Housing Complex

Is Private Parking a Public Amenity?

Soon to be a parking lot?

Soon to be a parking lot?

Cue Joni Mitchell: The Wylie Street Community Garden, just off H Street NE, could soon be paved over to put up a parking lot. The District Source reports that the developers of a planned condo building at the former R.L. Christian Library at 1300 H St. NE are considering converting the garden into five surface parking spaces to address community concerns about parking, after plans for underground parking ran into environmental issues.

This isn't the standard issue of zoning requiring more parking spaces than a developer wants to provide. Instead, the neighbors pressed for more parking spaces as part of the development, for fear of new residents parking on the street and making spaces scarce.

"The community wanted more parking," says Ben Miller of Rise Development, one of the two developers behind the project. "We want to give them as much parking as we can."

But faced with a potential choice between that additional parking and the preservation of a community garden, will neighbors still consider the private parking spaces to be the greater public amenity? Miller says it depends who you ask. "One community member says one thing, another says the opposite," he says.

Sometime very soon, D.C.'s first streetcar line in more than 50 years will begin running on H Street, directly in front of the property in question. The developers could theoretically reduce the number of parking spaces, market the building to transit users rather than drivers, and solve the problem. But Miller says that since the city is the current owner of the former library and wants to get as much money as possible in the sale, it won't be possible to cut parking spaces and thereby likely reduce the price of the condos.

"The city is the seller," MIller says. "The city owns the land and wants top dollar. When the government sells property, they want to get as much value back to the public, and that would definitely have some market effect on the units."

Of course, not building so many parking spaces would save the developers considerable money on the front end, theoretically allowing them to pay more for the property, or at least mitigating whatever reduction in condo prices would result from the lack of parking. But that's beside the point. Since it's the community pushing for parking, the question is what the community gains from that parking, compared to what it loses if the garden disappears. I'd argue that the answer is: not that much. More parking means more traffic; it means a surface parking lot in a dense, vibrant neighborhood; and it means new residents who are more inclined to get around by car than to take advantage of the new streetcar.

Granted, the garden probably wouldn't remain forever either. It's owned by the H Street Community Development Corporation, Rise's partner in the project, and Miller says, "I assume that someday they’ll develop it." If that happens, of course, the condo project would again have to scramble for more parking spaces, unless the new development is able to provide parking for the condo building. Regardless, in the short run at least, H Street-area residents have a choice as they make their case to the developers: Is the potential removal of five cars from street parking worth the loss of a community garden? It'll be interesting to see what they say.

Update: Miller follows up to say that the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development took issue with the notion that the city is seeking "top dollar." He clarifies that a development on public land differs from one on private land because the financial impact is felt by the taxpayer. "They’re not being mercenary about this," he says. "They’re being a good partner."

Image via Google Earth

  • bk

    Well played. If I were a developer who had to look like I cared about the concerns of car-owning residents, but wanted to minimize the odds that I would actually have to set up more parking spots, this is what I'd do.

  • http://widness.blogspot.com BW

    Part of the problem is D.C. issues too many residential permits at too low of a price point. When I lived in Glover Park a decade ago, we didn't expect to be able to park right in front of our houses. We were were lucky to find a spot within three blocks. That's how it should be in a dense neighborhood.

  • Paige Byrne

    We have limited parking, but also bikes, trolley & bus options, so maybe the condo people will opt for that like we do with one car and house on Wylie.
    Please leave the space green. We can work together on keeping plots in better condition by starting a fee to be a plot keeper. A lower and better looking fence would be great. Could we meet about this in a public place rather than email & respond to articles? I could be wrong, but have a feeling the green space would be preferred over a few parking spaces. I manage the waiting list that is longer than number of plots. The garden could be so beautiful by partnering. Paige and Geoff Byrne

  • Corky

    What is it with you morons who think that you can add more residents to a neighborhood and NOT add additional parking? Stop living in fantasy land. People in the US own cars. Even in DC. They are not illegal and they are not evil. In fact, they are NECESSARY. Even if the residents of the building don't all own cars, their visitors do. Their contractors have to park. And the trollwy is reducing parking even more. You can't add more people and not account for the presence of cars. Get over it.

