How Will DC’s New Zoning Rules on Building Measurements Affect Developers?· August 22, 2018
by Nena Perry-Brown
The update to DC's zoning regulations in 2016 certainly accomplished a lot, but the amendments to the zoning code also contained some gaps. Last week, a suite of edits clarifying measurement of calculations such as density and gross floor area went into effect.
The Zoning Commission approved regulations that clarify the current measurement rules related to height, stories, and floor area ratio for properties in DC. Starting August 17th, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) adopted these definitions and amendments for the agency's forthcoming review of building permits.
The impetus behind these new regulations were the vaguely-defined and undefined terms that created room for real estate developers to potentially take advantage of loopholes and effectively add a floor to new projects in DC. For example, the lack of an explicit direction in calculating grade could enable developers to measure a building's height based on a favorable measuring point which could allow them to potentially push through a building several inches taller than is allowable.
Another loophole used to reduce the calculated density or floor area ratio of a project was the line between "basements", which contribute to those calculation, and "cellars", which do not. In order to distinguish the two, the new regulations define the measuring surface as the “finished floor of the ground floor" rather than the ceiling of the lower level; this avoids use of dropped ceilings, or secondary ceilings hung beneath the ceiling, to achieve cellar height in what would otherwise be a basement. The suspicion that the cellar loophole was being exploited was a recurrent cause of concern for some ANCs during the project review process, a fact some ANCs commented on for the record as the new zoning regs were debated.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that habitable cellar space will be part of GFA and density calculations; it is no longer omitted from counting toward GFA and density.
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