ZR-16 Final Text now available Reply

At a special public meeting held on January 14, 2016, the Zoning Commission UNANIMOUSLY voted to approve a new zoning code for the District of Columbia, replacing the current zoning code adopted in 1958.  These new regulations will be in effect on September 6, 2016.

The final Order for ZR-16 has now been published in the DC Register, and the Order and is available on the Office of Zoning website as well as the OP Zoning Regulations Review website.  The final version of the zoning regulations is also available on the OZ website. While all of these changes have already received extensive public discussion, OP will continue to work with the Office of Zoning and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to organize ANC, public, and stakeholder information sessions, to help everyone get familiar and comfortable with using the new regulations, prior to the effective date.

Zoning Commission Unanimously Approves ZRR! Reply

ZRR Approvedv2

At a special public meeting held last night, on January 14, 2016, the Zoning Commission UNANIMOUSLY voted to approve a new zoning code for the District of Columbia, the culmination of the extensive Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) process. The current zoning code was adopted in 1958, and as noted in the Comprehensive Plan for the District of Columbia, need substantial revision and reorganization, ranging from new definitions to updated development and design standards, and even new zones” (IM-1.3). With this important action by the Zoning Commission, the District has addressed this long-overdue objective.

As noted in the Comprehensive Plan for the District of Columbia, the 1958 regulations required “substantial revision and reorganization, ranging from new definitions to updated development and design standards, and even new zones” (IM-1.3). This important action by the Zoning Commission addresses this long-overdue objective, and is an important step in implementing District goals for achieving a healthy, vibrant, more diverse, and more environmentally sustainable city.

The Zoning Commission unanimous action to approve the new zoning code follows over eight years of analysis, review and public discussion, led by the Office of Planning with the assistance of many other District agencies. Thousands of DC residents participated in over 350 public, ANC, community, stakeholder, and Zoning Commission meetings and hearings, held in all wards and all parts of the city. The Commission also received and considered thousands of written comments and suggestions. While no individual or group realized everything that they may have sought in the new regulations, the approved text incorporates many issues and concerns raised by residents. The Office of Planning thanks all participants who, as noted by the Zoning Commission, helped to make this a better document.

The next steps will be the publication of the final Order in the DC Register, and the initiation of additional public outreach. Many of the actual zoning regulations are unchanged in the new code. However, there are important new provisions, and the format will change. While all of these changes have already received extensive public discussion, OP will continue to work with the Office of Zoning and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to organize ANC, public, and stakeholder information sessions, to help everyone get familiar and comfortable with using the new regulations, prior to the effective date.


At a special public meeting on November 16, 2015, the Zoning Commission UNANIMOUSLY voted to approve the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) text.  This follows eight years of work involving thousands of DC residents, and hundreds of Zoning Commission and public meetings.

Next steps will be for the Office of Planning to work with the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Zoning, and the Office of Documents and Administrative Issuances to prepare the final order, including the complete final text.  The Zoning Commission anticipates taking final action, so that the final text can be published in the DC Register and made effective, on January 14, 2016.

The Commission also discussed how the new regulations would be “rolled out.”  They decided that, while the new text could be given final approval for publication in January 2016, it would not be made applicable for a period of six months.  This will provide assurances to homeowners and developers that projects wending their way through the review and permitting process will not have to be redesigned to conform to the new regulations. 

The Commission also stressed the need for a continuation of the comprehensive public outreach process.  Although many  of the regulations themselves remain unchanged from the current regulations, there are important new provisions, and the format of the new regulations will change.  These changes have been discussed and made available to the public for over two years, but OP will continue to work with the Office of Zoning and Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to coordinate information sessions, to help the public get familiar and comfortable with using the new regulations.

