Why is DC a Food Co-op Desert?

By Edward Giefer, Office of Planning

What are the makings of a great urban neighborhood? Good schools, walkable tree-lined streets, neighbors you know, transit options, attractive houses and buildings … and a food co-op?

Well Washington, DC, doesn’t have many food cooperatives, and I’m curious to know why. My favorite food store is The Wedge in south Minneapolis, a place I shop at only about once a year now, since moving from Minnesota many years ago.

The Wedge

The Wedge is customer/member-owned: you can buy an annual membership and receive discounts on purchases throughout the year and a cut of any profits at year end; non-members are welcome to shop anytime. Closer to home, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op in Maryland is also customer/member-owned, but co-ops can also be employee-owned, like Glut in Mt. Rainer, MD. In DC’s Mt. Pleasant the City Garden co-op is “labor-based” (customers must work a certain number of hours at the co-op) and is currently only open for three hours on Saturdays.

(photo credit: Glut)

(photo credit: Glut)

Food co-ops generally have a focus on foods that are local, organic, natural, whole grain, unique, and offered in bulk bins, at prices that are often lower than you would find at for-profit supermarkets. Whether they are customer- or employee-owned, co-ops foster a strong sense of local involvement and investment, and a commitment to ensuring success: customers/members, not a corporate office or a focus group, decide what should be on the shelves in their local store and what would sell well.

And co-ops also often boast a broader mission – The Wedge, for example, has philanthropic and educational components, and owns a small farm which they invite the community to visit. These outreach activities (along with low low prices on lentils!) have endeared this 40-year old store to its community, and it has become a treasured neighborhood asset.

In recent years, DC has seen several new retail food stores open in DC, including Wal-Mart, and maybe a Wegman’s is in our future. But all of them are for-profit, more or less traditional grocery stores, and most are headquartered outside of DC and operate nationally with little product variation from store-to-store.

Are there reasons that there are so few food co-ops in DC currently? Would you support a food co-op in your neighborhood? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

DC’s Rowhouse Neighborhoods

The Zoning Commission (ZC) and Office of Planning (OP) have heard concerns voiced by residents about two issues impacting the District’s residential rowhouse neighborhoods – conversions of rowhouses to multi-family buildings, and additions to existing buildings, often called “pop ups” or “pop-outs”. The rowhouse areas are generally zoned R-4, which the Zoning Code defines as “those areas now developed primarily with row dwellings, but within which there have been a substantial number of conversions of the dwellings into dwellings for two (2) or more families.” In the R-4 or residential flat zone district, two dwelling units are permitted as a matter of right, although the R-4 zone is unique in that it also includes a provision that allows for the conversion, within set limits, of existing buildings into multi-family units. Even so, the Zoning Code goes on to state that “the R-4 District shall not be an apartment house district as contemplated under the General Residence (R-5) Districts, since the conversion of existing structures shall be controlled by a minimum lot area per family requirement.”

rowhouse

Many R-4 neighborhoods have seen an increasing number of conversions of buildings – both by right, and through variance requests to allow conversions with less than 900 square feet of land area per unit. This has had the effect of putting upward price pressures on single family housing stock with 3 or more bedrooms, pricing them out of the range of many families in many R-4 zoned areas.

OP looked carefully at the issues of conversions and inappropriate additions. We examined all of the R-4 zoned area and completed a detailed study of lot areas and building forms. Based on our discussions with R-4 residents and this research, OP submitted the following text amendments to the Zoning Commission on Tuesday, June 24th for consideration and possible set down (ZC Case 14-11).

1) Reduce Building Height:
OP has proposed that the regulations be amended to reduce the by-right height for a detached, semi-detached, rowhouse, or flat building in the R-4 district from 40 feet to 35 feet, but allow up to 40 feet by special exception subject to conditions. Our research found that the overwhelming majority of rowhouses in R-4 are less than 35’ feet in height.

2) Mezzanine Definition:
OP is proposing to change the definition of mezzanine so it is included in the number of stories. A mezzanine is a partial floor and under the current regulations, it does not count as one of the three permitted stories in R-4. However, adding this partial floor space can cause the building to rise higher than would otherwise be the case, so adds to the volume of the building.

3) Rowhouse / Flat Conversion to Multi-Family:

OP is proposing to eliminate the provision that allows for the conversion of rowhouses to multi-family buildings. The existing regulations limit the R-4 rowhouses to one dwelling unit or two units which is defined as a “flat”. However, there is also a provision that allows a conversion of a building or structure to multi-family units subject to a required minimum lot area of 900 square feet per unit. So, for example, a 2,700 sq.ft. lot would permit the rowhouse to be divided into 3 units; a 3,600 sq.ft. lot would permit the rowhouse to be divided into 4 units. In addition, there has been a large upswing in BZA cases requesting relief from this provision, to allow buildings on smaller lots to be subdivided into multi-family, or to allow more multi-family units than the regulation would permit. This is often accompanied by additions, sometimes extensive, to the existing building by adding new floors or extending floors to accommodate more units.

