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Carless Projects Prohibit Parking, But Will DC Enforce It?

by Lark Turner

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Wait, is that an open parking spot on R Street?

Parking legally in DC is cheap, and for most residents, it’s easy to get a permit to park on the street. The challenge is finding a spot, and in many neighborhoods that’s becoming more difficult all the time.

For years, DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) has told residents, developers, ANCs and other stakeholders that a review of the city’s parking regulations, which determine who can park where, is underway. UrbanTurf found references to an ongoing, comprehensive review of the District’s parking program dating back to at least 2004. DDOT often seems on the verge of a big announcement. The announcement, if it’s ever made, is usually walked back or mysteriously ignored.

The lack of parking is an increasingly contentious topic, especially as developers propose residential projects with little or no parking in the city’s most popular places to live. Developers say the projects will attract a younger, carless clientele, and to secure neighborhood support, they’re promising to limit or prohibit residential parking permits, or RPPs, at the new developments. But under the city’s current RPP program, it’s impossible to enforce bans or limits on parking at a specific address.

In recent years city councilmembers have tried to introduce legislation that would do what DDOT hasn’t: Make binding developers’ promises to prevent residents of parking-poor buildings from obtaining RPPs. Those attempts have failed.

Today, UrbanTurf is taking a close look at the issue, from the planned buildings to the possible solutions.


An unenforceable promise

Current residential projects seeking or receiving exceptions to parking rules in DC include, but are far from limited to, the 90 units planned for Dupont Circle’s Patterson House by SB-Urban; 60 units under construction for 14th Street and Wallach Place NW by Madison Investments; 38 units planned for Logan Circle by Rosebusch LLC; and 125 units proposed for Shaw, also by SB-Urban.

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The proposed micro-units at 1456-1460 Church Street.

Those 313 units amount to a fraction of the planned developments seeking parking exemptions, but they’re notable for gaining traction among neighborhood ANCs, specifically because they have thoughtful transit plans aimed at making it easy for residents to get around without a car. The city is also scattered with smaller developments seeking parking exceptions and proposing to limit resident access to neighborhood parking, including a church rehab project at 819 D Street NE and a development at 1300 H Street NE.

What these developers have in common is a promise to prohibit some or all of their building tenants from obtaining an RPP. Here’s the problem: even if the developer, the ANC and the BZA agree a new building’s residents shouldn’t get RPPs, DDOT can’t enforce it.

Gregg Busch and Brook Rose, developers of the proposed micro-unit project on the 1400 block of Church Street, have come up with one of the most comprehensive ways to monitor RPPs. In addition to putting the restriction into the lease agreement, a tactic most of the mentioned developers plan to use, they’ll submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the DMV periodically to ensure no RPPs have been granted to residents. If a resident has an RPP, they will be found in violation of the lease and may be evicted.

Though it’s more earnest than what many developers propose, the plan is not without flaws. Even if the RPP restriction stays with the building in perpetuity, a provision the BZA is generally demanding from developers, it leaves all of the enforcement up to the owner or management company once the building is constructed. Repeatedly submitting FOIAs to the DMV on a set schedule is tedious. And if residents are found breaking the rules, those charged with enforcement have an obvious interest in keeping units filled rather than kicking noncompliant residents out. The Church Street project goes before the BZA for a final review on April 1.

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A rendering of the proposal for 15 Dupont Circle from SB-Urban and Hartman-Cox.

For the Patterson Mansion project, SB-Urban hired transportation consultants Wells and Associates to put together a transportation management plan for the site. The project is set to appear before the BZA in the coming months and secured the full support of ANC 2B. SB-Urban’s extensive plans to help residents live happily sans-car earned nothing but praise from the ANC, but the developer was also working with a unique advantage: buildings sitting on Dupont Circle currently aren’t eligible for RPPs anyway.

Getting neighborhood support for their recently-proposed Blagden Alley project could be more complicated. Those blocks are zoned for RPP, and despite ANC enthusiasm for the project’s initial design, two neighbors have already vowed to oppose it if it doesn’t offer parking. At a recent meeting, SB-Urban’s Brook Katzen sounded confident that the building’s residents would be prohibited from obtaining RPPs. Similarly, the Patterson House project’s transportation plan promises to “remove the property from the list of properties eligible for RPP.”

