National Zoo wins approval to enlarge planned parking garage

The National Zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

The National Zoo can proceed with a larger parking garage than originally planned, after winning approval from the National Capital Planning Commission last Thursday.

The 1,285-space, six-level parking garage would be located in the northeastern area of the Zoo, across North Road from the Great Ape and Small Mammal houses. Estimated by Zoo officials to cost $50 million, the garage is slated to replace an existing surface parking area, Lot C, and a general services building that’s built into the hillside along North Road. The proposal also allots 166 spaces for employees and volunteers at the two retained surface lots: Parking Lot E and Research Hill.

The latest proposal expands upon a planned 1,119-spot garage that was approved nearly a decade ago as part of the Zoo’s 2008 master plan. The new garage would have one underground level and five stories above ground.

The garage would replace Lot C and a maintenance building across North Road from the Great Ape and Small Mammal houses. (rendering courtesy of the National Zoo)

Surrounded by the heavily residential communities of Cleveland Park, Woodley Park and Mount Pleasant, and located half a mile from the nearest Metro stations, the Zoo relies upon on-site parking to serve many visitors. But its existing 888 spaces frequently fill up, leaving up to 33 percent of visitors to park in adjacent neighborhoods given current transportation patterns.

The planned garage would consolidate four of five existing lots into one central facility as part of an effort to accommodate the Zoo’s projected visitation growth of 2.7 million in 2016 to 3.5 million by 2027 to 2032. The new facility would meet parking demands 81 percent of the time, according to the application, meaning lots would still be full for about 69 days of the year, according to Zoo officials.

The Smithsonian Institution enlisted the D.C. Department of Transportation to produce a transportation strategy that would help mitigate traffic impacts caused by additional on-site parking. Plans included extending DC Circulator bus service from its current ending point, the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro station, up to Cleveland Park Metro station with a stop in front of the Zoo; and eliminating free parking for Zoo employees.

The planned parking garage would have five above-ground levels and a sixth below grade. (rendering courtesy of the National Zoo)

The agency also proposed long-term mitigation options, which include demand-based pricing for parking; timed entry passes for vehicles; storage lockers for visitors without personal vehicles; dedicated areas for rideshare pickup and drop-off; reconsideration of the existing policy of unlimited free parking for Friends of the National Zoo members; and improved navigational signage for bicycles.

At last week’s hearing, the federal planning commission offered recommendations on the proposed parking garage’s conceptual design. Commissioners asked architects to minimize the view of the building from Olmsted Walk and Rock Creek Park, as well as Beach Drive and adjacent recreational trails; to treat stormwater on-site to eliminate runoff into Rock Creek; and to incorporate sustainable infrastructure, including green roofs, vegetated walls and solar panels.

In recent letters, Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park) offered support for the Zoo’s proposal to expand the planned parking garage by 166 spots.

“That the zoo’s proposal now includes an additional 166 spaces will further alleviate the stress on neighborhood parking currently produced by the venue’s popularity,” Cheh wrote Sept. 26. “And better still, all these goals will be achieved in a manner that preserves the scenic character of Rock Creek Park and the zoo’s environment.”

The Smithsonian Institution plans to appoint a consultant, and then submit a concept design for the parking garage in 2018. A timeline for beginning construction or opening the new garage has not yet been released.