An unintended and likely negative consequence in mixed use development
This is a reprint from September 2006 and of course is just as relevant today. I did testify about this at a Zoning Commission hearing in 2007, in the context of whether or not the city should review and revise the Zoning Regulations.
I am getting involved in a development question in the H Street neighborhood, and along with the recent article "Mediocre Mile" from the Post, the conversation has made me think more seriously about one of the unintended consequences of adding residential development, primarily this is an issue of new construction, to formerly commercial only areas, making them mixed-use, which is something all of us committed to urban living and compact development and sustainable land use and resource planning want.
(This is drawn from an email I wrote.)
The zoning regulations don't provide for design review. It's true that there are some design regulations in the zoning overlay for H St. but they are simple, because the law doesn't really provide much guidance. Design review in all the other neighborhood commercial districts covered by a similar zoning overlay is handled by the Historic Preservation Review Board, because all the other such districts are designated historic.
Anyway, something you need to think seriously about are facades of mixed use buildings, particularly residential, in neighborhood commercial districts, because these buildings aren't likely to change, and they are likely to last.
I mention this because in commercial real estate, (1) it is not uncommon for buildings and projects to have a 10-40 year life span, after which the building is torn down and rebuilt (with a new facade) or (2) during the building's useful life it gets renovated and new skin--the facade is replaced with something more visually attractive.
I think the likelihood of multiunit residential buildings where the units are individually owned going through subsequent facade design improvements comparable in scale to that done for commercial real estate is infinitesimal.
But the design of the building has tremendous impact on the quality of the surrounding built environment, as well as the property values of others. In this case, your own pecuniary interest should demand that you be concerned about this issue.
But as importantly, it means that the Zoning Commission and the Office of Planning should revisit this issue because it has significant impact on the long term quality of the built environment in so many of the mixed use neighborhoods in our city.