Zoning isn’t sexy. It’s complex, mundane, and (for the most part) inaccessible to the average citizen. But it affects us all, good and bad, by shaping the urban environment we live in each and every day. And here in DC, we’re in the midst of perhaps the most exciting time for zoning this century (at least, as exciting as it gets). Bear with us, because creating a more progressive District requires your help:
The District of Columbia has been rewriting its very-outdated zoning regulations (last updated when Eisenhower was president) over the past few years, and we at Boneyard Studios have been ardent supporters of the project since our founding. In tours and testimony, to press and patrons, we’ve spoken of the need for our cities to do more to support affordable, reasonable residences. And for the most part, it’s been working.
What will the rewrite do? The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a great write-up here. For one, it’ll loosen up unnecessary and expensive and space-inefficient parking minimums around new developments. It’ll also relax the ban on corner stores, allowing for more walkable, community-minded neighborhoods throughout the District. And most closely to our hearts, it’ll take one (small) step forward in permitting more affordable and space-conscious dwellings like accessory dwelling units, carriage houses, and habitable basements.
What will it do for even tinier houses? Little, if anything. Tiny houses aren’t illegal in the District of Columbia, and though those choosing to reside in them aren’t given the same rights as those living in larger-footprint homes (like tax benefits or a certificate of occupancy), neither DC’s current code nor the rewrite would criminalize where one chooses to spend their days or evenings with permission of the landowner. It would establish and protect, as a matter or right, “camping” of an alley lot owner in a structure on her own land, yet prohibit open fires or camping for more than one month per year—odd, as these are already protected as a matter of right for any landowner in the District (pursuant to the fire code, of course). It would also grant, as a matter of right, the construction of code-compliant foundation-built small houses in alleyways (ignoring tiny houses on wheels, as they’re considered travel trailers under zoning regulations).
But it’s not all perfect. Deeper in, Subtitle U/601.1(a) vaguely criminalizes homelessness by prohibiting sleeping or loitering on vacant property (yet still allows camping as a matter of right when the property owner is in the loop). And /601.1(c) sets some oddly specific parameters around truly residential use in alley lots—not a problem for Boneyard Studios’ more mobile tiny houses on wheels (both of which are currently on private non-alley property with the owners’ permission), but still a tad restrictive for our liking. Certainly the changes are better than the initial rewrite revisions, but for others looking to cultivate creative urban infill in our great city, they may be a bit too cumbersome. In other words: this doesn’t directly impact Boneyard Studios, but it may directly impact you.
And truth be told, it’ll indirectly impact us all. DC’s alleyways are its hidden gem, its flowing capillaries, and we at Boneyard Studios want to see more of them put to good use. We’re for safe, sustainable development, and we’re happy to see some really great changes to DC’s zoning taking place. If you’re a DC resident, we don’t want to tell you what to think, but we do want to urge you what to think about. Take a look for yourself at Subtitle U and whatever other bits of the regulations review is dearest to your heart, and drop a comment in the sidebar wherever you agree or disagree. But do it soon, because the comment period ends September 25th!
Want to see a tiny house for yourself? Come on out to the DC State Fair this Saturday (September 12th), where we’ll be giving tours of the Matchbox every hour on the hour from 1PM to 6PM. That’s a lot of tours for a little house.