For almost a year, the D.C. Zoning Commission has heard arguments about the future of the east-end area of Washington's downtown. The commission has undertaken this task to avoid a repetition of the bland, massive K Street-type development that occurred on the west side of the city's downtown.
Tomorrow the commission will give final shape to tentative guidelines it set three months ago. These guidelines, while allowing substantial commercial development in the area, also will require arts uses, retail development and historic preservation. Continued residential zoning also is provided for under the guidelines, primarily where it has previously existed north of Massachusetts Avenue in southern Shaw, on the avenue itself and along 7th Street through Chinatown and connecting with the new Pennsylvania Avenue Quarter residences. This mix of uses -- commercial, retail, arts and residential -- is intended to help re-create what was once a lively and active part of the city.
Recognizing the need for more affordable housing development throughout the city, the zoning commission took the unprecedented step of allowing developers to buy out 30 percent of the residential zoning requirements for any particular site downtown and instead make a contribution of funds that can be used for affordable housing anywhere in the city.
By doing this, developers would be able to replace the 30 percent of residential space downtown with commercial space. The commission took this action in recognition of the need for using downtown development to assist other neighborhoods; this provision would, as the area is redeveloped, mean more than $150 million for the production of affordable housing.
The Zoning Commission has acted prudently in accepting arts, retail and historic preservation guidelines while moving to provide substantial funding for housing. It also has acted judiciously in allowing the development of a critical number of residential units downtown.
If it adheres to its guidelines, we will have a downtown worthy of a nation's capital -- a place where tourists can enjoy history and be entertained, where commerce and business can flourish, where arts and retail uses are vibrant attractions and where residents are plentiful enough to make the word neighborhood meaningful.
Such a downtown will be an economic engine to support the region while generating millions for affordable housing in other neighborhoods. The zoning commission should stick to its guidelines and provide a good future for the city as a whole.
is a member of the Coalition for a Living Downtown.