But Reggie Sanders, DDOT’s spokesman, confirmed that the agency does not have a list of buildings with restricted parking and cannot enforce developer-imposed restrictions. The system is based on where people can park, not where they can’t.

DMV keeps records of where residential permits have been issued,” Sanders told us. “DDOT cannot currently restrict individual properties on blocks that are in the RPP system from getting permits.”

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A church conversion planned at 819 D Street NE.

A ‘stopgap’ solution

Given companies’ difficulty in tracking RPPs, and their stake in keeping units rented, wouldn’t it make more sense for the city to enforce the bans?

“Absolutely it would be preferable,” ANC 2F’s Walt Cain said. “But in the absence of that, the stopgap of the management company assuming that responsibility is the best option we have. Is that a perfect option? No, it’s not. The best thing would be for DDOT to recognize that buildings are making this a part of their lease, and for [DDOT] to monitor where RPPs should be issued and where it shouldn’t be issued.”

But neighboring ANC 2B, which has similar parking issues, disagrees that such building-specific restrictions are the right solution. A January letter the ANC wrote to the Zoning Commission summarized the endemic parking issues and urged the city to come up with a comprehensive solution.

“ANC2B does not support the growing practice of prohibiting residents with certain addresses from obtaining residential parking permits as a ‘trade off’ with the neighborhood and Zoning Commission for reducing parking minimum requirements,” the resolution reads. “This practice rewards developers without a proven benefit to the neighborhood while dismissing the rights of tax-paying citizens to the same city services as others.”

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A preliminary design for the apartments for Blagden Alley.

Walt Cain believes if building-by-building restrictions were implemented, the market would take care of itself. Residents moving into buildings that prohibit tenants from obtaining RPPs will know what they’re getting themselves into, he suggested.

“If I choose to live there anyway, then I am accepting that one of the burdens of living in this building is not having access to [city parking],” Cain said. “[Developers] think the market is something that can bear out that restriction. That’s their business and it’s on the consumer to be aware.”

An outdated program and a long-promised review

DDOT can’t enforce the newly proposed restrictions because of the way that the RPP program currently functions. Its structure dates back to 1974, when it was introduced to keep commuters from using residential neighborhoods as free Metro parking lots. The program is laid out block-by-block, not area-by-area or building-by-building. That makes it impossible to set enforceable parking rules for a specific building.

The agency has been aware of the system’s problems since at least 2003, when a review pointed out that the block-by-block structure was “one of the major flaws in the current system”:

RPP areas are not necessarily contiguous or consistent due to the peculiarities of the ballot process. If one lives in the area with the generally restrictive parking conditions, but does not live on an RPP block, one cannot get a parking sticker and is effectively treated in the same way as a visitor or commuter.”

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A map of Ward/Zone 6.

Today DDOT readily acknowledges it’s an imperfect system. Evian Patterson, the agency’s expert on the RPP program, acknowledged the agency was undergoing an RPP review at a recent ANC meeting.

“We’re going through a review right now to figure out how to uphold that restriction with buildings that said, ‘We [won’t] allow our residents to get an RPP,’” he said. But Patterson could not discuss when the review would be finished, what it may include or how DDOT’s RPP database might be modified to include building-specific restrictions.

As for the database itself, Patterson said, “It’s very antiquated and we have to update it. There are some addresses that we have missed.”

Though UrbanTurf was barred from interviewing Patterson directly, developers repeatedly mentioned receiving assurances from him, and Cain said if anyone could finish an effective RPP review, it was Patterson.

“We have gone through a cast of characters from DDOT,” Cain said. “My interaction with Evian has been the most positive interaction so far. He inspires confidence.”

Appeasement without enforcement

The problem is neatly summarized in a recent conflict on the northeast side of DC. When Rise Development proposed building a parking lot on top of a community garden near a proposed 30-unit condo building at 1300 H Street NE, neighbors protested. To secure the ANC’s blessing to move ahead, Rise’s Ben Miller agreed to build fewer spaces, save the garden and allow RPPs only for those residents who bought off-street parking, too.