So, in a time when the demand for housing is great in DC, why would OP propose this? In addition to being inconsistent with the intent of the R-4 zone and sometimes the character of the neighborhood, this is having an impact on the diversity and the relative affordability of our family housing stock. The Comprehensive Plan provides substantial policy guidance directed at providing a diversity of housing options including family housing and protecting single-family neighborhoods.

Buildings with one and two dwelling units represent approximately 38 percent of the District’s housing stock, but only about 4 percent of the units in the housing pipeline over the next 15 years. Conversely, the District has a large supply of multi-family or mixed use zoned land and developments in the housing pipeline for multi-family housing that is appropriate to meet the demand of smaller households.

Few new multifamily buildings are being delivered with three or more bedrooms, unless they are part of housing planned to replace similarly-sized public housing units. Over the past three years, three-bedroom units have risen in price almost three times as fast as one-bedroom units – a reflection of the limited supply, subsequent demand pressure, and rapidly escalating prices. Families seeking to purchase relatively affordable homes are competing with developers who can pay more for a larger house than a family because they can profit by splitting up the building and selling smaller units. Ensuring that the R-4 zone remains a single-family rowhouse or flat zone can begin to address this pressure.

4) Conversion of Larger Non-Residential Buildings, by Special Exception
OP is proposing that the R-4 zone regulations continue to allow for the conversion of larger non-residential buildings, like a closed school or church, to facilitate the adaptive reuse of these non-residential buildings. OP is proposing that such a conversion be by special exception to allow for neighborhood input.

There is little if any implication on the production of Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) affordable units because the IZ requirements don’t apply in the R-4 zone until a project is 10 units or more and the conversion cases that would be limited by the proposed changes are typically 3 to 4 units. The larger projects such as school or church conversions will continue to be subject to the Inclusionary Zoning requirements.

OP believes that the combination of proposed amendments work to limit inappropriate additions while respecting the property rights of owners and preserving the character of the District’s residential rowhouse neighborhoods. The proposed amendments do not, however, stand alone. OP has also submitted the following proposals to the Zoning Commission through the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) (ZC Case 08-06A) process that work in tandem with the R-4 text amendments to accommodate new dwelling units:

1) Allow Accessory Apartments as a matter of right in low to moderate density residential zones;
2) Limit the height of a rooftop penthouse, currently allowed to be 18’6” tall, to 10’; and
3) Create two new zones that allow three (3) units per building and four (4) units per building. Although OP is not proposing to map these zones on any neighborhood, they would be zones available to a neighborhood if they wished to pursue a rezoning.

Historic Preservation Awards

Library_Laylights (3)

Architects, planners, builders, preservationists, and many enthusiastic members of the public came out this past Thursday for the 2014 District of Columbia Awards for Excellence in Historic Preservation at the DAR Constitution Hall. Hosted by the DC Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office, and DC Preservation League, the awards recognized projects across the city that exemplified the best of historic preservation.

Before the program began, Katie Irwin of Quinn Evans Architects led tours of the lay light restoration in the DAR Library Reading Room—one of this year’s winning projects. What is now the reading room of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s famous genealogical library was originally built as an auditorium; it is connected to Constitution Hall. Large 9’x9’ leaded glass lay lights allow for natural illumination of the space (in photo above).

The event kicked off with remarks by Ellen McCarthy, Director of the Office of Planning, Mayor Vincent Gray, Edward Dunson, President of the DC Preservation League, and Lynn Forney Young, President General of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. All spoke about the positive role preservation pays in DC and many commented on the beauty of Constitution Hall.

To view short videos about each project, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN-Ku-lou7_1h8nndDElElA.

Photos from the event will be available soon on flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/14880935@N03/).

FULL LIST OF AWARD RECIPIENTS

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
1925 6th Street NW: A labor-of-love homeowner project in the LeDroit Park Historic District. Rebecca Westcott

Arch Square, 801 7th Street NW: Rehabilitation and expansion of a signature corner in the Chinatown neighborhood of the Downtown Historic District. Douglas Development Corporation; McCaffery Interests; R2L: ARCHITECTS; Antunovich Associates; Winmar Construction; EHT Traceries, Inc.

