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


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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.
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Alley Lots – Proposed ZRR Regulations 3

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.

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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