February 22, 2012 at 5:13 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
Density, demographics derail NIMBYs

D.C. is growing larger and getting livelier.

The city’s rising population — growing faster than any state during the most recent Census Bureau annual data reporting period — will continue to alter the landscape across a broad and ever-expanding swath of the District. It will also accelerate the curtailment of the influence and power of anti-growth neighborhood nannies and anti-business Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) members.

The number of city residents is growing throughout the city and intensifying in the Logan Circle, U Street, Shaw and Petworth neighborhoods, NoMa and the rapidly developing H Street, N.E., area, as well as the Nationals stadium and Navy Yard waterfront location. This expansion continues to be most evident along the commercial corridors of 14th and U streets.

On the heels of explosive population and housing growth in recent years, nearly 1,300 new housing units are either currently under construction or planned for coming months along 14th Street between Thomas Circle and Florida Avenue. Upwards of 2,000 additional residents will soon become the newest faces of this continued transformation — significantly increasing the population in the area as they quickly snatch up soon-to-be-available new housing.

Nearly all of this new construction multi-unit housing will be apartments, with several planned condominium projects having converted to rentals prior to construction. Reflecting the seemingly insatiable demand by young professionals and older singles and retired couples for housing in the area, these units are predominantly studios and one-bedrooms averaging less than 650 square feet. These contemporary light-filled residences comport with strong marketplace preferences for less space and high-end finishes for the modern life-on-the-go lived substantially outside the home.

The already unmet desires of current city residents in high demand areas for neighborhood hospitality and retail businesses — primarily places to eat, drink and socialize — will fuel intensifying demand for additional venues. On many evenings, existing restaurants and bars are insufficient to meet the demands of space and desires for a diversity of options.

These recent and new arrivals paying premium prices for their preferred urban lifestyle expect the convenience of having ready access to these social destinations. They don’t take well to suggestions by ANCs or licensing and zoning opponents that development should be restricted or amenities limited. Easily flummoxed by not being able to walk out the door and onto the street to enjoy a full complement of dining, drinking and entertainment opportunities, they will continue to drive the development of our neighborhoods in ways not yet fully recognized.

This requires only that they both overcome their astonishment at the undue influence small numbers of development-averse residents have historically wielded and are able to trust that the city government increasingly weighs economic development considerations in adjudicating such matters.

Area blogs and news reports announce on an accelerating frequency the planned opening of new restaurants, bars, lounges and other gathering spots in the immediate and surrounding areas. The reaction of most neighborhood residents is one of delighted appreciation and excitement.

Although there will be transportation, parking, infrastructure and business development pressures and conflicts for the foreseeable future as a result of this concentrated growth, the popularity of D.C. city living will dictate the growing irrelevance of those who seek to eliminate the casual cacophony of a vibrant urban life. Over time this will further enhance the District as a world-class environment and allow it to evolve from its long-held reputation as a sleepy Southern river town.


The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) announced last week that the agency has extended the period for public comment on proposed regulations governing local food trucks and their operation to March 1 at 5 p.m., an extension of 12 days.

The news appears to have excited Barbara Tomlinson of Seattle, Wash., who on Feb. 19 sent a message to DCRA among her 4,005 other signed online petitions regarding a wide variety of issues from across the country available on the national petition website being utilized by the D.C. Food Truck Association (DCFTA) to gather signatures concerning this local issue.

Thank you, Ms. Tomlinson, for playing the game all the way from the American Northwest — now put away the keyboard and go get something to eat!

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

  • People love to move to party neighborhoods and complain about the noise, or to the rural fringe and complain about the smell of fertilizer. Here are two thoughts. If you don’t like a particular environment, don’t move there. If the ways of your present home town are so perfect, stay put.

  • Much of the newly proposed construction lacks capacity to house families (parents and children), instead opting to squeeze value out of studios and small 1-bedroom units that can be sold or leased to singles at a higher rate per square foot. The result is a neighborhood full of singles — which is fine, if you don’t mind that. But a truly vibrant neighborhood should have a mix of singles, families, and retired couples, else it risks becoming homogeneous and particularly transient.

  • I do not fear the developments aimed at singles, childless couples or smaller households, which Ohi references. The very developments Mark Lee cites in his column are, in fact, rising immediately next to districts of mostly historic townhouses with historic designation limitations upon them. In my own blocks, for example, the limitations prevent the historic townhomes from experiencing much in the way of division into too many multiple-unit structures. Translation: the townhomes are mostly 2 and 3 bedroom units, at higher price points, hosting larger households usually more established in their careers and also in their neighborhoods. Having nearby empty lots and forlorn properties turned into smaller residences adds to and creates a demographic mix, rather than threatening a mix. Furthermore, as a number of outlets have reported recently, there is a growing demand for these smaller units, where residents enjoy the neighborhood as an extension of their living space. It’s also more difficult than ever for younger people to meet credit requirements to purchase, so rental units are meeting an obvious market demand. Finally, they help create more of a 24-hour economy, avoiding the tilt towards a largely nighttime economy which many people fear.

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