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!


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.

Green Area Ratio Q&A Reply

ZoningDC sat down with OP Sustainability Planner Laine Cidlowski to discuss the District’s proposed ‘Green Area Ratio’ (GAR).

1. What is the District’s proposed GAR and how does it work?

The GAR is a way for the city to ensure environmental performance through the open spaces we are requiring through zoning. The GAR is an environmental site-sustainability metric. In other words, we figure out the environmental benefit of a piece of property by figuring out the landscape elements that contribute to air quality, water quality, and heat island effect. The landscape elements can be things like trees, rain gardens, or vegetated roofs, and each has a weighted number of points. We multiply these landscape elements by their multiplier and add them up. We divide that total by the size of the piece of property – that’s the GAR.

2. Why does OP believe the GAR is a good idea?

The GAR will help the District address many different environmental issues through a regulation that’s flexible and provides many options for property owners and developers.

3. How is the GAR different than LEED?

LEED is a sustainable system for buildings and choosing the site of a building or buildings. GAR is primarily for your site, but it can also include “landscape” elements which can be part of the exterior of your building, such as a green roof or solar panels.

Seattle has implemented its own GAR.

4. Who will be affected by the GAR? Will it apply to single-family homes?

GAR will not apply to single-family homes. GAR will apply for all buildings that need a Certificate of Occupancy. That is, multi-family residential buildings (over 2 units) and commercial properties. The majority of housing stock in the District (approximately 60%) is made up of structures with two units or less and GAR would not apply. Instead, those property owners would have simpler requirements relating to the amount of pervious surfaces on their property.