A Closer Look at DC’s Vacant Land

by UrbanTurf Staff

A Closer Look at DC's Vacant Land: Figure 1

On Friday, DC’s Office of Revenue Analysis continued its deep dive into the the more wonky side of the city with a look at vacant land across the District that could possibly be developed one day. Using the city’s real property tax database, the department determined that there are 300 million square feet of vacant land in the city, amounting to about a fifth of the total taxable land in DC.

Here are some interesting statistical points pulled out by the city’s District Measured blog:

  • 14 percent of the vacant land is privately owned, and concentrated in zip codes 20017 through 20020, and 20002.
  • 24 million square feet are owned by non-profits, and 34 million square feet owned by the city.
  • A huge chunk of the remaining vacant land (197 million square feet) is owned by the U.S. government; 133 million of those square feet are east of the Anacostia River.

The blog post goes on to relate the amount of vacant land to the city’s expected housing needs in the next 25 years, pointing to an Office of Planning estimate that the city will need to add 175,000 new housing units or 200 million new square feet of residences by 2040.

From the blog post:

Twenty five years is not a very long time, so if we limit our new construction to privately owned vacant land only, to meet the 200 million mark, we would have to see a floor-area-ratio of 4 or greater—that is the usable construction area is four times or grater than the size of the lot. This is pretty dense. But of course there are other sources of land including parking lots, older buildings or properties with underutilized capacity.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/a_closer_look_at_dcs_vacant_land/9557


  1. Lee said at 9:01 pm on Monday February 23, 2015:
    Best solution is of course office of planning and the zoning commission down zoning R-4 (15% of the residentially zoned land in the city) to lower density and lower building height then R-1, R-2, and R-3
  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 9:53 pm on Monday February 23, 2015:
    I suspect that the big-picture story here is accurate, but the little picture appears so off-base as to compromise any particular findings one may seek. Going to the link is helpful--notably because it indicates that parklands are included--but also shows some very odd statistics. Zip Code 20037, which covers most of the West End and non-federal Foggy Bottom, for example, shows about 6.6 acres of vacant land. What could that possibly be other than Rock Creek Park? I can barely find any other "underdeveloped," much less vacant, land in 20037. In contrast, zip code 20001, which covers a broad swath from the Mall to Michigan Avenue, between North Capitol Street and (approx.) 11th Street NW, shows 0 vacant lots. Yes, zero. Huh? This area covers Howard U's many huge parking lots in the area of 8th, 9th, V, and W Streets. It also covers vacant lots southwest of Sorsum Corda. In short, zero simply isn't plausible. For these stats to have much meaning, someone needs to analyze much more thoroughly.
  1. Phil said at 10:47 pm on Monday February 23, 2015:
    The Zoning Commission is preparing to vote on the down-zoning of the R-4 district. This will limit the available housing stock and increase the cost to purchase homes in the district. This initiative will further constrain the D.C. housing stock.
  1. Rick Rybeck said at 2:24 am on Tuesday February 24, 2015:
    As skidrowedc said, the data needs to be scrubbed. But, the bottom line is that vacant lots, surface parking lots, and boarded-up buildings are wasting scarce and valuable land that should be used to provide homes and business locations. Failure to utilize these lands drives up prices and forces many to locate to more auto-dependent suburban areas. Vacant land that is in private hands would be better utilized if the District's property tax were shifted off of privately-created building values and onto publicly-created land values. Communities that have done this have experienced more affordable housing, more jobs and less sprawl.

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