- More homeowners will be able to create accessory dwellings, such as garage or basement apartments.
- A limited number of small art studios, corner groceries, shoe repair shops, hardware stores and other small retail establishments will be able to open in some residential areas.
- Minimum parking requirements would be relaxed under certain circumstances.
- More lots adjacent to rear alleys will be allowed to have residences facing the alleys (such as those in the photo at the top of this post).
- A new provision called “Green Area Ratio” will require landscaping and other green infrastructure for many projects involving new construction.
I love the idea of bringing back corner stores and other small retail outlets in residential areas. Where legacy stores still exist today, they are much loved. The proposed rules governing what kinds, and when and where they are allowed, are apparently complex. There seems to be an attempt to favor existing clusters and corridors of retail establishments, for example; new ones would be allowed only at a certain distance from existing ones.
I suppose that might be to prevent a weakening of current small businesses that might suffer from new competition, as well as to stave off political opposition from existing merchants. But there is also research showing that people will walk more if able to reach clustered establishments, so there is a public health and traffic reduction benefit to retaining tight clusters where they exist.
There is currently a robust online discussion among several of my urbanist friends concerning corner stores and other small retail. The conventional wisdom seems to be that it takes a thousand households within walking distance to support a corner store. But there also seem to be lot of exceptions to the general rule. I hope that is the case, because few neighborhoods consisting of single-family homes and townhouses would be able to meet the thousand-home standard. History certainly argues that corner stores serving neighborhoods with somewhat fewer homes within walking distance were once common. The reasons why that was so, and then became no longer so, seem highly relevant to whether and to what extent small, neighborhood-based retail might again find a successful home in Washington.
The Green Area Ratio requirement (illustrative presentation here), which would apply to larger buildings, is not described in great detail in Alpert’s article, but it is an intriguing concept. The idea is that a certain percentage of the lot size (including rooftops) would have to have green cover, according to a point system. Regular readers know that I am a big proponent of green infrastructure, but I do worry about the proper balance between the benefits of green stormwater management, which can favor smaller building footprints, and the benefits of density and walkability, which tend to favor larger ones. It’s an issue that the environmental community sometimes struggles with and, although I think we are getting closer, isn’t fully settled. My guess is that the D.C. planning office is well aware of the issues involved and has tried to develop a sophisticated balance accordingly. I look forward to taking a close look at that section.