Vehicle Parking Reply

The Zoning Commission has taken proposed action to approve modifications to the regulations regarding required vehicle parking, access and layout, to reflect policy goals for the District as well as current needs of workers and residents. Overall, the proposals are intended to streamline and clarify the parking requirements, make them more attuned to the physical characteristics of our city, make them more responsive to the current parking demands and expectations. Many revisions to the original proposals were made in response the large number of comments received so far from ANCs and the public, while the Department of Transportation provided additional valuable input.

The proposed new regulations are located in Subtitle C Chapter 700 Vehicle Parking, and include the following.

  • Generally, parking requirements would be based on the use and proximity to public transit, rather than the more confusing combination of zone, use and other characteristics in the current regulations.
  • Required parking for some uses will stay the same but will change (generally be reduced) for other uses.  Here’s a quick summary of the proposed requirements for some of the major uses: (click table to enlarge)

parking table

Industrial Zones – Versatile and Indispensable Reply

The District’s industrial zones, known as Production, Distribution, and Repair (PDR) zones, include a vast array of uses. Chances are you are at least somewhat familiar with the typical industrial uses found in these areas. For example, remember the snowstorms we had last winter? The District’s streets were blanketed by several inches of snow, and the city’s fleet of trucks and salt domes which make driving less treacherous are typically located in our PDR zones. PDR zones also include street repair facilities, warehouses, vehicle maintenance facilities, utilities, and businesses devoted to making or repairing goods. All of these are critical functions needed to support the District’s day-to-day operations, and support many well-paying jobs for DC residents.

However, in addition to the operation and maintenance functions you might find in PDR zones, the District’s industrial areas permit so much more, including places to

Single Logo

Industrial spaces are ideal for many sectors of the District’s emerging small scale “maker” economy because of their layout, location, functionality and low cost. The entrepreneurial “maker” economy consists of small scale, local businesses devoted to the creation and production of goods and services. Growth in the “maker“ economy is closely associated with shared spaces often found in industrial zones that allow for an exchange of ideas, tools and skills. Further, some “maker” uses can only be permitted in the industrial zones due to use restrictions of other zones.

Business opportunities in PDR zones include existing industries and those in emerging sectors–e.g., fresh markets and food production, commercial kitchens, “green” or environmentally-oriented businesses, art studios and galleries, filmmaking, and theater production. Overall, these uses are a critical part of the local economy. In Ward 5 alone, more than 500 businesses located in industrial areas contribute to the local economy and provide District residents with jobs and important services—these businesses support a very different workforce from the city’s prevailing knowledge economy. Food markets provide access to fresh produce and artisanal goods, while local distributors supply restaurants throughout the city. DC’s PDR spaces include new maker uses like Scratch DC which prepares dinner kits that come chopped, measured and marinated and are delivered ready to cook.

The District has seen growth in one particular segment of the maker economy – breweries and distilleries. When entrepreneur Michael Lowe was looking for a place to locate his distillery, New Columbia Distillers (makers of Green Hat Gin), he settled on a 3,500 square foot warehouse, two miles from Union Station and located in an industrial (C-M-1) zone. As Lowe tells it, “we had a hard time finding a space. A former liquor storage warehouse in Ivy City became available that was the perfect size and the price was pretty good. Ivy City was the closest C-M zone to downtown. The space was 100% open inside and had high 15-foot ceilings.”

The Office of Planning has proposed revisions to the zoning code, intended to both preserve and allow for more effective use PDR land. The changes would also more effectively buffer any adjacent residential uses from the impacts of industrial uses, and encourage sustainable practices on PDR land.

First, the proposal includes a provision to limit the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) that can be devoted to non-PDR uses in these zones (the current code does not include FAR limits for non-residential uses as a portion of the project’s total density). (click to enlarge)

As identified in OP’s Ward 5 Works report, a primary issue for many businesses in the District is the high cost of industrial space compared to other areas in the region. This expense is particularly a critical issue for young companies that have not yet achieved their full potential. The Office of Planning’s proposal for PDR zones seeks to preserve the District’s limited supply of industrial land in the hope of continuing to make the city competitive for “maker” economy industries.

