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).
• 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.