DC Council Unanimously Approves Updates to Comprehensive Plan

by Nena Perry-Brown

Florida Avenue and 8th Street NW. Photo by Ted Eytan.

This afternoon, the DC Council unanimously passed a final draft of the “Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2019."

The Comp Plan is a document intended to steer the location, density and types of development throughout the city, and as such, it undergoes an update every few years. It hasn't been updated since 2006, however, and the city has since experienced a massive wave of development which has reportedly led to DC having the highest displacement of any city nationwide, as well as a wave of opposition which, via appeals of planned unit developments (PUDs), has halted or discouraged construction of thousands of residential units. 

The Framework Element is an introductory section of the Comp Plan which provides forecasts through 2045 and overarching definitions and context for the rest of the document. The bill contains new language for the Element to accomplish the following:

  • More explicit emphasis on the need to build affordable housing, particularly as a tool to stem racial and economic disparities and to address the legacy of segregation, while acknowledging the need to employ a combination of tools including land trusts and co-ops.
  • Redefine family-sized units as containing three or more bedrooms. 
  • Note the poor condition of the city's public housing as an additional strain on affordable housing supply.
  • Emphasize the need for more equitable access to multiple transit options.
  • Emphasize the importance of equity via the following: reducing harmful impacts to and protecting vulnerable communities, achieving greater civic involvement from underrepresented communities, requiring developments which would permanently displace residents or businesses to address this when seeking discretionary approvals, and ensuring more equitable distribution of affordable housing to increase supply west of Rock Creek Park and dilute concentration east of the Anacostia River.

Rejected amendments offered by Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Elissa Silverman at a July hearing found a place in the new bill, with language added about protecting against displacement and about the need for any city-brokered or -financed deal to leverage that equity into public benefits.

The new Framework Element of the Comprehensive Plan also identifies high priorities for favorable evaluation of PUDs, namely affordable housing provisions which exceed the minimum requirement, the right for existing residents to return with minimal temporary displacement, and preservation or longevity of affordable housing on the site. Other language highlights a desire to minimize PUD appeals, including a frequent refrain that PUDs and projects with inclusionary zoning may exceed the parameters of what zoning permits by-right.

The Element also clarifies the ways in which neighborhood character and conservation should be considered. For the former, the amendments explain that rather than considering neighborhood character when evaluating PUDs, the Zoning Commission can approve a PUD when no "unacceptable project impacts on the surrounding area" are found. For the latter, the amendments explain that conservation priorities vary by neighborhood:

"In areas with access to opportunities, services, and amenities, more levels of housing affordability should be accommodated. Areas facing housing insecurity (see Section 206.4) and displacement should emphasize preserving affordable housing and enhancing neighborhood services, amenities, and access to opportunities."

Passage of this bill sets up the Office of Planning to begin submitting its recommended updates to the remainder of the Comp Plan, at which time the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on those changes. Those elements are expected to be released next week.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc-council-unanimously-approves-comprehensive-plan/15986

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