The Council is tasked with making our city a better place to live, work, and visit. The work we do impacts and hopefully improves lives. We often must spend countless hours meeting and discussing bill drafts and redrafts, and holding roundtables and hearings. But the legislative process can often slow progress down and good intentions of the Council can get lost somewhere in the tangled process.
The “process” is currently impeding progress by not allowing the Office of Planning’s update to the Zoning Regulation to go forward to the Zoning Commission. This process should be straightforward like this:
- Step 1. Determine that substantial change has happened since 1958;
- Step 2. The Office of Planning (OP) creates the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) to recommend revisions to the DC Zoning Regulations. OP meets to discuss and re-draft the proposal until there is a revised document that they can send to the Zoning Commission (ZC). The ZC is a wholly independent body that oversees District zoning – according to the Home Rule Act neither the Mayor nor the Council has authority over the ZC.
- Step 3. The ZC holds hearings and then denies or approves the new Zoning Regulations.
It may not actually be that easy, but it should not be hard either. And the Council should not be making it any more difficult. When we make the process more difficult, we move from a position of oversight to a placewhere we are overstepping our role. In the current situation, the Council should stop holding hearings and instead support sending the proposal to the ZC.
The Council passed a Comprehensive Plan in 2006 that required (via the Home Rule Act) an overhaul of the regulations for future planning and development of the District. The authority for making these changes was then vested in OP. In 2007, OP created the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) to revise the DC Zoning Regulations. ZRR got a new name and is now known as the Zoning Update (ZU). The ZU focused on twenty subjects, which the new regulations describe by specific subject. Five years later in 2012, the ZU proposed recommendations were sent to a Task Force made up of mostly Councilmember appointees. And this is where the trouble begins.
The progression at this point should have been that the Task Force makes their comments, OP makes some edits to the ZU, and then OP sends the final proposed regulations to the Zoning Commission. When the proposals are sent to the ZC they schedule public hearings on the proposed regulations prior to making any final decision. This was supposed to happen during the first quarter of 2013. At the current rate, this implementation process has been stalled for at least another year.
The Task Force and the Council continue today to delay the proposed regulations and delay the process. Many residents are confused and think that at the least this process should be completed already. So, what is the hold up? I cannot speak about motives of other people, but here is what I understand are the major issues delaying this process and where I stand on them:
OP wants to eliminate on-site parking requirements for all new buildings constructed downtown or in mixed-use, transit-accessible neighborhoods throughout the city. I support this measure – in terms of required parking spaces, let the market decide.
Corner stores are currently not permitted unless they have a current, valid Certificate of Occupancy. In the proposed draft text, new corner stores such as retail, arts-related, or eating and drinking establishments would be permitted in the R-3 and R-4 zones by special exception, which would include a hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. I support this measure.
The proposed regulations would allow homeowners to make changes within their current home or garage, by right. If they want to build a new dwelling separate from the main house, they will need to secure a special exception. I support this measure.
Zoning is an organic process and very difficult to regulate. How can we possibly anticipate how the city will look in the future? We cannot. We have to do our best to make it safe and reasonable, but beyond that point it must have the freedom to grow on its own. I think that OP has done a very good job completing a very difficult task. Now, we need to step back, let OP finish their work, and send their proposed regulations to ZC.
For more information about modernizing the zoning code, click here.