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DC Zoning Regs Overhaul Nearing End; Overlay Districts Unaffected

By Anthony L. Harvey

Accompanying map can be viewed in the current issue PDF

January 16, 2013 saw the DC Office of Planning’s completion of its city-wide series of community forums on the forthcoming revision of the District’s zoning regulations with the last of the eight held before a fully engaged, full house at the Takoma Education Center in Ward 4.

Presided over by Office of Planning, “OP” in the city’s alphabetic jargon, Director Harriet Tregoning — a powerful and articulate presence in any setting, the almost two and half hour session was conducted in three parts comprising small group gatherings held before and after an assembly presentation by Director Tregoning. Both new and retiring ANC commissioners had been individually invited, both by email and by personal letter. Ward and city-wide announcements had also encouraged individuals and community groups to attend and participate.

Tregoning’s talk emphasized both the length of time since the District’s zoning regulations were last revised in 1958 and the complex web of over 1,000 amendments and overlays that have been enacted to keep these regulations current over these 55 years. She noted that 78 percent of the city’s current residents were younger than these regulations, and, she emphasized, the evening’s sessions were to introduce the community to these regulations, 90 percent of which would remain unchanged in the 2013 revision, with the others meant to update and simplify complex provisions, eliminate outmoded and overlapping directives, and respond to the District’s changing demographics — especially more families — and traffic patterns, walkable neighborhoods, reductions in the ownership and use of automobiles, as well as an ability to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by smart growth strategies at DC transit points.

The articulate community members in attendance were in eagerly responsive mode and peppered Tregoning and OP staff with question after question. Especially vexing to many of the participants was the evening’s (often) use of city-wide rather than ward specific maps and charts. The fact that the session was meant to respond to both Ward 4 and residents from other wards who may not have had the opportunity to attend their own ward sessions did not answer the criticism.

Many of the well-informed participants were especially concerned about any increase in density in residentially zoned areas, the concept of corner neighborhood stores in row house blocks or districts, the liberalizing of restrictions on secondary structures in residential areas, and changes to parking requirements for new and renovated commercial and residential structures.

On the other hand, many expressed special pleasure in Tregoning’s assurance included in her general remarks that all provisions of the current zoning overlays would be incorporated into the revised regulations; this was reinforced with this reporter in a later conversation with OP Assistant Director Joel Lawson.

OP Staff took copious notes of residents’ questions and concerns for consideration by the planning office in its recommendations to the Zoning Commission which will be transmitted to the Commission later this winter. The  Commission will hold public hearings to consider the OP final proposals this-coming spring, and expects to act on them during the summer.