Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A good chance the DC Zoning Rewrite will crash and burn: Part 1

Because the opponents are going on a road show, doing presentations sponsored by ANCs and other community groups; and the meetings aren't set up to provide equal speaking time to proponents.  There was one such meeting yesterday in ANC4B, which is my greater neighborhood, covering Takoma and Manor Park.

I wasn't able to go, because I had prior commitments.  I also didn't want to go because I am tired of the argument.  The following entries are pieced together from some emails.


Yes, I don't think the sky is falling with the proposed changes in the zoning code. For the most part, changes are not really in the residential sections of neighborhoods, with a couple exceptions. The changes target areas immediately proximate to transit service, transit stations in particular. And changes in those areas can add population with minimal negative impacts on extant residential areas.

With regard to ADUs, I am a strong supporter. Many lots in Greater Takoma could accommodate them, although I'd recommend that they be prioritized in areas closest to transit stations. Frankly, I think the new proposals are a little too restrictive. Every project shouldn't have to trigger hearings.

With regard to corner stores, I think corner stores are great. However, as Carin pointed out the change is for R3 and R4 neighborhoods. But more importantly, the property and retail market in DC does not support such enterprises except in the densest neighborhoods (like Capitol Hill, and even there I can think of fewer than 20 stores, including dry cleaners and pharmacies and Riverby Books, from F St. SE to F St. NE). As I mentioned in a previous post, the microcommercial district on the 6200 block of 3rd St. NW is barely hanging on, and they are clustered.

WRT my point about the property market, Georgetown has the density conditions to support corner stores. But the property values are so high that retail sales aren't enough to pay asking prices for rents, which is why few such stores exist, and one Scheele's is subsidized).

With regard to more housing at transit, that's exactly where it should be put, where it is least likely to negatively impact the residential section of neighborhoods.

I understand why Ward 3 and Ward 4 residents are so up in arms about the proposed changes, because these sections of the city are the most car dependent, although many people think that the car dependence is necessity, not choice. That being said, large portions of both wards do not lie within 3/4 mile of a transit station, which is where a car light/non-car ownership lifestyle is easiest to achieve with minimal inconvenience.

I wrote some blog entries on this subject, and one Ward 3 resident opined I was suggesting a lifestyle only physically possible for the very young. That person happens to be a year or two younger than I, and she probably lives a lot closer to a supermarket. (I am not quite 53 years old.)

The thing about the reaction to these proposals is that they are pretty shrill and they are offered without acknowledging nuances and experiences elsewhere, either in other parts of the city or in other cities. It's as if we don't have a transit system in the city now, and we do, and it's as if we don't have plenty of areas of the city where the car is not prioritized, and we do.

The other thing that surprises me about the anti-arguments is that I think that the people often fail to recognize that their interests ought to be encouraging other people (not themselves) to adopt car light lifestyles, if only to reduce the competition they face for parking spaces and road space.

DC's road network is fixed. It is not capable of being expanded (although dysfunctional elements of the street network can be fixed, although that doesn't seem to be a current priority; such improvements would improve traffic flow and reduce congestion, e.g., the intersection at Georgia and Missouri Avenues). Since more street space for parking can't be added and since more lanes of road cannot be added, car usage should be discouraged, not encouraged.

Adding parking, especially at transit stations, increases cost of the housing, and encourages driving rather than using transit. Think about Blair Road. I am incredulous about how people are clamoring for more parking at multiunit buildings near the Takoma Station. The area is already "failing" at peak periods. And you want to attract more car dependent or at least car-centric residents to this area? (Note too that I was impressed that the traffic study for the Spring Place project reported on The Gables apartment building and how many trips it generated during rush, and it is minimal.)

The whole point about the book _Nudge_ is what they call "choice architecture," and shaping the environment in ways that achieve optimal behavior. If we can't add road space and parking space to the city, then we should not be prioritizing automobility. That's what the proposed zoning changes attempt to do.

And we need more residents--they are paying property and income and sales taxes, adding to the city's revenue. They are the people helping us attract more retail and restaurants to our neighborhoods. They are adding to street vitality and improving community safety. They are riding transit, making more frequent service more possible. So adding more residents while trying to reduce traffic or at least not make it worse ought to be everyone's foremost priority.

One of the things that bugs the s*** out of me about all of these arguments is the level of entitlement that is expressed with regard to automobile-centricity and the failure to be honest about it.

Most people want their car ownership to be privileged and significantly subsidized and they fail to acknowledge that these privileges (not rights) come at the expense of others. For example, car sharing spaces on the street cost a lot of money to the providers, and the users pay about $2 hour or more to pay for it, while people with parking permits pay $35/year for their street space. (Some parts of the city, including my block don't even have RPP.) I resent, being a car user but not a car owner, having to pay far more for street parking than car owners.

And frankly, since each car share vehicle supports 10 or more households and reduces car ownership (and therefore other competition for scarce street parking spaces), it is car share parking that should be subsidized. Etc.

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At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Sue Hemberger said...

Here's an example of where fact-checking should have preceded pubication. A simple email to me or to the event's organizer (Sara Green) would have told you that OP was asked to present at this forum. After initially agreeing, they ultimately decided they didn't want to share a program with citizens who were critical of their proposals.

As for my involvement, it wasn't something I initiated. I was asked to present because people knew (from listserv posts, word of mouth, and a Committe of 100 presentation) that I had put a lot of work into understanding the changes and could explain them relatively accessibly. I agreed to come and to share what I know (and at that point assumed OP would be there as well.) Prior to the invite, I'd never even met Sara.

After the 4B presentation, I bummed a ride back home with Linda, who had a meeting (not a presentation) nearby. I went out to lunch with my family.

So the suggestion that roving bands of opponents are prowling the city in an attempt to deprive OP of a chance to explain and justify their zoning proposals is about as off-base as it could be.

For what it's worth, I thought the meeting was really interesting and I learned a lot from doing it.

At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But you spread hyperbole and misinformation and have your own (untrained, non-legal) interpretation of the zoning rewrite. So while you may find it interesting, and other misinformed people are buying in to your gospel, it is still, at base generally incorrect.

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Sue Hemberger said...

Actually, I *am* legally trained (I'm a former poli sci professor whose field is public law) and I tend toward nerdy and precise rather than hyperbolic.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense, but I wouldn't admit that. Your analytic skills leave a lot to be desired.

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Committee of the 100 should just leave DC and move to Phoenix, Houston or Atlanta where they would be a lot happier

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

poor sara green. she means well. but she is clueless.

she needs a reading list...


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