Is Private Parking a Public Amenity?
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