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District of Columbia Industrial Land Use Study


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Special thanks to Richard Layman, webmaster of the planning blog Rebuilding Space in the Urban Space, and a local planning and historic preservation advocate for guiding me to District of Columbia Industrial Land Use Study.


I have highlighted areas that I have deemed worth really taking a look at.


DC has two primary industrial zoning districts: C-M (Commercial-Light Manufacturing) and M (manufacturing). Both districts permit a wide variety of commercial uses (basically everything

permitted in the C-1, C-2, C-3 and C-4 zones, which includes a wide variety of retail and service

uses, including gasoline service stations) as well as industrial and production uses.


Areas of pressure


The District’s office development boom and housing market explosion has rapidly utilized many of the most desirable and easily accessible downtown development sites, and now real estate development forces are pressing heavily against industrial districts.


Nowhere is this more evident than in those areas near Metro stops and with relatively easily developed

lots. North of Union Station towards Florida Avenue, including the market area and the New York Avenue Metro stop, and at each successive Red Line Metro stop—Rhode Island Avenue, CUA/Brookland, Fort Totten, and Takoma—real estate pressures are growing.


Rezoning requests trend towards these areas, and some larger initiatives including possible Planned Unit Developments in the NY/Florida Avenue Market area and along Eckington Place, as well as spin-off from large initiatives such as NoMa and the H Street Corridor redevelopment are all increasing real estate values to the point where current PDR business area threatened.


Much of the land in question is already occupied by a diverse array of industrial and quasiindustrial

users, grouped in this report under the descriptive title of Production, Distribution and

Repair businesses (PDR).


It makes sense that some of these areas be considered for land use change. In fact it is difficult

to argue against well-planned transit oriented development in a relatively built-out city such as

DC, where household and job gains are projected to continue relatively unabated over the coming years. However, several areas under development pressure, such as the NY/Florida Avenue Market area, are more appropriate for an evolution or intensification of the existing land use, rather than a land use change.


Areas of healthy PDR fabric are shown in blue on Map 3.1. These areas include much of CSX1 - Lamond Riggs south of the Metro, significant portions of Fort Totten and Brookland, and large swaths of New York/Ivy City and New York/Bladensburg. Some of these areas deserve land use protection, and some should be considered for municipal services. None of these, save perhaps a narrow strip of land directly bordering New York Avenue, deserve consideration as land use change areas.


Areas of friction


Lastly, it is apparent in some areas that PDR businesses and incompatible land uses are located in very close proximity to each other. Nuisance complaints about noise, pollution, and visual blight relating to PDR businesses are likely most prevalent in these areas, and it is logical to assume that expansion or retention of PDR uses in these zones may be difficult.


New Zoning Framework


A new zoning framework is proposed to overcome the limitations of the current C-M and M districts, including the following:


They do not prohibit retail or office uses from overtaking industrial areas and displacing

PDR tenants.


The bulk standards bear do not reflect the low-scale, high-coverage built environments generally found within these districts.


The regulations are somewhat vague as to what precisely is permitted in the M district.


The performance standards for industrial areas require modernization.


C-M Districts


Only minor modifications are proposed to the C-M district regulations. The general intent of the district—to permit a variety of retail, office, and industrial/PDR uses—remains unchanged. However, the following revisions are proposed:


Prohibit high-impact industries such as intermediate materials recycling and solid waste handling facilities, to minimize the possibility of land use conflicts.


Prohibit certain community uses that detract from the commercial or PDR nature of the area and which present immediate conflicts with their PDR neighbors, specifically, charter schools and emergency shelters.


Make retail uses above a certain size (for instance, 30,000 square feet) permitted only by special exception, to provide more control over their siting and location.


Typical industrial rents in the District’s industrial areas, at $5 to $15 per square foot, compare unfavorably with residential rents of $25 to $30, retail rents of $25 to $30, and office rents of $30 to $40 per square foot. In addition, given escalating land prices, typical PDR businesses cannot compete at all when land is developed for for-sale products such as condominiums, which often sell for $550 per square foot compared to an average industrial sales price rate of $100 per square foot.


