DC Zoning Update

There has been a lot of community discussion about the ongoing rewrite of the DC Zoning Code and how it might impact our single family neighborhoods. Zoning is an arcane science filled with strange jargon including odd definitions of common sounding terms, so it is no surprise that, even after a couple years of public meetings, there is still a lot of confusion about the rewrite. Below you can find information on our involvement with the update as well as our stances on the key issues involved with the rewrite that will help demystify the process.


  • Steering Committee member Ellen McCarthy testified on the zoning rewrite before the DC Council on March 7, 2013. Read her testimony here.
  • Steering Committee member Ellen Bass testified on the zoning rewrite before the DC Council on October 5, 2012. Read her testimony here.

Get involved!

As a member of Ward 3 Vision, we hope you’ll get involved and add your voice to the chorus in support of these positive changes to the zoning code. In partnership with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Greater Greater Washington, we’ll be working hard over the next year to make sure the zoning code rewrite incorporates smart growth principles. There are several ways to get involved!

  • 30 seconds: Add your name to the petition supporting the zoning rewrite. Sign now >>
  • 10 minutes: Educate yourself a little more about this issue by reading the fact sheet. Read now >>

Meeting with the Office of Planning

Ward3Vision has been following the zoning rewrite process for the past several years and were very confused by some of the posts on the listservs, so we met with representatives of the Office of Planning to better understand their proposals. Here are some key points we took away from the meeting:

  1. There will be no increase in density, height, or lot coverage in the single family home neighborhoods. No change in neighborhood character. Nothing that might impact your property values as far as we could tell.
  2. Teardowns are no more likely under the rewrite than they are today because all of the factors that determine how much house you can build on a lot are unchanged. The discussion about reducing sideyard size (now under reconsideration) only addressed where a house could be built on the lot, not how big the house could be.
  3. Transit zones will not apply to single family homes even when they are adjacent to transit.
  4. Freestanding rental units (called Accessory Dwellings) are currently allowed, but only for domestic employees. You are also allowed a rental unit in your house. The rewrite proposes a reduction in density – you would have to choose one or the other – but the restriction on who occupies the freestanding unit would be removed. This could provide a modest increase in the supply of affordable housing, help seniors age in place and make our neighborhood more diverse, all good things in our view. Also, remember that your main house and the accessory dwelling together can only cover a certain percentage of your lot (unchanged from current zoning) so the ratio of building to green space is not affected.
  5. Corner stores – a great idea perhaps, but it doesn’t apply in single family house neighborhoods.

The zoning rewrite really does not threaten our single family neighborhoods, but it could be improved. Ward3Vision would like to see the following areas receive more study:

  • Parking: the rewrite removes parking minimums in higher density areas along the avenues adjacent to our single family residential neighborhoods, which could create parking problems in nearby blocks. There should be a concurrent revision of parking management practices by the DC Department of Transportation to complete a truly comprehensive approach.
  • McMansions: nobody likes them. We would like to see a more sophisticated approach to height restrictions to reduce the threat of new houses that are out of scale with the existing neighborhood. Some measure of the prevailing height on a street, rather than a blanket one-size-fits-all maximum height of 40 feet.
  • Country stores: we love Broad Branch Market, don’t you? Is there a low-density version of corner stores that can be written into the zoning code?
  • Quirkiness: wherever possible, existing uses, building footprints, etc should be ‘grandfathered’ for future new construction to preserve the ‘eclectic’ charm of our neighborhoods. Ward 3 is not a cookie-cutter suburb. Grandfathered quirkiness would avoid BZA and streamline the building process for residents.

Ward3Vision is very interested in maintaining the best of our unique neighborhoods while also making the new zoning code easier to understand and more flexible for future residents. However, this takes work. Doing nothing solves nothing. We should actively and creatively look for ways to ensure that our single family neighborhoods maintain their character even as inevitable and sustainable growth creates more urban places in nearby transit corridors.