Le Diplomate Restaurant, 1601 14th Street NW: Transformation of an abandoned 1920s laundry into an anchor restaurant along the 14Th Street corridor. Starr Restaurants; Stokes Architecture; Shawn Hausman Design; Brian Orter Lighting Design

Northern Exchange, 1401 R Street NW: Conversion of a vacant telephone exchange building into condominiums and retail on 14th Street NW. P.N. Hoffman & Associates, Inc.; Eric Colbert & Associates PC; Trevor Costa, Project Architect; EHT Traceries, Inc.

DAR Library Reading Room Lay Light Restoration Project, 1776 D Street NW: Restoration of extraordinary skylight roof in the former auditorium space of the DAR Headquarters complex.
Daughters of the American Revolution; Quinn Evans Architects; The Christman Company; Femenella & Associates, Inc.; Hutchinson United Rigging

Yuma Study Center/Convent of Bon Secours, 4101 Yuma Street NW: Renovation and tasteful expansion of a Tenleytown neighborhood signature landmark. Yuma Study Center; Quinn Evans
Architects; Forrester Construction Company; AtSite, Inc.; Tenleytown Historical Society

Meridian Public Charter School/Harrison School, 2120 13th Street NW: Renovation and contemporary addition to a Victorian-era school building in the U Street Historic District. Meridian Public Charter School; Bowie Gridley Architects; Forrester Construction Company; Brailsford & Dunlavey

ARCHAEOLOGY AND EDUCATION
St. Elizabeths Hospital Campus, 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE: Recognition of the U.S. General Services Administration efforts at St. Elizabeths for both an archaeological project related to first phase construction, and preparation of a handsome and well-illustrated book, St. Elizabeths Hospital: A History. U.S. General Services Administration; Stantec Consulting Services, Inc.; Thomas Otto; The Louis Berger Group, Inc.

HPRB CHAIR’s AWARD
Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School, 1200 Clifton Street NW: Twenty-first century rehabilitation for a landmark school. District of Columbia Department of General Services; Hartman-Cox Architects; Grimm + Parker Architects; GCS-Sigal, LLC

STATE HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICER AWARD
Sherman Building Earthquake Recovery Project, 3700 North Capitol Street NW: Restoration and repair of extensive damage caused to the most significant building on the Armed Forces Retirement Home-Washington campus. Armed Forces Retirement Home – Washington; Quinn Evans Architects; R. Bratti Associates, Inc.; The Christman Company; Hayles & Howe; Keast & Hood Company; Oak Grove Restoration Company; PRESERVE/scapes Consulting, LLC

INDIVIDUAL LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Douglas Jemal: Mr. Jemal is responsible for many projects in Washington’s downtown that have served as the catalyst for the redevelopment of that area, including 7th Street Row in Chinatown, the old Woodward & Lothrop Department Store building, and other signature projects along F Street NW.

Ten projects were recognized ranging in size from an individual homeowner project to the archaeological study of the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus. They were presented by Gretchen Pfaehler, Chair of the Historic Preservation Review Board; Edward Dunson; Steve Callcott, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer; and Ellen McCarthy. Additionally, Douglas Jemal, founder and president of Douglas Development, received the lifetime achievement award for his efforts in historic preservation in downtown DC. Each project was highlighted by a short video explaining how it had come to be with excerpts from interviews of people involved.

Following the ceremony, guests and awardees mingled over sweet and savory treats and beverages in the lobby area of the Hall. It was a great opportunity to congratulate the winners of this year’s awards, discuss upcoming projects, and reconnect with old friends.

In biking heaven!

by Andrea Limauro

I have been in biking heaven for the past week. Where is biking heaven you might ask?

It’s right here in DC! Biking heaven, also known as the new green-painted on-street biking lane on 1st St NE, is just being completed this week. The bike lane is only one of several separated bike lanes in the nation’s capital – however, in contrast to the ones along Pennsylvania Avenue, 15th Street NW, or L Street NW, this one comes with all the goodies: physically separated from car traffic and sporting a bright and visible green look. What’s not to love?!

Signs that you are looking at an urban biking heaven: the bike lane is physically separated from car traffic; it is painted a soothing and comforting green color and takes you where you need to get to safely.

Signs that you are looking at an urban biking heaven: the bike lane is physically separated from car traffic; it is painted a soothing and comforting green color and takes you where you need to get to safely.

Until recently, biking on 1st St NE through fast-growing NOMA was like biking through DC’s version of the wild-west: cyclists had to contend with a street bordered on both sides by new shiny buildings and construction zones, a bottleneck of double parked trucks, cars idling in the opposite traffic lane waiting for somebody to come out of Union Station, and swarms of train raiders crossing everywhere. In other words, 1st St NE was the total opposite of bike-friendly.

