when the commission announced a new round of public hearings on changes to the 1,000-page-long document. The rewriting process started in 2008.

The zoning code governs how D.C. grows and develops. Planning officials have been pushing to update the code so it meets the needs of what they say is a rapidly changing city. The draft would allow for more corner stores in residential neighborhoods and permits homeowners to turn basements and carriage houses into rentable homes known as accessory dwelling units. It would also change the requirement for off-street parking lots for new buildings.

Many of the proposed changes have drawn support from urbanists, while opposition has come from groups that are concerned with increasing density in residential neighborhoods.

In July 2013, former Planning Director Harriet Tregoning was forced to concede on a proposal that would have eliminated requirements for off-street parking spots in new buildings. Instead, buildings near transit will still be required to have certain parking spots, but fewer of them. Buildings in parts of downtown D.C. will no longer need to have parking.

During Tuesday's debate, members of the Zoning Commission expressed mixed emotions over the value of offering more chances for public debate.

"On balance, I would say that more input would probably be beneficial," said commissioner Peter May.

"I don't know how many more meetings we'll be able to do, and I don't know that the attendance will be better if we do 50 more meetings," countered commissioner Michael Turnbull.

"Going through this [rewrite] process for seven years, what's another six months?" offered commissioner Robert Miller.

"People are getting engaged," said commission chair Anthony Hood, who also said that an extension was useful since Tregoning had departed in February. She was replaced by Ellen McCarthy, who led the office from 2004 to 2007.

Before voting, Hood expressed confusion over how long Gray wanted the public record to remain open. "The only thing that concerns me is what I have written here today says 2015. I know that he's [Gray] not asking for 2015," he said, laughing.

There was further confusion on Wednesday, when a press release from Gray's office said the extension would run through 2015. It was later corrected.

The Zoning Commission vote was 4-1 in favor of extending the public comment period to Sept. 15 — of 2014.

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