Second, the proposal includes a buffer area between PDR land and residentially zoned land, through a requirement for a twenty-five-foot setback from each lot line that directly abuts a lot in a residential zone. The current code does not include a buffer area requirement for most of the District’s industrial land, but does provide for such a buffer in the small Langdon Overlay District. So, essentially the new code would expand this existing provision to all industrial lands that are adjacent to residential areas, and would make the buffer more expansive. Within the buffer area, which would be located on the industrial property, uses would be limited and landscape screening would be required. This green buffer, along with the recently adopted Green Area Ratio requirements would also help to make our PDR land more environmentally sustainable.

Third, certain uses identified by neighborhoods as problematic have been restricted. Automobile repair shops, currently allowed by-right in the industrial zones, would be permitted only with Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) approval and community review as a special exception, if located within 200 feet of a residential zone or development. Similarly, a nightclub would only be permitted by special exception in the PDR zones.

ZRR Revisions for DC’s Central Area Reply

Both Washington’s Downtown and the zoning regulations affecting it have changed significantly in the quarter century since the Downtown Development District was added to the zoning regulations. The proposed changes are intended to respond to the new reality in the District, and to chart the course for the next 25 years of the central area’s development. Major elements to the proposals include:

Align the Downtown Zoning Boundaries With What has Become the Real Downtown: Expand what zoning considers to be Downtown to more closely resemble what the Comprehensive Plan and general usage have already determined to be the high-density zones in the District’s Central Area. Do this without expanding the Downtown into low density residential or mixed use areas, diminishing existing property values, or creating financial windfalls through significant density increases. (click map to enlarge).

downtown map

• Apply successful Downtown Zoning Tools to the Broader Downtown Area: Enable more of the Central Area to benefit from zoning tools that have helped Downtown to thrive. Such tools include:

o Preferred Use requirements and incentives to provide housing, retail, and arts uses, which have traditionally been considered less profitable than office uses but which are vital to a healthy urban core. Some flexibility would be permitted in exactly where the preferred uses must be provided. This would be enabled primarily by a system of generating and trading credits linked to the amount of preferred uses provided. The credit system would incorporate and replace the existing Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) and Combined Lot Development (CLD) systems.

o Ground floor design specifications along certain retail-oriented streets to promote the development of active pedestrian-oriented spaces. Examples include limiting loading / parking driveways from certain streets, and ensuring ground floor spaces have plenty of windows and adequate heights for good retail offerings.

Ensure Affordable Housing. Require Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) in all Downtown expansion areas that are not now TDR receiving areas, which are already eligible to achieve maximum density through the purchase of bonus rights generated by preferred uses within the existing Downtown.

Make the Regulations Clearer. The Downtown zoning regulations have become increasingly complex. There are now more than 21 combinations of zones and sub-areas within the proposed Downtown area and, in addition to a property’s basic zoning requirements and permissions, numerous use or design requirements and permissions embedded throughout the Downtown text. The new regulations would more be more clearly organized into 11 basic zones where certain requirements apply wherever that zone is located, and into 18 geographic locations that, regardless of a property’s base zone, have special use or design requirements. The geographic areas are clearly illustrated with maps showing the streets where an adjacent property would have certain requirements.

Let the Marketplace Determine How Much Parking Will be Supplied. Given the proposed central area’s location at the core of the regional rail and bus network, the proposals would eliminate minimum automobile parking requirements throughout the expanded Downtown, other than the area adjacent to the residential West End neighborhood. There would also be no restriction on the total amount of parking a development could provide.

Provide Density Incentives South of the Mall to Promote the Conversion of Federal Land to private ownership and more vibrant, mixed use development. The incentives would be linked to the re-establishment of the street network that was removed in the 1950’s and to the provision of preferred uses such as housing and cultural uses.

A Powerpoint presentation giving more details and illustrations about the proposed changes can be found here.

