From Homes to Performance Spaces, How a Zoning Change Could Transform DC Alleys

  • June 4th 2020

by Nena Perry-Brown

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An alley home in DC.

A year after the Office of Planning (OP) proposed amendments that could add more activity along DC's alleys, the Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing.

The zoning amendments would enable more by-right alley dwellings by turning more alley-facing tax lots, which don't permit development, into record lots. Alley tax lots larger than 450 square feet created before May 1958 would be automatically grandfathered into this change, and people would be allowed to apply for special exceptions to convert alley lots created between 1958 and 2016 into record lots. OP has estimated that this change would enable development on 317 vacant alley lots in the city.

Diagram from OP Setdown Report. Click to enlarge.

The amendments would also create rules regarding alley studios and performances, which haven't been included in the zoning code. Alley studios would be permitted to accommodate one artist per 450 square feet and would be able to host up to five public shows or performances annually. Building code aside, this rule change could help alley arts spaces like Dwell off H Street to legitimize its offerings; the city ordered the space shut down last year.

The amendments also lend some clarity around how alleys are defined, adding that alleys include unnamed public right-of-ways and that alleys with names are not streets. The proposed amendments would also close a loophole that currently enables zoning bodies to permit an alley dwelling up to 40 feet tall. 

The virtual Zoning Commission hearing is scheduled for July 13th.

Correction: The previous caption for the rendering above said that the alley home was planned. The home is actually complete. 

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/how-a-zoning-change-could-transform-dc-alleys/16915.

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