Few Places Left for Industrial Business

Destin St. Charles, owner of D.S.C. Auto Repair in Northeast, has moved his shop before, from Ninth Street NW to make room for the new convention center.
Destin St. Charles, owner of D.S.C. Auto Repair in Northeast, has moved his shop before, from Ninth Street NW to make room for the new convention center. (Photos By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006

Finding space in the District to do dirty jobs is getting harder and harder these days.

The boom in office, housing and retail development that started in the late 1990s has pushed developers to pay ever-higher prices for land where used-car lots, tire shops and cement plants once were, according to a study by the District's Office of Planning.

That's leaving a shortage of space for light industrial work as land is rezoned for development that produces higher rents.

The industrial sites provide the kind of necessary but unglamorous services needed to run a city, including places to park Metrobuses, sort and recycle trash, repair cars, and sell auto parts.

"This place is gone," Destin St. Charles said, wrench in hand, as he repaired a car at his shop near New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE, where development is encroaching. "That's it. There's no space in D.C. for businesses like us."

The study identified 2,390 industrially zoned acres in various areas of the District, including neighborhoods along Metro's Red Line near the Rhode Island Avenue, Fort Totten, Brookland and Takoma stops; the area north of Union Station known as NoMa; New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE; and near the site of the new baseball stadium in Southeast.

City planners say land values around the new stadium, for example, have spiked from $6 a square foot for industrial property to as much as $50 a foot and in some cases around $100.

The study found that only 5 percent of the District's 43,850 acres is zoned for industrial-type uses. San Francisco, a city of comparable size and one that has a sizable white-collar economy much like the District's, has 13 percent of its land in industrial use, the Office of Planning said.

"We've lost many square feet over the last five to 10 years to economic development," said Ellen M. McCarthy, director of the Office of Planning.

About 450 acres of industrially zoned land are facing development pressures or have already been redeveloped for new, more upscale buildings. That includes the rezoning of 242 acres around the new baseball stadium near the Anacostia River. And little new land is being zoned for industrial uses.

District agencies and the private sector are expected to need about 100 acres of industrial-type land in the coming years, according to the study. But some developers say that there is decreasing demand for such space in the District and that businesses are instead expanding such operations in the suburbs.

Planners suggest adjusting zoning laws to make some areas strictly industrial or having office, retail and industrial businesses co-exist in some areas. Some of the recommendations are expected to be incorporated in the District's comprehensive plan, which is being revised.

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