Corner Stores Under the Proposed Regulations Reply

In many DC neighborhoods, corner stores provide easier access to many daily needs, such as a quart of milk, pharmacy goods, food stuffs, or a coffee. A corner store is a small, neighborhood-based retail establishment tucked into a predominantly residential neighborhood.

The convenience of corner stores is important for many residents of the city. These shops can help to create a better sense of community and provide better access to goods for residents who do not have the means, the time, or the desire to get to a commercial street. Many of our older rowhouse areas were constructed with the corner store as part of the neighborhood fabric.

P&C Market - Lincoln Park at 11th Street

P&C Market – Lincoln Park at 11th Street

Even so, the zoning regulations have become more restrictive over time, and many corner stores have been lost or have been required to go through lengthy approval process to remain open or to upgrade to stay current with the needs of current neighborhood residents. Under the current zoning regulations, no new retail uses are permitted in our low density residential zones, and where they exist, they can be difficult to be retained or updated.

But help is on the way. The Zoning Commission has now taken proposed action to approve a series of changes to the regulations governing corner stores. Under the proposed zoning regulations, providing new corner stores and maintaining existing ones could be easier in District rowhouse neighborhoods.

In the proposed Regulations, subject to certain conditions, corner stores would be permitted in R-3 and R-4 rowhouse zones. A corner store, however, would continue to be not permitted in the lower density neighborhoods (R-1 and R-2, characterized by single-family detached or semi-detached homes), or the apartment zones.

Grubbs Pharmacy - 4th and East Capitol

Grubbs Pharmacy – 4th and East Capitol


Maybe Now the Loading Trucks Won’t Park in Front of the Building Reply

Every day we encounter trucks on our streets making delivery of goods, which is important to the functioning of our city. However, delivery trucks can become a problem when they block the street or take up parking spaces, and can become a nuisance or even a danger to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

To help resolve these issues, as part of ZRR, the Zoning Commission has taken proposed action to approve the following changes to the Zoning Regulations:

  • In many cases, delivery trucks unload from the street, even when the building has loading facilities. While this is mostly an enforcement issue, the new zoning regulations will encourage truck drivers to actually use the provided loading facilities, as all new or expanded buildings with a loading requirement will be required to provide a loading plan to get a building permit.
  • Increasingly, deliveries in the city are being made using smaller trucks, resulting in fewer large trucks on our streets, and easier and faster unloading. As such, variances from the current loading requirements are often requested and approved; especially for 55-foot long trucks as smaller 30-foot trucks more typically serve the need of businesses and residents in an urban environment like DC. The new Zoning Regulations would reflect this change by requiring loading spaces for 30-foot trucks (although larger loading docks would be permitted), and would continue to dictate the number of berths to be provided. Of course, the loading plan would have to demonstrate that the size chosen is appropriate for the use.
  • The current regulations require that each use within a mixed use building provide separate loading facilities. For example, a building with both residential and retail space would have to provide separate loading berths for each use. This can result in an excessive number of loading bay doors facing a street, multiple curb cuts that take away street parking, and a large portion of the building’s square footage being dedicated to loading which may go unused for long periods of time. The new regulations would allow the sharing of loading docks between uses within a building, governed by a loading plan and monitored by a loading manager to eliminate conflicts of use.
  • More…

Alley Lots – Proposed ZRR Regulations 2

We’d like to bring you up to speed on the proposed alley lot provisions. Alley lots and alley dwellings are topics that we’ve covered before on the blog, but this post is a quick update on the proposed changes.

First things first, what is an alley lot? An alley lot is a lot facing or abutting an alley and at no point facing or abutting a street. It is not part of any other lot that does front on a street, and any building on an alley lot can have separate ownership from any street fronting buildings in the square.

alley lots diagram

Most alley lots are in the older parts of the city of Wards 2 and 6, such as Capitol Hill and Georgetown.

