Monday, June 21, 2010

Downtown Parking Lots

This morning, NPR reported on a proposed change to Baltimore's zoning code that will give a thumbs-up for downtown parks and a thumbs-down for surface parking lots (listen here).  "If we have to tear buildings down to plan for future development lets turn them into temporary green spaces at the very least," said Kirby Fowler, who heads the Downtown Business Partnership in our neighboring city.

We've been through this issue many times in the District.  In my own personal experience, there was the Old Convention Center lot, where the philosophy was that parking fees would offset the costs of demolishing the massive structure.  The parking lot use, in the center of downtown, was supposed to last 3-4 years.  Then the recession and credit crunch hit. It's now nearly a decade.

Last year, there was a heated debate over use of the lot behind the Bundy School on the 400 Block of O/P Sreets NW.  Although the parcel and lot were slated for residential and recreational use in the Districts's 2006 Comprehensive Plan, the city leased the building to Safe Shores, a nonprofit/quasi-governmental agency.  The District planned to use the land directly behind the old school building for about 100 dedicated parking spaces for employees, government agency officials, and clients.  Possibly because of the controversy, the northern portion of the lot, which is federal property, was ultimately not transfered to the District and remains vacant.

The most recent controversy occurred at 5th and I Streets NW, where the District transformed a grassy vacant lot into a paved surface parking lot after a development project on city land stalled.  Mount Vernon Triangle residents, in an area whose unofficial motto is "we're not just parking lots anymore," predictably and understandably exploded.  It''s a matter that got attention in Sunday's Post as a potential issue that could affect the area's new voters in the Mayoral race.  We are now in the process of introducing temporary urbanism to the site, developing plans for a summer outdoor film series and Sunday market on the lot.

What has the District learned from these experiences?  Are changes to the zoning code needed to address surface parking lots?

No comments: