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The Little Change in 2020 That Could Have a Big Impact on DC Alleys

by Nena Perry-Brown

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives and had drastic impacts on the real estate industry, and most importantly, people's personal housing situations. With that in mind, UrbanTurf is wrapping up 2020 with an abbreviated Year-in-Review series.


This past summer saw passage of a zoning amendment in DC that creates a lot more possibilities in the city's alleyways.

In July, the Zoning Commission unanimously approved a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would enable owners of alley-facing tax lots at least 450 square feet in size to convert those into record lots. Because development is not permitted on alley tax lots, this would enable future residential development on 274 vacant alley tax lots in DC.

Diagram from OP Setdown Report. Click to enlarge.

Tax lots created before May 1958 would be automatically grandfathered into this change, while alley lots created between 1958 and 2016 could be converted by special exception. Most of these lots are located on Capitol Hill, in Wards 1 and 2 and downtown.

The amendment also permits alley arts studios, with one artist per 450 square feet. Those studios would be able to host up to five public shows or performances a year, or more by special exception. 

While the Zoning Commission approved the amendments, they also asked OP to look into further amending the code to enable alley development, targeting requirements like the minimum alley width for subdivision and minimum lot size. Many of those who testified at hearings for the ZTA shared their difficulties in getting alley dwellings approved or built despite the 2016 zoning rewrite intended to expand by-right alley development.

It will be interesting to see whether this change moves the needle for DC's alley dwellings or creates more space for the arts along these hidden passages.

Thumbnail photo by Ted Eytan

Other 2020 Year in Review Articles:

See other articles related to: year in review 2020, dc alleys

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the-little-change-that-could-have-a-big-impact-on-dc-alleys/17666

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