  • realist

    "In fact, they are NECESSARY."

    Parking isn't "necessary". In fact, there are billions of people on Earth who don't even own a car, let alone a dedicate parking space. Stop the madness.

  • Corky

    Yeah, realist, why doesn't everyone just hitch up their Camels and go to the bazaar? Billions of people don't have toilet paper either, but what does that have to do with DC? I'm talking about the United States in the 21st century, not some Third World stinkhole that doesn't even have paved roads. Talk about false equivalents!

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  • Lucy

    I disagree with the writer's assertion that the developer would save more money if they did not have to create parking. Underground parking is expensive. A surface lot like this is super cheap to build. And they will sell the spots to the condo owners for ....$10k - $15k maybe more? They end up WAY ahead.

  • Payton Chung

    Since HSCDC will retain the lot, the spaces can't be sold to condo owners, they can only be rented.

    I've never found a car to be "NECESSARY," just like more than one-third of my neighbors in Ward 6. If I wanted to have a car, I can rent a space for it somewhere. If someone wants to drive in and visit, they pay for metered parking, just like visitors to the shops downstairs. Nobody is guaranteed parking right at their destination, just like nobody is guaranteed a chocolate bar at their destination (even though food, unlike a car, is quite NECESSARY). Why is this so difficult to comprehend?

  • DC Guy

    I would argue that owning a car, or a right to a street or lot parking space are not necessary. Innovation has made car sharing a common form of transportation. If you are going somewhere that isn't served by an alternative, renting has, for many decades, been a viable alternative.

    The money saved can be used to buy a house or travel or have a $5 cup of Joe every morning.

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  • danmac

    The city always wants top dollar unless they are giving the property to a church for one dollar and a tax exemption for 15 years as in the Bible Way Church which was given property on 4th & K St NW

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  • realist

    @Corky

    Earth to Corky: You don't need a car, so you don't need parking. Billions of people get along just fine without a car, you can too. Every self-entitled driver whining about parking just reinforces my decision to oppose additional parking anywhere. If you can't live without a car, kill yourself.

    And for that deplorable camel comment, I presume you are also a racist. Definitely kill yourself.

  • Alan

    LOL Corky did our friends at AAA send you or are you just too out of shape to walk a couple of blocks?

  • Corky

    You guys are idiots who obviously pay too much rent and can't afford a car. I'm not with AAA--I'm a tax paying car owner and home owner in this town and despite what you smug bike riding turds think, we actually have rights too. AND WE VOTE!!

  • Tiny Tim

    You think you have the right to free parking but new residents don't. Maybe that's the way it should be, but that's what you're asserting so be up front about it.

  • Lane

    Corky - do you own a deeded parking space that you paid market value for? I ask because I have found most pro-parking enthusiasts in DC are just lobbyists for using up public space (the streets) for free or nearly-free parking to subsidize their lifestyle choices. Those people do not have "rights" to free or subsidized parking. They just have a system tilted grossly in their favor, and they are desparate not to give it up and pay the real price of their car-driving lifestyle.

  • Lane

    P.S. I am a "tax paying car owner and home owner in this town" as well so let's skip the name calling.

  • Arlene Montemarano

    Would the developers et al perhaps be interested in making a two level parking area, with the upper level devoted to raised bed gardening for the community?

  • Max B

    Easy, Corky, you're getting a little excited. Don't blow a gasket. The AAA road side service guy will be there in a bit. Tranquilo.

  • Ampersand

    A note I don't think they put into the story - they aren't allowed to do underground parking here because the site is contaminated "from drycleaners, a gas station, and a coal plant that all sat on or bordered the site at one time". The original proposal included 17 units of underground parking but when that was nixed they had to scramble to figure something out. Thus paving over the garden to put up a parking lot.

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