New zoning codes – the District is not alone (part II) Reply

Part 2 of a series looking at a few of the other cities undergoing a zoning code revision. Today, we are off to Baltimore!

Baltimore’s proposed new code, dubbed “TransForm Baltimore,” rewrites Charm City’s existing 40 year old code. The city’s existing zoning code was developed by a commission appointed in 1957 and was eventually approved in 1971. It followed a suburban model– separating commercial and residential uses. According to the Baltimore City Planning Department, the existing code is not only outdated, but is overly complex, with hundreds of overlay districts, Urban Renewal Plans and Planned Unit Developments. Understanding and working within these complexities is often expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable. For example, the existing code does not readily permit the creation of new mixed-use developments — it can often take months or years of administrative maneuvers and an act of City Council to convert an old industrial building to a mixed-use residential/commercial space.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor (photo: Jawed Karim) Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (photo: Jawed Karim)

TransForm Baltimore was approved by the city’s Planning Commission in April 2013 and has been sent to Baltimore City Council for approval. The new code is designed to be easier to use and understand, more predictable and enforceable. The goals of Transform Baltimore include:
• Increasing user-friendliness;
• Improving administration;
• Modernizing use structure;
• Incorporating urban design objectives;
• Preserving neighborhood character while promoting appropriate redevelopment;
• Ensuring coordination with the Comprehensive Plan;
• Integrating Urban Renewal Plans; and
• Promoting sustainable development.

New zoning codes – the District is not alone Reply

What do Boulder, Chicago, Denver, Fort Collins, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and St. Petersburg have in common with the District of Columbia? The answer is that these cities either recently completed, or substantially updated, their existing zoning codes. In addition to those cities, Baltimore is currently nearing the finish line for its major zoning rewrite, and Los Angeles has recently started to update its code. Is there a reason behind this seeming rash of new codes?

As is the case in the District, the previous zoning codes in these cities were decades old and unwieldy. Most of the codes were written in the years following World War II, when separating land uses was all the rage (in many cases, the encroachment of “noxious” uses into residential areas led to zoning restrictions which separated residential, commercial and manufacturing uses). In recent years, these old codes have proved to be ill-suited to the needs of evolving cities:

• The American economy has largely transitioned away from heavy manufacturing, removing many of the noxious uses from many cities.

• Mixed-use zoning is increasingly prevalent in American cities and many residents want to live near where they work and shop.

• Attitudes toward the private automobile are changing. The lynch-pin of many existing zoning codes was the supremacy of the private automobile, and zoning regulations (much like Federal and local transportation and land use policies in general) reinforced the notion that everyone should aspire to suburban living, which required an automobile to meet even the most basic of needs. Now, many people prefer to live a car-free or car-light lifestyle because there are a wider variety of transportation options, to be more environmental friendly, or just to save the expense and bother of car-ownership.

• Finally, there is the changing demographics of the country, with more retirees and recent graduates seeking to live in walkable communities built as mixed use developments that would have been frowned on by the old codes.

In revamping their codes, these jurisdictions used somewhat differing approaches specifically suited to each place — from conventional use-based zoning to form-based codes that replace use districting with design controls. However, the common link is that these cities sought to replace unclear and antiquated codes with streamlined versions which better allow for mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, and transit-oriented development.

A few of the most recently developed codes, including those created by Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Miami, merit a closer look. Over the next few days, we are going to post a summary of each. First up in this series – Philly!


An update on parking proposals, part II 5

Last week, OP noted that we are revising our proposed parking requirements; a reexamination based on the comments we received as part of our extensive public process, and a reevaluation of how new parking standards could and should be implemented. Many people have commented on this, and a few people have contacted us to get more information on this new draft text.

Well, we are still working on the actual text, but below is a summary of what we are working on. Some of the provisions are different; some will look familiar because we are not proposing to change them. Of course, this is a work in progress; aspects may change by the time the draft text is complete but we wanted you to know where we are headed.

Summary of current proposal:

Eliminate separate transit zone text. This means that, unlike in earlier proposals, all parking regulations would be adopted as a comprehensive part of this ZRR process, not requiring additional, subsequent processes to map and implement separate transit zones.

• For any use, allow 50% by-right reduction in required parking for sites located close to transit (1/2 mile from a metro station, or ¼ mile from a streetcar line or WMATA bus route identified as part of the Priority Corridor Network).

Low density residential zones: retain existing one space per lot requirement; except no on-site parking would be required where there is no alley access.
   o Strong neighborhood concern about total elimination of requirement; likely to have minimal impact as providing on-site parking is standard practice.
   o Addresses properties that cannot access parking from an improved alley; new curb cuts eliminate street parking (no net gain), negatively impacts streetscape character, can result in loss of street trees, and can create safety issues.

Multi-family residential: standardize minimum parking requirement of 1 / 3 units greater than 4 units, and

An update on parking proposals Reply

You may have heard that OP is changing the parking proposal that it will be bringing forward to the Zoning Commission. Yes, we are proposing to step back from the transit zone concept, areas within which there would be no minimum parking requirement. This proposal received a lot of support from some residents, and equally as much opposition from other residents at our many community meetings. That’s OK – achieving consensus when it comes to parking is unlikely.

