Why Change the Zoning Ordinance?
The current Zoning Ordinance of the District of Columbia was approved in 1958. The only major city in the U.S. with an older zoning ordinance is Philadelphia.
Many of the problems with the current regulations are those that you would expect from a 50 year old document. Outdated terms like “telegraph office” and “tenement house” still reside in our regulations, concepts like parking standards and antenna regulations are based on 1950s technology, and sustainable development had not even been envisioned. For several years, the District has seen a steady increase in the number of text and map amendments presented to the Commission. New overlay requests, zoning consistency actions, and changes to the text are increasingly common.
The countless amendments to the ordinance over the last half century have served to keep the regulations relevant. However, piling amendment on top of amendment over the years has problems of its own. Even the simplest of text amendments have become extremely complicated as 50 years of changes have made it very difficult to cross-reference interwoven sections and prevent unintended consequences.
All of these issues have led to the recognition that an overhaul is needed. The mayor made the kickoff of this process one of his first year initiatives. Just like the last time the regulations were updated, the Council has approved a new Comprehensive Plan that calls for “substantial revision and reorganization, ranging from new definitions to updated development and design standards, and even new zones.” The Office of Planning has committed to undertake this effort and is leading the public review of our zoning regulations.