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An early proposal for the R.L. Christian Library site.

It’s a tidy solution, but again, it’s unenforceable by the city. Miller told UrbanTurf the project was still at an early stage and said the company has not yet determined how to enforce the RPP limitations.

Madison Investments, the developer of a residential building without parking at 14th Street and Wallach Place NW, could offer a way forward, except they’re not quite sure how they’ll enforce the rule, either.

“The reality is, we have to put a clause into the leases that says you’re restricted from applying from a parking permit,” Madison principal, Barry Madani, told UrbanTurf. “It may not be the most effective strategy.”

Madani said the management company may hire a transit coordinator to help with enforcement, or have a doorman ensure residents aren’t driving off in cars with RPP permits, though he said he wasn’t looking to form a parking “Gestapo.”

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A rendering of a 56-unit development planned for 14th Street and Wallach Place NW. Courtesy of PGN Architects.

Twice, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells has introduced bills that would enforce developers’ bans, but neither passed. The bill language would allow the mayor to designate a “property and residents of the property as ineligible to obtain residential parking permits” upon an owner’s request.

Such a solution is imperfect, said ANC 2B commissioner Noah Smith, who frequently works with DDOT.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to rubber-stamp every developer who comes to us and says, ‘We don’t want parking minimums.’ We need to take a closer look at what it means,” Smith said.

But developers seem to think the buildings will fill up with ranks of the carless without too much trouble.

“We’re not anticipating people with cars wanting to move to our building,” Madani said. “It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are plenty of other buildings out there.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/carless_projects_prohibit_parking_but_will_dc_enforce_it/8297

25 Comments

  1. Lowet said at 2:55 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    This is a very in-depth look at an issue I have wondered about, so thanks for writing.

    In the end, the solution seems fairly simple. The city should make what seems like an easy change and restrict any tenants at the addresses of these “new” buildings from obtaining RPPs.

    Did Turner or anyone at the agency give a sense of when the new parking plan would be finished?

  1. kob said at 3:24 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Great piece.

    Oppose RPP restrictions.

    As a former condo board member, I can tell you that first time condo buyers and out-of-state buyers, will buy these units unaware of the RPP restrictions. The restriction will represent one page in what may be a 100-page plus condo doc. They may pass over it, or fail to glean what it means if they have had no experience with RPP.

    Over the years, I’ve seen buyers approach the board with questions about restrictions (on other things such as renting) that were in their condo docs, but they didn’t understand the implications. The RPP restriction, in my view, is a developer handout.

  1. Lark Turner said at 3:25 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Hi Lowet,
    DDOT told us they hope to finish the review “in the near future,” but as we pointed out, they have said this about parking before.
    Lark

  1. ABD said at 3:30 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    This is a great article. Parking minimums are super costly for developers (regardless of whether they are building the required parking or seeking an exemption).  Those costs get passed on to residents in terms of higher rents and less affordable housing. Question - Are parking minimums being addressed as part of the zoning code re-write? And, speaking of the re-write, can UrbanTurf run something that makes sense of the proposed new code/regulations?

  1. Lowet said at 3:37 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Lark,

    Thanks for the response.

    @kob

    All the new units discussed in this piece are rentals, I believe, not for-sale units.

  1. Lisa Drazin said at 3:38 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Should DC implement an Electronic Road Pricing System like the ones used by Central London and Singapore? Is the parking problem really a traffic congestion problem? Congestion reducing activities like car pooling, bicycling, telecommuting, and mass transit would all increase with dynamic congestion pricing in effect. This would probably increase the number of parking spaces available for DC residents’ use.

  1. cj said at 3:52 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    As kob points out, perhaps RPP restriction is a developer handout - but what are the alternatives? Not moving forward with various developments at all? For the folks that understandably and adamantly oppose this imperfect solution, what do you propose? Some of these projects incorporate affordable housing - should these units be made unavailable because their surrounding neighbors can’t find parking or have to park further than expected?

    Parking headaches have been a challenge in places like Manhattan for decades. It comes with the territory of dense, urban cities. If the alternative is for every building to have a parking garage, that isn’t always economically feasible nor does it coincide with the “smart growth”, urban planning trends.