Other known development proposals or initiatives that would necessitate rezoning of industrial

land include:


a townhouse development near the Fort Totten Metro (Sub-area: Fort Totten)


a development at Rhode Island Avenue and Reed Street, NE, near the Metro (Sub-area: CSX 1)


a large residential development of about 700 units on Eckington Place near Q Street, NE

(Sub-area: New York Ave/Florida)


a redevelopment of the Capital City/New York/Florida market to include a mix of residential, commercial, hotel, and entertainment space, displacing the market area north of Neal Street (Sub-area: New York Ave/Florida)


A proposed development of 3,5000 residential units and 150,000 square feet of retail space for the 16-acre triangular site south of New York Avenue, bordered by Bladensburg Road and Montana Avenue (Sub-area: New York Avenue/Bladensburg)


a 120-unit residential development along New York Avenue, south of the railroad tracks, east of Bladensburg (Sub-area: New York Avenue/Bladensburg)


The introduction of non-industrial uses into an industrial area changes the land use context, increasing the likelihood of nuisance complaints, land use and traffic conflicts, and additional rezoning requests.


District government has historically proceeded cautiously with respect to rezoning its industrial lands for other uses. It must continue to do so. Recognizing that the decision to rezone an industrial area for non-industrial uses is practically irreversible, this study urges the District to undertake only limited and strategic rezonings and to initiate zoning to insulate and protect remaining industrial areas from the private property market.


The Study Areas Map shows how the District’s industrially-zoned land is concentrated in a few

specific areas, primarily concentrated along several historic rail corridors:


The B&O branches in Northeast

o one route running approximately north from Union Station through Fort Totten to

Takoma at the Maryland border (today this is an active CSX freight and Metro


- another route branching off and running approximately east paralleling New York Avenue to the Maryland border (today this is a CSX freight and Amtrak corridor);


- a final route which branches off the New York corridor to roughly parallel Bladensburg Road northeast into Maryland (today is this a CSX freight corridor);


- A B&O route along the eastern shore of the Anacostia River, paralleling Minnesota Avenue for much of its route (today this is both a CSX freight and Metro corridor, and may host a portion of a proposed light rail line);


- The Baltimore and Potomac Railroad line, which runs through the Southeast and spurred the development of industrial land in the Buzzard Point and Navy Yard areas, and continues east through 11th Street, SE and Water Street, SE before crossing the Anacostia and joining the B&O near Minnesota Avenue and E Street, SE (today this is a CSX freight corridor, and may host a portion of a proposed light rail line).


The area of Buzzard Point just east of South Capitol Street and west of the Navy Yard is one of the few

areas that saw industrial development exclusively in the 1900s, though even that began as an area of mixed residential and industrial uses.


The combined total of DC Village and Blue Plains represents the largest area, although only the eastern half, DC Village, is practically available for industrial development (Blue Plains is a secure limited-access area containing the District’s wastewater treatment plant). The next largest areas are concentrated along the CSX rail corridors and New York Avenue area.


The three types of C-M district—C-M-1, C-M-2, and C-M-3—differ in terms of the building bulk

permitted. All three permit buildings considerable bulkier than most buildings found in the industrial zones, where tall multi-story buildings are the exception. Even the lowest intensity district permits building bulk of three times the lot area (FAR = 3.0) and three stories/40 feet. The allowed intensities go up from there, to a maximum of 90 feet and 6.0 FAR. Likely only the Hecht building on New York

Avenue approaches these densities.


The C-M and M districts are part of an ordinance which follows a “pyramid” structure common to

older zoning ordinances, whereby each less restrictive district incorporates the all the uses permitted in the more restrictive districts. This is seen in the C-M and M zones, which, in addition to PDR uses, permit neighborhood commercial, community commercial, major business, and central business district uses. Critically, there is nothing in the current ordinance that prohibits the development of retail and office complexes in the industrial zones. Only new residential development is prohibited. To date, retail and commercial pressures have not had a major impact on industrial lands outside of a few developments (such as the Home Depot). However, given the current real estate development climate in DC, pressures are likely to escalate even more in the near future.


