Preservation and zoning

By Felix Salmon
June 11, 2009

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These houses are going to be demolished to make room for a parking lot. Says Ryan:

In my view, it takes a particularly unimaginative, short-sighted, and careless sort of person to see a piece of property in this location and determine that the best and most profitable use for it is a surface parking lot (particularly since street parking near H Street isn’t exactly difficult to find).

Not at all. A parking lot is pure optionality. It generates income, it lowers your property taxes, and it makes it really easy to build something highly commercial if and when developers can actually borrow money again. Old houses like these are never going to be particularly lucrative. Best to take any opportunity to demolish them, so that down the road they can be easily replaced with something shiny and new.

As Ryan’s commenters point out, the problem here isn’t that the owners of the houses want to demolish them, or even that the Historic Preservation Review Board neglected to save them. Rather, it’s that the zoning laws allow parking lots (and the associated curb cuts etc) at all. The problem with the parking lot isn’t that old housing will be demolished, the problem with the parking lot is that it’s a parking lot. Historic preservation boards shouldn’t be used as stealth zoning authorities. There are real zoning authorities for that kind of thing.

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