Alley Dwelling on Naylor Court, NWPhoto: DC Office of Planning

Alley Dwelling on Naylor Court, NW Photo: DC Office of Planning

Current Regulations

To recap, the zoning code currently limits the use of alley lots in residential zones (typically only allowing uses such as parking, artist studios, and storage) and permits a greater range of uses on alley lots in commercial zones. The existing regulations strictly regulate residences on alley lots in all zones. A single family alley dwelling is permitted only on an alley lot accessible via a 30-foot wide alley or alley network. An alley lot house is generally limited to a height equal to the adjacent alley’s width. Any residence located on a sub-30-foot alley network, or any multi-family housing would require a variance pursuant to Board of Zoning Adjustment review.

Alley Dwellings on Brown’s Court, SEPhoto: DC Office of Planning

Alley Dwellings on Brown’s Court, SE Photo: DC Office of Planning

Proposed Regulations

During the review process, greater flexibility was introduced in the proposed regulations when it comes to permitting single family residences on alley lots in most zones. In the rowhouse and apartment neighborhoods, i.e. the R-3, RF (R-4), RA (R-5) zones, and in the commercial zones, a single family dwelling would be permitted by right on an alley lot located on an alley of 24 feet in width or on an alley of at least 15 feet in width if the lot is within 300 feet of a public street, subject to conditions. Single family uses on alley lots that do not meet those criteria would be allowed by special exception. A variety of interested agencies, such as DC Water, FEMS, DDOT, and DPW as well as the ANC and the public would have an opportunity to review the proposal as part of the Board of Zoning Adjustment review process. Other conditions that would apply to alley dwellings include setback requirements, a 450 square foot minimum lot area (for an existing alley lot), and 20-foot building height limit in a residential zone (30 feet in some commercial zones), among others.

Alley dwellings would not be permitted in low-density residential areas (R-1 and R-2 zones) which are predominantly developed with detached or semi-detached houses; OP research indicated that there are very few alley lots within these zones. Multi-family alley dwellings would not be permitted in residential zones, but could be permitted subject to conditions in some commercial zones. However, if an alley lot is large enough, it could be subdivided to create more than one lot, as is the case under the current regulations, provided each lot meets the minimum lot area and lot width requirements of the zone.

If you’re interested in the specific development standards proposed for alley lots, see below.


Attainable Accessory Apartments 2

Accessory apartments are already an important component of our housing in the District, as they are typically more affordable; they can help to make owning a house more affordable to a broader range of people by enabling homeowners to offset their mortgage; and they can allow older folks to age in place. That’s why it is so exciting that the Zoning Commission is considering new regulations that would be more permissive of accessory apartments.

Accessory Apartments 2

An accessory apartment is a complete residential unit located on a single family dwelling lot. It can be within the main house or in an accessory building, but it cannot be “sold off” as a separate unit – only rented out by the homeowner. It contains kitchen and bath facilities that are separate from those of the primary dwelling. In the District, the best-known examples of accessory apartments are “English Basements” located in rowhouses. However, many other homes throughout the District already have a rental suite. In our low density residential zones, the current Zoning Regulations allow the owner of a detached home to have an accessory apartment, but only with the approval of a Special Exception by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA), and compliance with several requirements. A separate provision allows a homeowner in the lowest density zones (R-1-A and R-2-B) to have an additional accessory unit located over a garage, specifically for a “domestic” living on the site.

Accessory Apartments 3

The Zoning Commission has taken preliminary action to approve the proposed new regulations for accessory apartments.  The changes would, in many instances, remove the requirement for a Special Exception and allow them by-right, subject to meeting a list of conditions such as size of the house, and size of the apartment.  Many homeowners would not be required to go through a public hearing process, saving time and money, provided that all of the criteria are met.  If the criteria can’t be met, the homeowner could apply for a Special Exception to waive up to two of the requirements, which is similar to the current zoning provisions.

Take a look at the following table to see how the current and proposed regulations compare (click to enlarge).

Accessory Apartments