Opinion by Neil Albert
Dec. 11, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. EST
Neil Albert is president and chief executive of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District.
It would be in the best interests of D.C. residents and businesses for the D.C. Council to approve the amended Comprehensive Plan — and soon.
The Comprehensive Plan amendments will help D.C. grow equitably and inclusively. The amended plan will allow for greater density, which will lead to additional affordable housing through planned unit developments or expanded inclusionary zoning for map amendments. The Comprehensive Plan amendments will also help grow tax revenue to fund the District’s progressive social agenda, including preventing evictions and building affordable housing, without the need to raise tax rates (which would make D.C. less competitive with Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland).
Arguments have been made that the Comprehensive Plan amendments should be delayed or rejected because of significant change caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But change is constant and there will be no “right” time for developing and approving a plan. It will be several years before anyone knows the full impact of the coronavirus on D.C.’s population and economy. We could be waiting years for less change. The 2025 Comprehensive Plan rewrite will be the vehicle for handling changes that result from the coronavirus pandemic.
Approving the Comprehensive Plan amendments in January or February would clear the way for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council to focus on the important work of setting budget priorities for fiscal 2022 and supplemental 2021 budgets and related planning.
The amendment process has been extremely open, inclusive and transparent. No new issues were raised during the D.C. Council’s recent extensive hearings that warrant either substantive amendments or delaying approval.
Some argue that the mayor’s assumption that D.C.’s population will continue to grow at a rapid pace is not valid and the amended Comprehensive Plan tries to make this happen to the detriment of existing D.C. residents. But the amendments only allow, not require, the city to accommodate population growth. Any growth will be equitable by allowing for modest additional density. If there is no population growth, there will be no pressure on existing affordable housing and no need for new housing.
Another argument against approval of the Comprehensive Plan amendments is that D.C. should not be promoting construction of market-rate housing, much of it in high-rise buildings, but instead should focus resources on preventing evictions and displacement of current residents, supporting local businesses, enacting job incentives and expanding broadband Internet access. But the Comprehensive Plan amendments do not promote the construction of market-rate units in high-rise buildings. Again, the amendments simply allow for additional density as this will take pressure off existing affordable housing. Regarding preventing evictions and displacement, supporting local businesses, enacting job creation incentives and expanding broadband, D.C. is dedicating considerable resources to solve these issues. I am proud that D.C. spends more cash on its Housing Production Trust Fund than any city in the nation and that the council and mayor have already approved $80 million in financial assistance to D.C. small businesses and are looking to fund the recently announced $100 million bridge fund to provide small business relief to several extremely hard hit business sectors.
The proposed Comprehensive Plan amendments create a plan for today and tomorrow. Those arguing for delay are looking back, not forward.