Sunday, February 03, 2013

should Bloomingdale entertain neighborhood customized zoning ??


I acknowledge that the topic of the DC Zoning rewrite, dubbed the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR), is boring.

But it * is * important.

One of the options provided is neighborhood customized zoning. 

See the article below from Alma Gates in the February 2013 Palisades News newsletter.

Any interest perhaps in pursuing customized zoning in Bloomingdale?


             
Early in the Zoning Regulation Revision (ZRR) process, the Georgetown Citizens Association (CAG) began meeting with the Office of Planning (OP) to design ``customized`` residential zones for their historic neighborhood.  As a result, two new residential zones appear in the current ZRR draft.
                              
Since the beginning of the ZRR process, OP has said it would consider neighborhood customization. After all, neighborhoods help define the city and should have the option to set development standards that protect their unique characteristics.
   
When asked recently about the customization process, Harriet Tregoning, Director of the Office of Planning, said the Office of Planning wants to see support from the citizens association and the ANC as well as data to support requests for customization.
  
As a resident of Palisades eager to inform the community of the customization option, the linked article below was submitted for the February issue of the Palisades News.
  
Alma Gates
Zoning Task Force Member


One Neighbor's Opinion
Special Zoning Protections Are Needed for the Palisades
    
Editor’s Note: Alma Gates appeared before the membership at the October meeting, and made a comprehensive presentation on the onging process of revising and updated the city’s zoning regulations.  She has now submitted this article urging special zoning restrictions for the Palisades. 
                
Alma represented the “central Palisades” on ANC 3D from 2003 through 2008.   Currently she serves as a Trustee of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, and as chair of its Zoning Subcommittee.  In that capacity, she was appointed to and serves on the District’s Zoning Regulation Revision Task Force.  The Palisades is fortunate indeed that Alma is so well-placed to engage with a process that could so significantly affect our neighborhood. 
           
In her 2005 book, “The Palisades of Washington, DC,” Alice Fales Stewart details the rich history of our neighborhood and the geographic area in which it is situated.  She notes, “… the Palisades maintains a stable residential population and enjoys a friendly, small-town atmosphere.”  Later, in a landmark nomination for a Palisades property, Mary Rowse wrote, “Long a rural enclave within Washington, DC's limits…, the Palisades began as a pathway between the wharves and warehouses of Georgetown, the farmlands of Montgomery County, and points further west.
      
Development in the Palisades followed the typical streetcar suburb pattern of continuous corridors, unlike the railroad suburb pattern of nodes around stations.  Because streetcars made numerous stops at short intervals, developers platted rectilinear subdivisions on small lots.”  In addition, much of the original building stock throughout the Palisades is unique because many homes were ordered from catalogues and constructed from kits.  It is the small town atmosphere, building scale and affordability of Palisades’ housing that make the area so attractive to young families and keeps long-term residents here for generations.
        
One of the questions Palisades residents ask most often is, “What can Palisades do to protect the neighborhood from new, out of scale residential construction?” or, How can Palisades maintain its small town atmosphere while permitting new construction throughout the neighborhood? 
        
Residents recognize that each time a Palisades house is torn down, a scar is left in the community’s original building fabric;  but, concern isn’t about new construction itself, it’s more about the scale and relationship of the new to what currently exists.  It’s about the obvious change in the streetscape.  Even though the new construction may be within zoning regulations, much of the building stock in Palisades dates back to the first two decades of the 20th century and is of a very different height scale than homes built in recent years.
            
New homes dot the landscape of many streets in Palisades, but recent construction of a three-story home on a neighborhood street has triggered real concern as it follows on the heels of four new three-story houses right around the corner.  The new construction completely overshadows smaller two-story neighbors.  These new houses may fit within the R-1-B zoning envelope that allows height up to 40 ft and lot occupancy of 40 percent, but because the height of surrounding older homes is considerably less than 40 ft. there is concern about the effect on the light and air of neighboring properties.  One of the “side effects” of too-tall buildings is the shadows they create.  Plants that require full sun, can no longer thrive when placed in shadow or shaded sun for most of the day.
               
Residents need to be aware that a new zoning code is in the process of being finalized and it offers no additional protections against out of scale construction on residential lots.  One option offered by the Office of Planning is to allow neighborhoods to customize certain provisions of the zoning regulations and thus maintain the residential character and height scale of the neighborhood.  For example, The Georgetown Citizens Association (CAG) and ANC 2E worked jointly to set a height limit of 35 vs. 40 feet in Georgetown after gathering data on a number of blocks.  It was determined that 35 ft. is the predominant height for homes in the area.  In addition, they proposed that a property be permitted to have a maximum height of forty feet if a property adjacent on either side has a building height of forty feet or greater.
          
Perhaps the questions for the Palisades Citizens Association are:  Does the membership want to preserve the Palisades neighborhood’s scale and character; and, What role can the PCA play in ensuring that happens?
     
Throughout the zoning revision, the Office of Planning has stated, “Neighborhoods can customize the proposed zoning regulations to fit their specific area.”  In effect a zone would be created that would contain the special provisions to be applied to the zone.
       
Height, which could also be limited by number of stories, is one provision that Palisades might want to include in its customization of a zone.  While the options are many and varied, this customization should not be looked upon as an endless wish list.  Any customization will require data to back up the change and that will require input from and effort on the part of Palisades residents.
             
The neighborhood is at a crossroads – identify and preserve those characteristics that make Palisades one of Washington’s unique neighborhoods, or continue to permit new development that will eventually change its scale and character. 
                 
Those who attended the Ward 3 Zoning Regulation Revision presentation heard the Office of Planning state that customization requests are welcome but must have the support of the citizens association and the ANC.  ANC 3D was made aware of the customization option at its January meeting.  A decision on whether to move forward with data collection and support customization of zoning for the neighborhood is needed by the membership of the
Palisades Citizens Association at its March meeting.  This timing will allow the ANC to vote and present a resolution in support of Palisades customization to the Office of Planning in April when it is anticipated the text of the new regulations will be forwarded to the Zoning Commission for approval.  Once the proposed zoning regulations have been approved by the Zoning Commission it will be far more difficult to create a special neighborhood zone.  

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