Permitted Uses in the C-M Zones

Uses permitted as of right:

Commercial uses up to the C-4 district

Pre-existing residential uses

Hotel or inn

Carting, express, moving or haling terminal or yard

Commercial athletic field

Experimental research or testing laboratory


Motorcycle sales and repair

Laundry or dry-cleaning

Public utility pumping station

Repair garage

Wholesale or storage establishment, including open storage, but no

junk yards

Any light manufacturing, processing, fabricating or repair


Temporary detention or correctional institution on leased property for

a period not to exceed three years

Electronic Equipment Facilities (EEF) (i.e. data switches, telco hubs,

data centers, etc.) subject to limitations on location


Special exception uses:

Massage parlors

Intermediate materials recycling facilities

Solid waster handling facility

An EEF not permitted as of right

Concrete or Asphalt plant



Only minor modifications are proposed to the C-M district regulations. The general intent of the district—to permit a variety of retail, office, and industrial/PDR uses—remains unchanged. However, the following amendments are proposed:


Prohibiting high-impact industries such as intermediate materials recycling and solid

waste handling facilities, to limit the possibility of land use conflicts.


Prohibiting certain community uses that detract from the commercial or PDR nature of

the area and which present immediate conflicts with their PDR neighbors, specifically,

charter schools and emergency shelters.


Making retail uses above a certain size (say, 50,000 square feet) special exception uses

to provide more control over their location.


Area 1 corresponds to the southern portion of CSX1 Lamond Riggs, and includes Chillum

Place. This area deserves consideration because of it is intensively used by PDR businesses. It

is zoned C-M-1. There are very few vacancies in this area, and the building and site conditions

are all favorable for PDR businesses.


Area 2 corresponds to the southern stretch of CSX1 Fort Totten, and includes heavy industries

(asphalt and cement), light fabrication businesses, and support services such as warehousing. It

is zoned FT/M, FT/C-M-1, and R-5-A. Site conditions are generally fair, but residential buffering

should be sought.


Area 3 is the same as Scattered Site 3. Located near Howard University, Area 3 presents an

opportunity to build on the Hospital and other investments made by the University and reinforce

the medical research industry in the District. The area boasts a top employer (the University

Hospital), well-paying jobs, and easy access. Also considering that several large buildings are

ripe for re-use and that real estate pressure in this area are growing, this area needs PDR

protection. It is now zoned C-M-2 and C-M-3.


Area 4 includes the southern part of CSX 1 Brookland and a portion of CSX 1 north of Rhode

Island Avenue. Uses found here include catering, a bakery, and variety of PDR support

services: commercial uniforms, storage, industrial hardware, auto repair, and construction



Area 5, the northwestern portion of New York Avenue/Ivy City, is home to a concentration of

television and telecommunications businesses, including Verizon and BET (Black Entertainment

Television). This area is zoned M. It offers a combination of large sites and relatively difficult

access, which actually works well for its current users—remote and guarded areas provide good

security for high value equipment like satellite/microwave receivers.


Area 6, the northern and eastern portions of New York Avenue/Florida, also merits retention as

industrial. These are zoned C-M-2, M, and C-M-1, and are home to a concentration of

transportation uses, including busing and taxi/limo maintenance, electrical and building trades,

and the New York/Florida Wholesale Market. The Wholesale Market area creates value for the

District and should continue to benefit from its proximity to the New York Avenue Metro. This is

prime example of where policies encouraging shared loading, docking, parking, and security

could benefit all businesses. This wholesale market is a major source of employment, important

to the cost-effectiveness of the hospitality and restaurant sectors.


Area 7, encompassing most of New York Avenue/Bladensburg north of the CSX/Amtrak rail

line, should be reinforced as a PDR zone. Zoning is now M, C-M-1, and C-M-2. V Street, NE, in

particular represents an exciting, vibrant PDR zone—businesses include light industrial, building

support services such as electrical contracting, several medical offices and research labs such as the police forensics and crime scene lab, a large beer storage and distribution warehouse,

and catering and food distribution services. Other users include the DC Fire Department (supply

and storage), Washington Hospital (printing services), and a creative arts center.


You can find the District of Columbia Industrial Land Use Study pdf at:



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