The District of Columbia’s Comprehensive Plan is the city’s long-term framework for land use. The Comp Plan guides the physical development of the city by managing the built environment, which includes everything from roads, sewers, and sidewalks to apartment buildings, parks, and schools. It also establishes goals, policies, and action items to manage growth in the District, including both citywide and neighborhood-specific sections. It is updated every several years to reflect the changing realities of the city.
The DC Office of Planning is currently updating the Comprehensive Plan, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth has proposed a series of amendments designed to further our vision for an inclusive, walkable, and transit-oriented city. See below to learn more.
Where We Are Now
On June 23, 2017, the DC Office of Planning (DCOP) recently completed an Open Call for proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. DCOP is now evaluating all proposals submitted by the public. In Fall 2017, DCOP will release a Draft Amendment Report for public comment along with its evaluation of which amendments to advance. In early 2018 the DC Council will review the amended plan and vote on a final version.
We need your support for our amendments to the Comprehensive Plan! The Office of Planning will open a period of public comment in Fall 2017, and we strongly encourage smart growth advocates to make their voices heard during this phase of the process.
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Summary of Amendments
The Coalition for Smart Growth is participating in the Open Call process in two ways. First, we are part of the DC Housing Priorities Coalition, which has proposed a series of amendments to sections of the Comprehensive Plan that address citywide land use, housing, and economic development policy. Second, we have reviewed neighborhood-specific sections of the Comprehensive Plan and proposed a series of amendments that center on the following principles:
1. Smart Growth – Updating environmental policy in the District so that, in addition to conserving natural resources and promoting green building techniques, the plan directs growth in the city to create walkable and transit-accessible urban places as a sustainability strategy. Smart growth helps reduce automobile-related air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.
2. New Housing Opportunities – Creating a more inclusive city and addressing the citywide housing affordability crisis by encouraging appropriate increases in the housing supply—especially through the preservation and creation of affordable units—in order to better address rising demand.
3. Better Transportation Choices and Parking Management – Reducing oversupply of parking in the city and encouraging better use of transportation demand management (TDM), dynamic parking systems, and improved walking, biking, and transit options.
What’s at Stake: An Inclusive, Sustainable City
Why does the Comprehensive Plan matter? As DC’s guiding document on land use, it determines how the city will respond over the next decade to our two most important challenges: the housing affordability crisis and global climate change.
Inclusive: The Housing Affordability Crisis
The phenomenon of rising rents—and increasing cost burdens for low-income DC residents—has been well-documented over the last several years. As the city’s population continues to grow, increased demand has led to higher rents and concern that longtime residents are being displaced.
Our amendments aim to address this crisis by promoting new housing production in order to better meet demand. In particular, we support policies to preserve and create affordable units, including in areas of the city that provide greater access to opportunity.
One of the priorities of our amendments is to ensure an equitable distribution of both market-rate and affordable housing production across the city. The map below shows affordable housing completed and under construction from 2015-2017:
For example, since 2015 only 0.6% of the city’s new affordable housing units have been west of Rock Creek Park, the area of the city with the top performing public schools and the highest median household income ($112,873). Of these affordable units, all have been built through the city’s Inclusionary Zoning program, which requires new housing developments to set aside a certain percentage of units for low-income residents in exchange for allowing additional market rate units to offset the loss of revenue. Without new market rate residential development west of Rock Creek Park, there will not be opportunities to utilize inclusionary zoning, which means that few (if any) affordable homes are likely to be built.
Our amendments encourage policy changes to facilitate such development in order to address the housing affordability crisis and improve access to neighborhoods that provide a wealth of economic opportunities for residents.
Sustainable: Global Climate Change
As the threat of climate change becomes more acute, cities are increasingly charting their own path forward in designing solutions to reduce emissions. In 2013, the D.C. Council approved the Sustainable DC plan, which commits the District to a series of actions including reducing vehicle use; promoting public transit, walking, and bicycling; and encouraging higher density mixed use housing development. On June 5, 2017, following the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Mayor Bowser signed Mayor’s Order 2017-142, which affirmed the District of Columbia’s continued participation in the accord and highlighted a renewed commitment to full execution of the Sustainable DC plan.
Our amendments to the Comprehensive Plan emphasize the need to update the document to comply with Sustainable DC. In particular, we focused on Sustainable DC’s targets for the Built Environment and Transportation, which include:
- Increasing density to accommodate future population growth within Greater Washington’s existing urban areas
- Locating new affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods
- Increasing use of public transit to 50% of all commuter trips
- Increasing biking and walking to 25% of all commuter trips
- Reducing car and taxi to 25% of all commuter trips
Without embracing smart growth principles, providing better transportation choices and managing parking supply, the District will not meet its sustainability goals and will thus fall short in its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. By integrating these concepts into the Comprehensive Plan, we will make it possible for DC to grow in a more sustainable way that keeps the city thriving for future generations.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth worked with the following partners in submitting amendments to the Comprehensive Plan:
We’ve sent these email action alerts to our subscribers about the DC Comprehensive Plan update. They’re an excellent way to get up-to-speed on the issue quickly!