The top portion of 1st St NE as it meets Union Station (on the left of the photo) as it is today. As you can see, the Budweiser truck (and the one in front of it) is parked for deliveries in the opposite lane of traffic essentially preventing anyone from being able to drive/ride north safely (also note the kegs sitting in the middle of the yellow middle double line). Unfortunately this is how this section of 1st St NE presents itself to a biker on a daily basis.

The top portion of 1st St NE as it meets Union Station (on the left of the photo) as it is today. As you can see, the Budweiser truck (and the one in front of it) is parked for deliveries in the opposite lane of traffic essentially preventing anyone from being able to drive/ride north safely (also note the kegs sitting in the middle of the yellow middle double line). Unfortunately this is how this section of 1st St NE presents itself to a biker on a daily basis.

Fortunately, our wonderful Bicycle Program team at DDOT has started to work on this stretch of the 8-mile Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs from Union Station in the District of Columbia to Silver Spring in Maryland. Since I bike daily over the entire length of the trail to get to and from work, I can say with confidence that DDOT just made the most hazardous stretch of the entire 8 miles much safer for cyclists. Before last week I used to dread this portion of the trail because of the aforementioned double parking and other hazards. With this project completed, my 10-mile plus daily bike commute is now mostly either on a trail, a bike lane or at least a sharrow (a sharrow is the short-form for “shared lane bicycle marking”. This pavement marking includes a bicycle symbol and two white chevrons and is used to remind motorists that bicyclists are permitted to use the full lane) – Thank you DDOT for this biking bonanza!

So why are these green bike lanes so great? According to the Green Lane Project, an advocacy organization working with several US cities (including DC) to create more separated green bike lanes, “protected bike lanes bring predictability and order to busy streets: drivers like knowing where to expect riders, and pedestrians report fewer bikes on the sidewalk. Protected lanes also add vitality and energy to the street, attracting new businesses and helping create a community people want to be in, not just move through. In New York City, local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales after the construction of protected bike lanes, compared to only a 3% increase city-wide.” And as for DC “a recent study showed that bicycling tripled on 15th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue following the installation of protected bike lanes.”

Green biking lanes are not a temporary fad by the way. According to the Green Lane Project the number of these lanes in the US “has nearly doubled to 142 protected bike lanes within the first two years of the Green Lane Project, and it is expected to continue to grow dramatically.”

So, talking about growth of green bike lanes, my next bike heaven dream is to see the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane continue to Union Station over Constitution and Louisiana Avenue NW/NE (*note that this is not in DDOT’s MBT plan).

What is your most dreaded bike commute stretch in DC and where would you like to see the next biking heaven built?

Some interesting links:

- Here is the link to DDOT’s Bicycle Program where you can find, among other things, DDOT’s 10-year Bicycle Master Plan http://ddot.dc.gov/page/bicycle-program

- Here is the link to the Metropolitan Branch Trail project which envisions “that the MBT will one day be an entirely off-road trail”: http://www.metbranchtrail.com/

- Here is the link to the Green Lane Project: the Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program helping cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets: http://www.peopleforbikes.org/green-lane-project

No Sign of Stopping?

by Art Rodgers

During the first quarter of this year 129 permits were issued in DC totaling an astounding 1,285 units of new housing construction. About 115 of these units (9 percent) were single-family. Annualized, it could mean DC might start construction on 5,140 units of housing in 2014! The last four quarters totaled almost 4,000 units. Interestingly, DC currently represents about 13 percent of the regional share of housing units; but DC’s share of new units in 2014 (based on Census data through February only) represents about 20 percent of the region’s new construction for the year so far. The chart below shows how DC’s regional capture rate of new construction has changed since the financial meltdown in 2007. Just for kicks, it includes a simple, long-term trend line1 that suggests an increasing share of regional growth in the short run before flattening out.

Source:  US Census; 2014* Year to date February.

Source: US Census; 2014* Year to date February.

Is the change in demand for urban vs suburban living that great (look here and here)? Is the trend line conservative or optimistic? Will DC’s increasing prices narrow the range of households who can afford it and therefore slow demand or shift demand to lower cost neighborhoods? Will Millennial demand convert to demand for family housing? If so when and where?

Oh wait, there is more. Based on an incomplete review of building permit data from DCRA, another 94 units were issued permits in the first quarter as a result of conversion to flats or changes in existing multi-unit buildings. At the same time only nine units were lost due to razes or consolidation within existing buildings.

[1] For data geeks it uses a logarithmic curve based on percent share of production since 1996 when DC had zero new construction units.