The sixty-page Framework Element Amendment of DC Comprehensive Plan has been submitted by the Mayor to the Council for consideration. As the first chapter of the city’s legal planning document, it not only sets the stage for the policies, actions and maps that make up the body of the document, it also provides definitions and guidance on how the Comprehensive Plan should be used and interpreted.
Some parties have raised concerns. These worries come from groups and people who want to minimize change to DC’s built environment, especially in wealthier neighborhoods. Even as new residents continue to pour into the city, any change to policies that could impact the status quo are met with stiff resistance. Others are rightly concerned that the areas of the city with less resources are absorbing the inflow of new residents who could not find or afford homes in protected, stable and wealthier neighborhoods.
As the amendments to the Comprehensive Plan are considered, there needs to be more recognition that DC can and should be growing in areas like Ward 3, and even in Cleveland Park. The very real and negative impacts of displacement and gentrification are partially a result of the unwillingness to increase density in more desirable areas of the city, including places like Cleveland Park, and Ward 3 generally. Zoning, preservation laws and legal actions have been used to thwart modest increases in density in the places where many want to live. As a result, home prices have exploded, rendering many neighborhoods inaccessible to first-time homebuyers and young families. It is no accident that the demographic groups most prevalent in Cleveland Park, i.e. those found in numbers disproportionate to their city-wide share, are Millennials and Seniors. Cleveland Park has a shortage of young children.
Millennials occupy the denser apartment buildings, and seniors have the resources to afford the single-family homes which average close to $2 million. It is no wonder that the demand for housing is invading other parts of the city. This practice of exclusionary zoning, blocking new development and density, even in areas like Cleveland Park that are so well served by transit and are walkable, is one of the causes of the displacement felt in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.
The following sections of the Framework Element amendments give hope that positive change can happen here. We hope residents will advocate for these changes and let policy makers and influencers know that there is appetite for smart growth in Cleveland Park and Ward 3.
Please consider sending an email supporting these changes to the below list in advance of the March 20 Council hearing, and make reference to the section numbering: 223.3, 223.4, 233.5, 213.4, 223.14, 225.08 and 205.4. Even better, consider signing up to testify at the hearing.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member At-Large Anita Bonds, email@example.com
Council Member At-Large David Grosso, firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member At-Large Elissa Silverman, email@example.com
Council Member At-Large Robert White, firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Member, Ward 3, Mary Cheh, email@example.com
Cleveland Park Citizen’s Association: Ruth Caplan, President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Neighborhood Conservation Areas
One of the positive changes in the Framework amendments is the recognition that development and re-development can happen in what are known on the Generalized Policy Map as “Neighborhood Conservation Areas,” which make up most of Northwest D.C. as indicated by the pale yellow shading in the image below.
(bold underlined sections are new, red strikethrough is deleted)
Underutilization of Zoning
Another positive change to the Framework Element is the recognition that our main transit corridors in Northwest DC are underutilized based on current zoning. Added to this list explicitly are the mixed-use corridor streets of Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues.
CP Commercial Area
The Cleveland Park commercial area along Connecticut Avenue is a Main Street Mixed Use Corridor on the Generalized Policy Map. The new Framework Element highlights that some of these areas are underutilized with room for growth. That is certainly the case with Cleveland Park.
On the Future Land Use Map (FLUM), the Cleveland Park commercial area along Connecticut Avenue is designated as “Low Density Commercial.” OP has proposed this category describe buildings rather than 1- 3 stories, but as ranging up to 50 feet, or higher if approved as part of a Planned Unit Development, which would require a trade-off of public benefit in exchange for greater allowed height and density.
In section 205.4, the amended text notes that, “The city also has dozens of federal and local historic districts with unique opportunities for growth,” while striking out, “[M]uch of the city consists of historic districts with limited capacity for growth. Even many of the areas that are not “officially” historic are fully developed and have little potential for change.”
In summary, these proposed changes to the Framework Element of the Comprehensive Plan promise a positive course correction that deals Cleveland Park and Ward 3 in on further consideration of smart growth, providing more housing supply, including affordable housing, and more customers in walking distance to our retail areas which are in great need of revival. They also send a signal that, in the name of equity, all Wards of DC need to absorb the expected 300,000 new residents over the next 30 years so that families, neighborhoods and communities in the some parts of the city are not bulldozed only to protect the wealthy enclaves of Northwest DC.