High Density Residential Above Our Metro is ‘Community Capital’

More conversations are happening right now about the land use rules that cover the Cleveland Park commercial area on Connecticut Avenue, and that’s a good thing.

The city has proposed changing the long term planning map that underlies the more specific zoning code to allow for more dense commercial and residential use. The proposals being discussed today, if passed by the D.C. Council either later this year or early next, will not allow for any immediate changes. But it opens the door for the community to discuss a rethinking of zoning that currently caps building heights at 40 feet, lower than some of the beautiful, historic apartment buildings that are currently in our commercial zone.

Rezoning the commercial area would not automatically result in a nine story building height. A high density land use designation does not require the zoning to be high density. A rezoning to MU-7 (adding 15′ to the current zoning height) could be possible, and would trigger the affordable housing requirements currently before the Zoning Commission to require a development to set aside 20% of the building to permanently affordable homes in the same mix as the market-rate homes.

Why then is high density residential an appropriate land use designation for our strip, and one we should ask the D.C. Council to approve?

Many neighbors support taller buildings on our commercial strip if it would provide [fill in the blank] … family-sized apartments, deeply affordable homes for those making less than 30% of the area’s average median income, underground parking, not just for residents but for our commercial businesses. All of these ‘wants’ add to the cost of a project, made more difficult if the size of the project is constrained. Having a land use that allows more than what zoning would permit means a developer can work with a community to exchange greater height or density for community benefit. The delta between the zoning and what’s allowed can be considered ‘community capital.’

Approving Comprehensive Plan amendments is only the beginning, not the end. It would be short-sighted for us to foreclose our options from the outset when we have control over any subsequent rezoning.

Join us on November 9th for a virtual event featuring the Office of Planning and Ward 3 Council Member Mary Cheh as we try to unpack the Comp Plan changes as they pertain specifically to Cleveland Park. The event will cover the proposal, the process of upzoning, the role of historic preservation and plan to increase the required affordable housing for upzoned properties. Come to learn more and ask questions.

Register for the event here.

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