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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DC Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study identifies zoning issues (that I raised 6 years ago...)

I was not prepared to be impressed about this study because the impetus for the planning process was a desire by the Ward 5 Councilmember, Kenyan McDuffie, to reduce the amount of industrially zoned land in DC's Ward 5.  DC has a limited inventory of industrial land and mostly it is located adjacent to CSX and Amtrak railroad tracks, which are mostly located in Ward 5.

-- "Can Ward 5 go from 'dumping ground' to industrial area that works," Washington Post
-- "McDuffie resolute on helping his ward shed image of a dumping ground," Washington Post

(Another large swath of industrially zoned land used to exist on the Southeast DC Waterfront but have been rezoned for the creation of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium and various mixed use developments that exclude industry.)

But the planners successfully repositioned the study around the economic development value of industrial land and its essentiality to creative economy endeavors and the related employment that is generated, and the Councilmember became convinced that it would be worthwhile to preserve industrially zoned land rather than get rid of it, provided that the nuisance elements can be better managed, as well as to support various municipal and transit uses that can only be accommodated within such zones.

Warehouses on Reed Street at Channing Street NE
The building on the right was demolished a few months ago and this warehouse site will be redeveloped as housing.  

Granted, this Ward 5 site is just north of the Rhode Island Metrorail Station and the city has conflicting policies--one is to preserve industrial land (although without substantive protections in zoning) and another is to build multiunit housing by transit stations.

Unfortunately, these days DC is late to the table.  It happens I saw a great presentation on such issues by San Francisco at the 2004 American Planning Association conference, and in 2005 at the National Trust conference in Portland, one of the field tours I attended was of the Central Eastside Industrial Area.

-- Industrial Land in San Francisco: Understanding Production, Distribution, and Repair, San Francisco (December 2002)
-- Central Eastside Portland Urban Renewal District, Portland
-- Central Eastside Industrial Council
-- Central Eastside Industrial Zoning Study (December 2003)
-- Industrial Land Reports from Cities and Regions throughout the US and Canada, UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation

Back then I was interested in industrial zoning issues because of the Florida Market and the redevelopment threat--now coming true--it faced, and opportunities present within Ivy City for creating streetcar manufacturing and a preservation building trades training program. Note that DC did do a study around 2005, but I guess nothing much happened with it, other than the recognition that a lot of municipal-related uses need to be located on industrially zoned land.

-- Industrial Land in a Post-Industrial City: District of Columbia Industrial Land Use Study (2006)

Now, in a reasonably strong real estate market with a limited inventory of large sites across the city, it is almost impossible to preserve industrially zoned land, unless it is already owned by industrially-related firms--and for the right price, who is to say that they won't be willing to decamp too?

Vodka, Gin, and Whiskey are manufactured in DC at the OneEight Distillery in Ivy City.  It was the second distillery to open in DC in the past few years.  Small breweries are also located on industrial properties in Wards 5 and 4.

As the study pointed out, DC's industrial (both manufacturing and commercial-manufacturing) zoning categories have extremely permissive zoning, and because of the value of the proximity of the land in a strong real estate market, increasing amounts of this land are being converted to non-industrial uses--big box retail, schools, housing, etc.  (This was also discussed in the previous entry on New York Avenue.)

One of the study's recommendations is "to do more study of the zoning issues."  It's too late, the zoning needs to be changed now.  And how much more study is even necessary?

Ironically, I submitted an amendment to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan on this verysame issue in 2009, the first year that amendments were solicited by the Office of Planning. I recommended that matter of right use for schools and churches be removed from both CM and M zoning categories.

This large building is now the Imagine Hope Public Charter School.  It was once an industrial building, and abuts various industrial properties along 8th Street NE.  Image from Google Street View.

I also suggested that there could be a requirement that the zoning should require that first floor use of industrially zoned properties be from 50% to 100% industrially related--which would make conversion much more difficult.

This was the justification I provided:
According to page 3-6, 1% of the city's land is zoned for industrial use. Land use by industrial users is guided strictly by business considerations. Industrial businesses cannot efficaciously use noneconomic considerations to make decisions about buying and leasing property and managing their business. This is not the case for nonindustrial users, who have different criteria. But nonindustrial users allowed to locate their businesses-establishments in industrial zones are not guided by the same economic and business model constraints which must be exercised by industrial users. Schools and churches in particular continue to convert CM land into non industrial use, displacing industrial
businesses to the suburbs, adding to the traffic burden, and making it harder to serve DC residents and businesses. By extending land use protections to CM zones, this conflict can be reduced and avoided.
I failed to mention specifically that nonprofit users (schools and churches) don't pay property taxes, which further aids their ability to outbid for profit users.

This amendment WAS REJECTED because they said the zoning code was adequate and already restricts non-industrial uses.  They said:
The amendment is not a substantive change in policy, nor does it correct an error. The CM zone already limits non-industrial uses. This issue is also being addressed through the ongoing Zoning Review process.
First, it is not true that the CM zone matter of right uses limit non-industrial uses in any significant way, other than housing.

Second, almost nothing has been passed as part of the Zoning Rewrite Process in 8 years. Third, we continue to lose industrially zoned land to nonindustrial uses.  Fourth, the 2014 Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study says that this is a serious and significant issue that continues to be something that must be addressed in zoning.

It's no wonder the city continually fails and is constantly behind the curve when it comes to best practice.

I guess this happens in part because there are never substantive repercussions for when staff make bad decisions that have significant and negative consequences.

Note that one other problem with the study is that it was limited to "Ward 5," when Ward 4 also possesses a swath of industrially zoned land with the same land use and market conditions, yet there are no such recommendations for dealing with it, because it wasn't part of the study.

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At 7:54 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Good point as usual on the danger of too many schools.

Not sure if I agree with you on this -- the land might be valuable if the industrial use was related to being on a rail line. I don't think a lot of is.

And whether from Douglas Jemal style neglect or not, it wasn't being used for "industrial" purposes.

A couple other thoughts:

1. The changer could be very strong if you can intergrate bike/walk as part of it. I think that it the only issue I see with the otherwise impressive Forest City Yards.

2. Has the methadone clinic closed?

3. Pushiing for stronger design elements in this area could also be useful.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yes, the railroad isn't used for freight access anymore in DC.

Separately I have suggested that there could be ways to deliver raw materials to the concrete and asphalt plants via rail, and you could reduce the overall transportation costs of demolition and construction materials by setting up a freight car dumping operation somewhere in the vicinity of the railyards.

But I disagree somewhat about the point about only supporting rail-based industrial along the tracks. You need to support the provision of certain PDR (production distribution repair) functions.

It's true that more of these functions (not auto repair) are "cleaner" these days and don't have to be accommodated in industrial zoning necessarily.

People brought that up at the presentation. BUT they weren't very cognizant of the fact that DC's strong real estate market prices out such uses in regularly zoned commercial areas. In a way, industrial zoning would have the impact of reducing the value of the property IF AND ONLY IF there were serious use restrictions on it.

Since there isn't, the land is priced on the basis of the potential of non industrial uses.

The report did discuss certain design issues, and indirectly, you have the potential of the MBT for part of this area.

But the advantage of the tracks north of New York Ave. is that they are pretty much integrated into the street grid, it's just that between Fort Totten and Brookland and between Fort Totten and Takoma there are significant accessibility issues for walk-bike in terms of breaks in the street grid.

Going east on either side of New York Avenue presents different issues. It's horrid for walking and biking and there aren't good parallel routes.

DK about the methadone clinic. I think they are still over there. Again, as real estate values continue to escalate, eventually that use will be displaced.


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