Viewpoint: PUDs imperative to Comp Plan changes

Muriel Bowser is the D.C. mayor. (Brian Kapur/The Current/February 2016)

Two Viewpoints in the March 14 issue of the Northwest Current addressed the mayor’s proposal for revisions to the Framework Element of the Comprehensive Plan.

One piece seemed to imply that planned unit developments (PUDs) are somehow illegitimate or extralegal. In reality, something closer to the opposite is true. For starters, PUDs are in no way unique to the District. Similar procedures can be found in planning ordinances throughout the DMV region and the nation. They are a simple recognition that what can be envisioned and built in a neighborhood should not be limited only to what can be built by right. Not only that, but the PUD is a feature that actually allows the city to extract legitimate community amenities and other benefits from developers.

Think of the enormously successful Cathedral Commons development right in our neighborhood. Something of that scale – and with as much community benefit – could never have been built by right. Essentially, PUDs are legitimate and intentional tools that allow the city deliberately to encourage development that addresses the needs of neighborhoods and communities – needs like affordable housing 

What was never intended, though, was for a few angry constituents to stop the construction of desperately-needed housing through spurious litigation and loopholes. The PUD process already requires extensive review and community input. It has plenty of guardrails to protect from overzealous or rushed development. The mayor’s plan revisions would not remove those protections. They would simply clarify the plan framework so the few could no longer halt projects that otherwise enjoy robust community support.

In a metropolitan area facing a desperate housing shortage, the PUD is one of the most useful tools we have to incentivize the construction of affordable housing and other community benefits. Not just that, but loophole-exploiting lawsuits after an extensive review often do nothing but drive up the cost of development – cost that is then passed on to renters and businesses down the line.

Our city, and particularly our quadrant, are enormously popular. People want to live here. The question is whether only those who can outbid everyone else will be able to. In short, we need to build more housing, and that won’t be possible if smart, dense development is fought at every turn.

Susan Kimmel is the chair of Ward3Vision.