So what are we proposing? Well, we are still finalizing the details, but will be taking a proposal forward to the Zoning Commission that:
• Continues to propose that the expanded downtown have no minimum parking requirement.
• As in the previous draft, proposes decreasing parking minimums, with additional by-right reductions for areas that are proximate to mass transit.
• Allows for reductions in required parking by special exception (rather than the current variance process).
• Examines better connecting parking to more effective transportation demand management programs.

Why would OP change its parking proposal now? First, we have been refining many of our proposals, over time, as we conduct additional research and hear from more residents. Second, in the case of parking minimums, we feel that a parking proposal that can be implemented more efficiently and more quickly is a better tool to address DC parking policy. Remember, the transit zones that were being proposed would not actually have been mapped anywhere in the city until after the ZC adopted language enabling them. OP would then work with neighborhoods and ANCs to discuss boundaries and where transit zones should actually be applied – i.e. a separate process with separate public meetings and Zoning Commission hearings after ZRR is completed. OP’s revised parking proposal would be effective with the adoption of the revised zoning regulations. Third, we are trying to respond to the City of today – one where many people want or need to drive and one where we have a wealth of transportation options, including great public transit, bike share, car share, and walkable neighborhoods that allows residents to live a car free or “car light” lifestyle.

The proposal we take to the Zoning Commission will be based on direction contained in the Comprehensive Plan and guidance provided by the Zoning Commission. And, we anticipate that any regulations adopted by the Zoning Commission could look different than the OP proposal and will be further shaped by community input through the Zoning Commission hearing process.

We know you are interested in the details and we will continue to post updates here on the blog. The revised parking proposal will be posted on our website, with a link from this blog, before the draft regulations are submitted to the Zoning Commission on July 29.

Zoning Links – March 13, 2013 1

Do car and bike sharing services make parking minimums unnecessary?

Christopher Leinberger, Professor at the George Washington University School of Business and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that car and bike sharing services reflect D.C.’s transition to a walkable urban environment.

We agree that zoning can help us build an inclusive, walkable city, which will include greater transportation and housing choices, in part by allowing shared parking between buildings and requiring set-asides for car-share spaces.

Parking rules for a 21st-century D.C. 2

The following was originally posted in the Washington Post on February 15, 2013.

By Harriet Tregoning and Terry Bellamy

Few proposals in the comprehensive overhaul being considered for the District’s 50-year-old zoning code have generated more public interest than proposed changes to parking requirement.

The city’s Office of Planning wants to eliminate on-site parking requirements for all new buildings constructed downtown or in mixed-use, transit-accessible neighborhoods throughout the city. But the District’s problem with parking is not that we have a glut of spaces downtown or near Metro stations. In fact, existing parking requirements are already significantly lower than current rates of car ownership and, as a result, they are more likely to produce too few rather than too many parking spaces.

Click here for the op-ed in its entirety.

moveDC Reply

At our recent Zoning Regulations Review public outreach meetings, you may have heard OP mention DDOT’s parking think tanks and the upcoming moveDC effort. You can find more information about the parking think tanks and view copies of the Parking Summit meeting presentation and meeting minutes at

As DDOT kicks off moveDC, it is asking for resident’s input to craft the transportation vision for DC’s future. We encourage you to participate in this effort. You can join the conversation by attending the Idea Exchange this Saturday, February 9th from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm at the MLK, Jr. Library.

Automobile Parking – So what else is proposed? Reply

There has been a lot of discussion about the proposal in the draft regulations to remove the vehicle minimum parking requirement in parts of DC. However, there are also other car parking related proposals, intended to better reflect current norms rather than the existing 1950’s standards, to encourage more efficient and less disruptive use of parking, and to lessen the visual and environmental impacts. Parking can be an expensive and sometimes disruptive use, so the goal is to allow for better utilization of parking that is provided and to soften its potential impacts.

(click on table to enlarge)
parking table

We think that the proposed revisions to the parking requirements will help us to build a more attractive and inclusive city. By better utilizing the parking resources we do have, we will allow for a more walkable and sustainable DC.

Are we heading in the right direction? We’d like to hear your thoughts on these proposed revisions.

Myth vs. Fact: Where’s the Data? 1

Myth-understanding: OP is using the wrong vehicle data to justify its parking recommendations.

Fact: OP’s data about vehicle usage is derived from the U.S. Census Bureau, and we’re pretty confident in it. We’re labeling this one a “myth-understanding” because there appears to be some confusion around this issue, and reasonable people might have interpreted information differently. Here are the facts: in October 2012, a citizen asked OP some questions about vehicle data presented in a DDOT presentation. The slide, derived from Federal Highway Administration data, listed a figure of 150,000 vehicles in the District. OP uses Census data to estimate vehicle availability. And, different agencies using different sources of data seems to have caused some confusion. We want to clear up this myth-understanding, since we’ve heard some claims that OP has used “skewed facts and figures” to make “fallacious” claims that there “has been a significant reduction in registered passenger vehicles.”