July 21, 2020

Pending DC Zoning Changes to Allow Greater Flexibility for Alley Lot Development

2 min

The DC Zoning Commission recently approved zoning text amendments aimed at providing greater flexibility for alley lot developments. The District of Columbia began working to remedy the hurdles in developing alley lots through its 2016 rewrite of the DC Zoning Regulations. Certain challenges in developing alley lots, however, continue despite those changes. As a result, these new zoning text amendments are intended to (1) provide greater flexibility to convert alley tax lots to record lots; (2) clarify rules of measurement related to required alley widths and building height; and (3) allow artist studios on alley lots to host public shows or performances in these spaces.

Specifically, the new zoning text amendments will allow alley tax lots consisting of over 450 square feet and created prior to May 12, 1958 to be converted to alley record lots as a matter of right. The text amendments will also allow alley tax lots consisting of less than 450 square feet and created between May 12, 1958 and September 9, 2016 to be converted to alley record lots by special exception. The text amendments also seek to clarify measurement rules for building heights on alley lots and will reduce the required alley centerline setback, which is very often an impediment to alley lot development in the District. Finally, the text amendments would allow a maximum of five performances or art shows per year in an artist studio on an alley, with additional performances permitted by special exception. A final vote on these text amendments, with potential further amendments, is expected to occur in September 2020.

Alley lots throughout the District remain an untapped opportunity for the development of greater housing options and unique spaces for artist studios. According to a memorandum released by the District's Office of Planning, there are currently 317 undeveloped alley tax lots in the city, 274 of which are located in zones where residential uses on alley lots are permitted. While these new zoning text amendments will provide greater flexibility for alley lot developments, many of these projects will still continue to require some form of relief from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. Venable's land use and zoning team has experience guiding clients through the land use, zoning, and historic preservation processes required for many alley lots throughout Washington. If you have further questions about alley lot developments in the District, please contact Zachary G. Williams.