City Paper Widget

Friday, September 26, 2014

No Parking for 132 Microunits at 90-91 Blagden Alley: "This Is Wishful Thinking"

CORRECTION: When first published, this article did not specify the date of the meeting. Apologies.

On September 24, committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2F/Logan Circle told developer SB-Urban, supported by parking consultants Wells & Associates, that it could not endorse its plan for absolutely no parking or loading area for its proposed 132-microunit residential building at 90-91 Blagden Alley NW. The parking issue was tabled until the next scheduled meeting of ANC2F's Community Development Committee (CDC) in late October.

Proposed view from across M Street, from BZA files
The developers sought ANC endorsement for a handful of zoning variances and special exceptions (see pages 4 and 6, respectively, of document here for definitions) that it wants from DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). The cold comfort for the developers was that the CDC approved all of the requests apart from the parking. For example, the CDC did not object to the proposed roof structures (one is a five-foot-tall elevator overrun, set back 10 feet from the edge of the building), or the lot occupancy (the proposed footprint of the building will take up 89% of the property, whereas zoning allows 75%).

According to information on PropertyQuest, 90-91 Blagden Alley is zoned category C-2-A. Under current zoning regulations, there must be at least one parking space for each two dwelling units, or 66 spaces.

The argument for no parking spaces

SB-Urban's argument was that they could only fit eight parking spaces on the property, and to do so would require putting a ramp in a historic building. The presenters said their target demographic was car-free young professionals. There is a metro stop, a Circulator bus route, several conventional bus routes, 19 car share spaces, and two bike share stations, all within a quarter-mile of the building.

SB-Urban's representative also said they would offer a series of amenities to encourage bike use, including 42 spaces of bike parking, a "real time transportation board" (which would show, among other things, availability at nearby bikeshare stations), a maintenance space for bikes in the basement, a complimentary Capital Bikeshare membership for new arrivals, and ten helmets on hand for residents to borrow.

SB-Urban presented a very similar package of bike-friendly amenities to ANC 2B/Dupont Circle in March when they convinced the ANC to endorse a car-free micro-apartment concept for the Patterson Mansion (15 Dupont Circle) -- see SALM blog post of March 18.

The push back

The committee raised many objections. A committee member said expecting every inhabitant of 132 units to be car-free was unrealistic. Even a small number of tenants with cars would put an additional burden on an area with insufficient parking.

"Even if only 10 percent have cars, that's another 13 cars," said committee member Joel Heisey.

"There's got to be some other way than zero," Heisey said.

"We can't guarantee that zero percent of the people will have cars," a presenter said.

CDC Committee Chair Walt Cain (Commissioner for district 02) brought up "the loading question". There is no loading dock in the proposal, and no place for delivery trucks to park legally.

Presenters said all of the units would be furnished, so tenants would not arrive with truckloads of furniture to be unloaded.

Committee members and residents pointed out that the type of people who live in micro-units are also likely to shop on-line, meaning UPS and Fedex trucks visiting frequently, as well as deliveries of food from services like Peapod. One of the presenters said tenants wouldn't order food online because there was a newish Giant grocery store nearby. Members of the audience begged to differ.

"There's not even a place for a trash truck," a committee member said.

"Where is the trash going to be?" another committee member asked.

"On the sidewalk," the presenters replied.

There was an audible gasp from some members of the audience at this assertion. The discussion continued over the practical upshot of garbage from 132 units, however small, being picked up curbside on M Street. The presenters said garbage could be taken out to the curb and away in five minutes. Listeners were skeptical.

"This is wishful thinking," one resident said of the proposal.

The consensus seemed to be that there needed to be some parking for deliveries and loading, at the very least. The alternative, Commissioner Cain said, was an outright rejection of the request by the committee.

The presenters agreed to return with a revised proposal at the next CDC meeting, scheduled for October 29, 7pm, at the Washington Plaza Hotel (10 Thomas Circle). Normally, if the CDC endorses a proposal, it is considered by the full ANC at its next meeting, which in this case would be on the evening of November 5.

SB-Urban has a BZA hearing scheduled for the morning of November 5, i.e., before the ANC meeting. So the presenters asked if the ANC could agree at its October meeting to take the extraordinary step in this case of granting the CDC power to endorse a zoning request without full ANC consideration. Cain said he would try to work some arrangement out with the full ANC. 

The vote to endorse zoning relief requests except the special exception for parking passed the committee unanimously.

Ninety and 91 Blagden Alley are actually two unconnected properties, one of them (90) fronting on M Street, the other facing the Washington Convention Center across 9th Street. The proposal joins them by an elevated pedestrian bridge over Blagden Alley. They are being considered by the BZA as a single property.

This proposal was previously heard by the CDC in March when SB-Urban sought endorsement for an application to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) -- see coverage by the blogs Urban Turf and District Source. It received an unfavorable review from HPRB staff in July before receiving approval by a 4-3 vote by the full Board, according to District Source.

The documents pertaining to the application for zoning relief, including detailed plans and drawings of the project plus a 47-page transportation study, can be viewed by going to the BZA's Interactive Zoning Information System and entering case number 18852 in the search bar.

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