A couple of months ago, developers of projects around Union Market requested that the city foot some of the bill for the 3,500 parking spaces that will come to the 45-acre site as part of the burgeoning development coming to the neighborhood. Following a brief and at times heated debate on Tuesday, the DC Council voted to proceed on a bill that would provide tax increment financing (TIF) to subsidize a portion of that parking.
As written, the Union Market Tax Increment Financing Act of 2017 would grant a gross total of $82.4 million in TIF funds to Union Market developers: $46 million for improvements to the aging infrastructure throughout the site (the spine of which is a recently-designated historic landmark), and $36 million to parking. However, not everyone on the Council was in favor of moving forward on these funds.
At-Large Councilmembers Elissa Silverman and David Grosso co-sponsored an amendment that would retain the infrastructure earmark, while redirecting the $36 million toward additional affordable housing and improving the transit options servicing Union Market. As part of her introductory remarks, Councilmember Silverman mentioned that the Office of Planning (OP), District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) have all testified that the quantity of parking spaces being created at the site is excessive.
The amendment asserted that $18 million of the parking funds would be better spent on adding affordable housing at the developments planned for Union Market, creating up to 100 affordable units at the site rather than the minimum required by law. The remaining funds would go to delivering a new exit for the NOMA-Gallaudet Metro station on the east side of the tracks, a notion that WMATA has already studied and for which a developer has already committed to constructing a portion of the tunnel.
After Councilmember Silverman responded to an initial round of commenting from other councilmembers who, with the exception of Grosso, explained why they wouldn’t be supporting the amendment, Councilmember Jack Evans motioned for debate to close, drawing the ire of some on the dais who felt the amendment bore more discussion. Grosso in particular felt that the explanations as to why such a great amount of parking was necessary were lacking — in fact, he hadn’t seen any.
“I heard a rumor that the developers had a study but I’ve gotten nothing, although I’ve seen them in the building every day for the past month, so I’m sure they’re working hard on this vote,” Grosso said. “All I’m asking is, where is the proof, Mr. Evans. Show me the reports that say we need this parking.” Grosso continued, drawing an accusation of having improper decorum from Chairman Mendelson as he asserted that Evans could not answer that question. “I think Mr. Grosso’s time has run out,” Evans quipped when asked for a response.
Ultimately, Chairman Mendelson and others in the Council felt that the issue of the TIF funding is separate from the need for affordable housing and improved transit to the site, both of which they found to be worthy considerations — particularly when it comes to ensuring that quality retail tenants will lease there. The Council voted against the amendment and moved the bill forward, putting it on track for a final reading and vote.