Rejuvenation of commercial construction projects in neighborhoods that border Shaw, Capitol Hill, Friendship Heights, Chinatown and Adams Morgan threatens to displace many of the people whom the development boom should help. Already gone are the residential neighborhoods around 19th and L streets NW; 2nd Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW; and 6th and I streets NW, all of which have yielded to commercial offices and retail uses that have benefited the city in many respects.
But as the demand for commercial and retail uses begins to exceed the downtown supply of commercially zoned land, interest rises in adjacent, traditionally residential areas. It's time for our public and private institutions to intensify discussions of ways to integrate commercial growth with established and acceptable life styles.
Some cities have programs that tie development in downtown commercial areas to the production and protection of housing in other parts of the city. San Francisco's Office Housing Produc 1981, is a prime example. It requires developers of office buildings with 50,000 square feet or more to earn "housing credits" by constructing residential units or by contributing to a fund for such development by others. The city negotiates the "credits" with developers on a project-by-project basis.
So far, the program has contributed to the production or preservation of about 2,640 residential units. Nearly all of these, according to the Urban Land Institute's Development Review and Outlook 1984-1985, "were produced through developer subsidies to housing rehabilitation projects . . . or to affordable housing programs." A commentary in Land Use Law in October 1983 noted that it is "clear that OHPP has created affordable housing that would not exist without it."
A similar linkage program was enacted in Boston in 1983. It established a standard charge on all office projects of more than 100,000 square feet that require zoning action to be paid into a housing trust fund over a 12-year period.
Such programs are not free of controversy, however. Developers resent feeling "coerced" into helping to address social concerns; and they suggest that preservation and improvement of neighborhoods -- and their populations -- are government, not private, responsibilities. These programs also have been criticized as being too limited to generate significant housing money and as possibly causing more harm than good by driving development away from the city entirely. As a result, several cities have considered and rejected such programs, opting instead for a series of zoning incentives and bonuses for developers in return for housing and other benefits.
In the District, there have been moderate efforts to create some such program, including the addition to the zoning regulations of a rescentive zone. But this has not produced any housing. And other programs have been rejected. Still, this doesn't mean that the idea is inherently unworkable; it means that other innovative incentives must be developed.
In a recent zoning application, one developer offered to restore residential units in another neighborhood as an "amenity" to a Connecticut Avenue commercial development. A zoning comxt month. Another developer is considering donating $500,000 to the city government for housing as part of a package that would include higher commercial densities.
There are other opportunities that can be taken. Programs should include the linking of housing and development with density bonuses and/or renovation of moderate income housing and other imaginative programs. Developers in the Shaw/14th and U streets neighborhood and in Chinatown have come up with new comcial/retail residential projects that not only have attracted the support of but also promise to be financially rewarding to the investors.
Governmental coercion cannot be a useful long-term device for maintaining a balanced development program. Government can, however, create and dispense incentives to encourage public/private partnerships. Better that our future in-town residential neighborhoods be the focus of planners' ingenuity than of a wrecker's ball.