Housing Complex

Scottish Rite Temple Doesn’t Need Extra Parking (Updated)

Update 6/24: After this post was published, several of you commented that it seemed unlikely that a modest renovation would trigger new zoning requirements. I attempted to get in touch with the architect, but she did not return my calls or emails. Meanwhile, the architect apparently saw your comments: According to Borderstan, the architect responded to comments here and on Greater Greater Washington by re-examining whether a zoning variance was actually necessary, and determined that it was not. So while the parking requirements in the zoning code are still causing problems around the city, in this case they don't appear to be.

Update 6/25: The Scottish Rite Temple's Barbara Golden confirms that no variance is needed. "We don’t need a variance for any kind of parking," Golden says. "Our renovations are to upgrade the building." Those renovations include adding a handicapped entrance, upgrading plumbing and electrical, and bring air conditioning to a few of the main rooms. The building was completed in 1915, well before the 1958 zoning code took effect. The architects, Golden says, were initially looking into whether a variance was needed, but have since determined that it is not.

As if we needed more evidence that D.C.'s antiquated minimum parking requirements—soon to be scaled back as part of the rewrite of the zoning code—often do no one any favors, here's another good one for the file, from Borderstan:

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC)2B/Dupont modified a resolution last week in hopes of protecting the green space facing 15th Street NW behind the Scottish Rite Temple (1733 16th Street). The modification was part of a larger resolution to endorse the general facelift for the 97-year-old building and its surrounding grounds. ... The Scottish Rite Temple reportedly supports preserving the green space as well. However, DC zoning requirements specify that a building of the Scottish Rite Temple’s size have more than 100 parking spaces available.

Currently, there are less than 50 spaces, which are used by the Temple’s permanent staff. In order to satisfy the parking requirement, the Temple would have to pave over its entire property to the street. It does not wish to do so. On the occasions when the Temple is full to near-capacity, it uses shuttle buses from nearby hotels and other locations to ferry participants to the site.

To preserve its green space, the Temple will require a zoning variance.

In other words, the neighborhood wants to preserve the green space, and the property owner wants to preserve the green space, and there's no one really arguing against preserving the green space, but by law, the temple isn't allowed to preserve the green space—unless it goes through the lengthy, difficult, and expensive process of obtaining a zoning variance. In this case, the architect has now reportedly determined, the law won't get in the way of that. But in other cases, it's still not doing anyone any favors.

Image from Google Maps

  • Will

    I second what the memory foam mattress guy said, great comment.

  • Actually

    This doesn't make sense. Unless the Scottish Temple is building a brand new building on the green space, why would it have to do anything related to zoning?

  • Mike

    Unless the "general facelift" will be making changes that increase the intensity of use of the building by at least 25 percent, the zoning regulations do not require any additional off-street parking spaces. See Section 2100.7 of the Zoning Regulations.

    And if they were to increase the intensity of use by 25 percent, they would only be required to provide additional parking for that increase in intensity (and would not be required to provide the entire amount that would be required for a new building today). Section 2100.6. In addition, there are provisions where they can provide those spaces nearby, off-site, or seek a reduction in the requirement, as a special exception. A variance is not required.

    Would it be possible to provide a link to the ANC resolution and the relevant zoning case?

    Familiarity with the current zoning regulations would be useful when writing about zoning and the zoning rewrite.

  • David McAuley

    I am the writer of the original Borderstan article.

    The project architect has investigated further and determined that a zoning variance is not necessary. Borderstan has posted an update at the top of the original article.

    Thanks to those who know about zoning and took time out to comment.

  • Mike

    Two links were provided to support the claim that parking requirements in the zoning code are causing problems around the city. Neither link provides a single example of a problem caused by the parking requirements.

    One link describes a theater owner who had rented off-site, off-street parking to meet the minimum parking requirement, but began construction without first getting a building permit and failed to file in a timely manner an application with the BZA for the off-site parking. The result was a Stop Work Order and a delay in construction. There was no issue with the parking regulations as the zoning regulations include a process for providing the required parking off-site and a process for waiving some or all of the requirements.

    The other link describes a PUD, in which the developer was proposing a project 50% larger than the previously approved PUD (the previous PUD being quickly approved as it was supported by the ANC and the neighborhood groups). As part of the new PUD application, the developer requested a waiver of the minimum parking requirement of one space for every two apartments plus parking for the retail businesses. There was opposition to this application, but it was approved by the Zoning Commission. The parking regulations did not affect the timing of the approval or the parameters of the project.

    To support the claim that the parking requirements are causing problems around the city, you need examples that will hold up to scrutiny, and you need more than two. You have not provided any examples that hold up to scrutiny.

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  • Lance

    They say that those who don't know their history are bound to repeat it. Washington went through a general decline following the Second World War owing in no small part to its inability to accomodate the car driven lifestyle (no pun intended) which Americans (and others around the world) have enjoyed as part of modern life since the days of Henry Ford. Washington countered this competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis its suburbs by mandating that 'some' parking (not a lot, but 'some') accompany all new construction where practical. It's only because of this requirement that we're now back on the map as a desirable place to live in the DC Metro area. It's only because 'some' of us can park when at home or out shopping that we can compete with the greater Washington area where just about everyone is parking everywhere all the time. Our parking mimiums are such that they are really minimal ... Something like 1 space for every 4 apartments in new construction, for example. They're not excessive and not causing problems. On the contrary, they're allowing us to retain a diversity of residents which keeps us on par with the rest of the metro area where EVERYONE can park and drive where they want, when they want, with ease. To do away with this most minimum of standards is to do away with the ability of those few who are dependent on cars to be able to live in this city. It's to say goodbye to the retiree who can no longer walk well but has called this place home for years if not decades. It's to say goodbye to young families who can't afford (or maybe locate) the parking they need to manage with young kids. It's to say goodbye to that affluent GenX group who won't part with their rides. It's reduce the diversity which makes a good and full economy, welcoming of all. Parking minimums don't do anything bad, it's people who don't understand that not everyone is just like them that do.

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