Yesterday at Slate Matt Yglesias pointed out the poor logic behind AAA’s opposition to the elimination of some parking minimums in the DC zoning reqrite. AAA is not alone, joined by many DC residents who oppose the rewrite that will introduce some deregulation in parking requirements and zoning. The rewrite includes a few basic changes, and Greater Greater Washington provides excellent coverage of each:
- Eliminate parking requirements for some transit-rich neighborhoods
- Permit homeowners in some neighborhoods to rent out accessory dwellings such as basements or carriage houses
- Remove the 30-foot width requirement for developing alleyway homes
- Allow more cornerstor commercial development in residential neighborhoods
- Simplify the Planned Unit Development approval process
Initially, the plan included a proposal to switch from parking minimums to parking maximums, but fortunately this proposal was rejected in favor of allowing developers to build parking based on what they think will be profitable, allowing for a freer market in parking. Now, those who assert that eliminating subsidies to driving amounts to a “war on drivers” are left without basis for their argument.
I am not too enthusiastic about the zoning rewrite because it doesn’t go nearly far enough in permitting a greater supply of housing. It makes no significant changes to allowable floor area ratios, only permitting greater density by tinkering around the edges. However, as the zoning update is focused on simplifying the zoning map and allowing some increased freedom for developers to build what they think consumers want, it is in many ways a step toward market urbanism. It will benefit some homeowners and their renters by permitting accessory dwelling rentals. Additionally the attempt to simplify the Planned Unit Development process could improve rule of law in DC development and take steps toward leveling the playing field for developers.
Perhaps the most significant element of Smart Growth — as opposed to traditional urbanism — remaining in the draft plan is the Green Area Ratio requirement. The GAR will apply to new developments and to renovations where the cost of renovations exceed the building’s assessed value. Depending on how developers find it feasible to meet GAR requirements, these rules may lead to Corbusian development, with green space that creates dead space for pedestrians rather than a more interesting environment. Worse, the GAR requirement will act as a deterrent to renovations for existing buildings in cases where adding green space is cost-prohibitive. Like parking requirements which have made it difficult to re-purpose historic buildings after their original uses are no longer viable, the GAR would place unnecessary restrictions on small businesses starting new uses in existing buildings. The draft rewrite suggests that some historic buildings could get exceptions to the requirement, but a new type of exception introduces further subjectivity into the entitlement process.
As Greater Greater Washington points out, most of the changes that are part of the new code permit traditional urban development rather than setting new requirements. The reason for the rewrite is to eliminate some of the negative consequences that the existing 1958 code has produced by requiring developers to subsidize drivers with parking and preventing people from renting out their homes. The GAR is the exception to the pattern of deregulation in the updated code, and as such it brings with it the possibility of unseen costs and unintended consequences.