    BTW, I agree that this is a great, thorough piece on the subject.

  1. Lane said at 4:20 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    The most effective solution is politically unpalatable - raise the price of RPPs to reflect the true cost of using our limited public space for private auto storage. If a RPP space cost even half what a private rented or deeded parking space cost, suddenly you’d find a lot fewer RPPs and a lot more readily available street parking. But DDOT won’t do it because have been parking for (basically) free in the city their whole lives and they will do everything in their power to keep doing so.

  1. D C Shaw said at 5:37 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Residents of DC who have cars licensed in DC and pay taxes in DC should be able to park legally on any DC street.  Cars with license plate other than DC should have restrictions and timelimits, not the residents!
    I work in DC, pay lots of DC taxes and am restricted on public streets where I can park in DC - that’s wrong.  I pay for the privilage no only at DMV but also when I fill my gas tank. 

    Get rid of RPP and Zone parking.

  1. Aenveigh said at 5:52 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    The municipal governments in Melbourne, Australia do not allow on-street parking permits for new developments that ‘increase intensity’ even by 1 dwelling (ie subdivide) or apartment blocks. They have the laws, technology and personnel to enforce them.

    There’s not really an equity thing (rights of certain taxpayers etc) as on-street parkers basically get a bargain - $20-50 per annum for a residential parking permit that gives you 12 square metres of real estate that would cost you 1000x that at market rates for the year (eg nearby garage prices).
    Over time, the amount of on-street parking can be reduced and returned to the community-at-large, not just car owners, in the form of bike parking, parklets, verge plantings, dedicated loading zones if needed, etc.

  1. Helen said at 9:11 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    In Japan, it is necessary to have proof you have a space to park your car BEFORE registration is completed.  This may not be possible in already dense areas of DC, but with all of the new construction going on, this idea could work.  Also, DC needs to stop letting anyone park in residential areas over the weekend without a permit.  I am already a hostage in my own home every weekend, and I do not want to talk about holidays!!!

  1. Parking said at 9:21 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Why are we letting these greedy developers off the hook?  They should have to build garages for their tenants.  I think the RPP should be a DC license plate.  If pay DC taxes you should be able to park on any street.

  1. BJ said at 10:05 pm on Monday March 31, 2014:

    Tragedy of the commons. RPPs should be designated by neighborhood and auctioned off annually. RPP-restricted developments are a blessing for the city; the city needs to do a better job of making it happen.

  1. NotDavidRicardo said at 9:30 am on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    what Lane and BJ said.  The problem here is that something worth hundreds of dollars, at least, is sold for what, $35?  That people want to ban residents of new buildings from buying an RPP, or force developers to build parking to keep them from doing so, shows that RPPs are priced far less than they are worth.  Price them for what they are worth, and the problem goes away. Cincinnati is currently looking at implementing this.

  1. ChevyChase said at 9:51 am on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    Anyone who thinks developers are going to pass along the savings generated by not building parking to consumers probably also believes all the April Fool’s headlines on the Web today.

    That money is going straight into developers’ pockets.

  1. 7r3y3r said at 9:55 am on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    @Helen - I am already a hostage in my own home every weekend, and I do not want to talk about holidays!!!

    Talk about hyperbole.  Not wanting to drive for fear of not having a parking space when you return doesn’t mean you can’t leave your house.

  1. BJ said at 10:22 am on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    It doesn’t matter where the money goes. Arguing that developers might or might not pass on savings to residents is missing the point. Rationing RPPs is about improving a public service that is currently broken, and some people are stubbornly insistent on making in even more broken. Ever waited in a Soviet bread line?

  1. E. Abravanel said at 2:50 pm on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    Rationing or restricting RPPS,as others have said,is a windfall for builders who are much more interested in highly profit-making construction than in the improvement of living i,working in, and visiting D.C. All commercial and residential buildings should contain indoor parking facilities for use by residents and, where a surplus exists, by paying customers. Some years ago the City Council saw the wisdom of tying parking to buildings and especially to new construction. That,in my strong opinion, remains the best approach. If it were not so late in the election season, I would canvass all mayoral candidates on this matter.

