A Conversation About DC’s Zoning Changes

by Shilpi Paul

A Conversation About DC's Zoning Changes: Figure 1
Alley dwellings may become more popular with the changes.

In something of a kick-off to the public conversations that will ensue in the coming months regarding the city’s proposed zoning changes, Harriet Tregoning, the Director of the Office of Planning, and David Alpert, the founder of Greater Greater Washington, led a discussion last night at the Center for American Progress entitled “Modernizing DC’s Zoning Code.”

The conversation covered the history of the previous zoning code, the reasoning behind the changes, and some speculation as to what DC may look like when the changes go into effect. The Office of Planning is bringing the proposed changes to the Zoning Commission and, as Tregoning and Alpert both mentioned several times, the plans are not yet set in stone and comments from the public are welcome.

Here are a few of the proposed changes:

  • First of all, the new zoning code will be much easier to navigate. Alpert demonstrated the circuitous clicking currently necessary if you want to find out what is allowable in your zone.
  • Parking minimums will be eliminated downtown and in mixed-use zones that are close to mass transit, allowing developers to build projects without parking if they so desire. Tregoning elaborated that the new code would allow developers to “share parking,” perhaps making use of an existing underutilized parking lot rather than building a new one. Overall, DC wants to encourage walking, biking and using mass transit.
  • A Green Area Ratio must be met in commercial, industrial and multifamily developments, allowing the city to set certain standards for stormwater management and other green elements. Residential developments will have to meet pervious surface standards.
  • Some rules will change regarding accessory dwellings, with “in-law” suites and carriage houses to be allowed by-right in certain residential zones. As we wrote about previously, encouraging alley dwelllings may be a handy way to increase density and create mixed-income communities. In neighborhoods with detached single-family homes, the accessory dwelling regulations will actually be more limiting than those that are currently in place.
  • Corner stores — small retail in a residential area — is encouraged under the proposed regualtions.

Both Tregoning and Alpert stressed the urgency of pushing through the changes as quickly as possible. As DC is in a development boom, they want to make sure that the city doesn’t “miss the wave.”

As far as timeline, the Zoning Commission will be reviewing the changes regarding parking, accessory dwelling units, building height measurement and the Green Area Ratio this summer, and making a decision about the entire code by the end of the year. The Office of Planning will be holding public meetings throughout the summer and fall to take comments from the community. (The hearings with the Zoning Commission will be public as well.)

Tregoning also discussed some city initiatives that don’t deal directly with the zoning changes and dropped a few cool facts. For example, more green roofs went up in DC last year than in any other city in the U.S. In fact, many of the zoning initiatives mentioned have a green slant: the District has a goal of creating enough green space so that every resident will be within 10 minutes of a park, Tregoning said, and wants to increase the tree canopy from 35 percent to 40 percent of the city.

You can find a current draft of the proposed zoning changes here.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/a_conversation_about_dcs_zoning_changes/5680


  1. David said at 3:36 am on Friday June 22, 2012:
    I live in a historic neighborhood. The main house is small, less than 900 sq ft! I can't add on to the house because of historic regulations. It sits on a huge lot, and occupies about 20% of the lot. That leaves 40% of the lot which could be living space in the current zone. With the ADU's being permitted, my ADU would have to be 250 sq ft.! I mean, at that rate, it's not even worth it. The new structure would be at the back of the lot. Can the current home become the subordinate ADU to the other structure which would then become the parimary? Anybody?
  1. Jan said at 6:22 pm on Thursday June 21, 2012:
    Very interesting! The article mentioned green roofs. I am excited by the green roofs that are going up around town and am interested in building one on my own house. I would love to talk to homeowners who have done this - any ideas where I should start?
  1. xmal said at 10:12 pm on Thursday June 21, 2012:
    Hi Jan---Same here. Let me know what you find out!
  1. Sue said at 3:06 pm on Sunday June 24, 2012:
    ADU can't become the primary structure. But last I heard (i.e. yesterday, but OP hasn't put it in writing), external ADUs could have a 450 SF footprint. The 25% rule is for internal ADUs (which are also limited to homes that have at least 2000 SF of living space).
  1. Alex said at 3:02 pm on Tuesday June 26, 2012:
    Homeowners, dc greenworks has done a number of residential green roof installations that you can see on our website, and we would be happy to put you in touch with past clients. Visit dcgreenworks.org for the inquiry/request form, or call us at 202.518.6195.

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