Office of Planning Report Recommends Introducing Gentle Density Changes to DC’s Single-Family Zones

by Nena Perry-Brown

DC's missing middle types, courtesy of Office of Planning. Click to enlarge.

Along with submitting the final draft of amendments to the Comprehensive Plan to the DC Council, the Office of Planning (OP) has also submitted a report on how the city's single-family zones can accommodate more density and the resulting impact on affordability and equity.

Half of DC's 10 planning areas include zones for detached single-family housing (SFZ), but Rock Creek West accounts for more than half of the city's detached SFZ land. As the Urban Land Institute pointed out last year, if 14% of these lots had an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on them, this would achieve the city's housing production goals for the planning area. However, while ADUs were largely made by-right in residential zones in the 2016 zoning rewrite, fewer than fifty per year have been approved since.

Map of single-family zoned land in DC. Click to enlarge.

Consequently, one of OP's recommendations is that the city explore how to remove barriers from and incentivize production of ADUs.

OP also addresses missing middle housing (MMH), wherein a variety of housing types are incorporated into low-density areas in a way that remains compatible with the neighborhood. Although Oregon and a few cities have recently made multiple units by-right in single-family zones, a concept that has also been considered this year in Maryland and Virginia, OP does not recommend the blanket approach for DC.

Maps of how current single-family zoning mirrors redlining patterns. Click to enlarge.

Because SFZ areas are some of the city's most racially-segregated, largely retaining the demographics established by restrictive covenants and discriminatory lending, the report recommends targeting gentle density for particular areas that would achieve equity goals.

"Incentivizing missing middle housing types in high-opportunity, high-cost single-family zones and single-family zones near transit could create more affordable housing options, address segregation and inequity, and moderate housing costs overall," the report explains.

Map of DC's transit-accessible SFZ lots. Click to enlarge.

The report concludes that diversifying housing options in the 72% of single-family lots that are within walking distance from a Metro station, or from a bus stop on a main corridor, will increase equitable access to opportunity while more fairly distributing housing citywide.

The report also notes that introduction of MMH will need to be balanced with retaining family-sized units (three or more bedrooms), 75% of which are single-family homes, particularly because families are already competing for these units with one- and two-person households with higher incomes. 

The DC Council is expected to review, solicit feedback on, and adopt an amended Comp Plan this year.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/office-of-planning-recommends-gentle-density-in-transit-accessible-corridor/16763

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