  1. Ann Goodman said at 6:07 pm on Tuesday April 1, 2014:

    Clearly, the developers don’t care if they create a problem for adjacent homeowners. And, clearly, some tenants will move in knowing they have to procure a car despite the regulations prohibiting this. And clearly this will ultimately create a feud which the city chooses to ignore at this time.  I have ample parking.  Will this make MY property value rise while neighbors with no parking will suffer? Somewhat.  But, overall, this will also bring my property value down too. Unless we can force developers to provide parking spaces, which we cannot, this is the future we shall face…..

  1. Mike A said at 2:25 pm on Wednesday April 2, 2014:

    THE PROGRAM WORKS
    I have family who live in a restricted bldg. When they tried to get a permit at the DMV, their address was flagged as not allowed.

    So I’m not sure what this whole article is about.

  1. Lark Turner said at 4:34 pm on Wednesday April 2, 2014:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for writing. Per our conversation, I looked into the block where your family lives. My understanding is that it is not zoned for RPP (although DDOT has acknowledged its database is not entirely accurate). Because the program is block-by-block, not area-by-area, nearby streets — and even adjacent blocks — sometimes have the program while other blocks don’t. When your family applied for an RPP, the address didn’t come up as flagged. Instead, the block their address is on came up as flagged. A weird distinction, but an important one here.

    Lark

  1. Zack Rules said at 10:12 am on Thursday April 3, 2014:

    I want about the legality of this prohibition. I admire the effort to lower impact on neighborhoods but I think developers and current “car-free” homes should be required to provide parking at a higher cost than city permits at an offsite location. The idea of raising the cost of permits is a good one though, that makes sense given the limited supply.

  1. Judith Claire said at 10:51 am on Sunday April 6, 2014:

    As we have more rental cars and possibly street cars, all of us have to help out. I get along fine with never having a car since 1970s. Metro, bus, bicycle and walking are my choices in transportation. Also share a car with your neighbors. Riding the bus helps us see all of the people who live and work in DC. Also I am way over age 65!Let’s face it, some folks live here but live in fear.Why allow fear to control our lives and the health of our community?

  1. Ann Goodman said at 1:14 pm on Monday April 7, 2014:

    If you aren’t allowed to have a RPP where you live in DC, then you aren’t paying the same HIGHER taxes as people who DO have RPPs.  Most people, when finding a dwelling, ask if it includes parking- just like getting a job. If you aren’t high enough on the list, you don’t get one.

    As for enforcement, if DDOT substantially FINED the building owner(s) for having an illegal RPP resident, then DDOT would probably FIND a way to enforce things very quickly! And buildings would FIND a way to make sure they didn’t have residents in violation.

  1. Sue said at 7:30 am on Tuesday May 13, 2014:

    I have been living in DC for about 3 months now. I’m on zone 2 and there is plenty of residential street parking. When I moved into my building, I was never told by the property management that I would not be eligible for RPP. My husband is going to school in another state and I’m here for a temporary work assignment for another 6 months. Despite paying DC taxes, buying DC gas and an overcharge for a shorter lease, I’m not allowed to park on the street for more than 2 hours. Parking garage is $275 monthly. Now what I don’t understand is why a person living 1/2 block away, a lot of times with alley parking available has the right to park on the street and I don’t. I am being penalized for living on a new development? I hear from neighbors that things really changed in the neighborhood for the better after the new development. That this is an up and coming area. I understand the issues of regulation to mitigate negative effects of urban sprawl but it shouldn’t be fair to all? As someone mentioned earlier, developers and property managers eager to fill their vacant units simply forget to mention this fact when they are overselling you a micro loft for $2000 a month. Knowing of this problem, one would certainly make the wise decision to move into an older home, townhome on a RPP zoned area. I have collected over $600 in parking tickets and counting. I just can’t see why I can’t enjoy the same privilege of having a place to park my car as my fellow neighbor. Traffic congestion taxes might be a solution, or to increase the fee for RPP to adjust with demand. Until then, I’ll continue my collection of parking tickets.

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