Comprehensive Plan Update Stokes Controversy in D.C.

Complex political dynamics are mustering for a showdown over D.C.'s comprehensive plan.

2 minute read

March 3, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

BLM Plaza, Washington, D.C.

The murder of George Floyd, and the months of protests that followed, are weighing heavily on D.C.'s comprehensive planning process, expected for a vote by the end of March. | tedeytan / BLM Plaza, Washington, D.C.

Paul Schwartzman reports on the growing coalition fighting for racial equity as Washington, D.C. prepares to consider a comprehensive plan update.

Schwartzman describes the plan as "Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s proposed changes to zoning policy"—reserving the words "comprehensive plan" for later in the article.  

"The revisions would allow taller apartment buildings on key corridors, potentially catalyzing the construction of tens of thousands of housing units, a portion of them subsidized," explains Schwartzman. Moreover, "Under the revised policy, developers would have to devote up to 20 percent of square footage to below-market units — in some cases, more than double the existing requirement."

A key angle of Schwartzman's coverage is the growing awareness of zoning as a racial issue—and the growing work of advocates pushing to allow more space develop in wealthy neighborhoods to right past racial injustices. Like in almost every large city in the United States—not everyone in the District agrees that upzoning is the right tool for racial justice.

“In the name of racial equity, they’re pushing a program that will continue to displace Black people from D.C.,” said Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower DC, an advocacy group. “All these people want is to sprinkle the word equitable into things that aren’t equitable. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Then there are other opponents, who resist the potential of the zoning changes to change the character of their neighborhoods.

“You’re going to have a serious impact on the character and nature of our community,” Bonnie LePard, a member of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, said at the recent neighborhood meeting, which drew nearly 200 viewers. She added that the new buildings threatened to turn the corridor into a “canyon.”

The article includes a lot more detail about the history of zoning and development in D.C., and the various advocacy organizations working to influence the District's comprehensive plan update process.

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