- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Washington’s commercial and residential property development would be more concentrated around downtown transit stations under a plan proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams that was considered this week at a public hearing before the D.C. Council.

The 20-year plan seeks to avoid the urban sprawl that has turned cities like Los Angeles into a series of mini-communities connected by roadways.

Instead, it would use zoning restrictions and public projects to control development in a way that better coordinates expansion of business centers, an arts district and residential areas. It also seeks to reduce traffic congestion and the need for automobile travel by focusing high-rise and other high-density projects into “pedestrian-friendly” developments.

First, it must overcome opposition from neighborhood groups concerned about having their front yards dug up by earthmovers. Some of the approximately 90 witnesses who testified this week at a D.C. Council meeting said the planned expansion of George Washington University and construction of large mixed-use projects, such as along Wisconsin Avenue, could force homeowners to move.

“Key to the comprehensive plan is the transformation of the city’s core into a more cohesive urban center,” the “land-use element” of the comprehensive plan says. “As the urban core expands, reinvestment in established business districts such as the Golden Triangle, the Downtown Core and the Near Southwest also must continue.”

Members of the business community generally supported the plan’s land-use proposals.

“The idea is to have appropriate growth, measured growth,” said Charles Barber, president of the D.C. Building Industry Association. “Metro stations are the kinds of places where you would want that growth.”

If there’s a failing with the idea, Mr. Barber said it is that the proposals are centered too much on commercial zones around downtown Metro stations but not enough on other areas for mixed uses, which would combine residences, retail and offices.

Commercial property makes up 5 percent of the city’s land area and industrial use is only 1 percent, according to city planners who wrote the Comprehensive Plan.

Making better use of Metro, pedestrian-friendly projects and bike paths could increase commercial development without causing congestion, they say.

“While many of the District’s 40 Metrorail stations epitomized the concept of a ‘transit village’ with pedestrian-oriented commercial and residential development of varying scales, others do not,” the plan says. “Some stations continue to be surrounded by large surface parking lots and auto-oriented commercial land uses.”

It says land around the District’s 15 downtown Metrorail stations and 25 neighborhood stations should be managed by:

• “A preference for mixed residential and commercial uses rather than single-purpose uses” such as housing

• “A priority on attractive, pedestrian-friendly design and a de-emphasis on auto-oriented uses and surface parking

• “A ‘stepping down’ of densities with distance away from each station, protecting lower-density uses in the vicinity”

The plan also suggests “infill” of the District’s more than 400 acres of vacant lots by encouraging development in them.

• Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Contact Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail [email protected]

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