Will New Law Block Condo Projects?

Last year, the DC council passed a little noticed law designed to force gas stations to stay open. While the intent of the law was to privilege driver convenience over the property rights of gas station owners, the impact may be felt particularly in Georgetown.

The Washington Post first brought this preposterous law to attention last month. They wrote:

The council has prohibited the sale of property containing a gas station for “any other use,” or even the conversion of a full-service operation to a gas-and-go — without prior approval from something called the Gas Station Advisory Board. Under the law, enacted to little fanfare last fall, the only exception is “extreme financial hardship,” as the D.C. government defines it. Also, there must be an “equivalent” station a mile or less away to take the departing one’s place.

Prior to this legislation, some were questioning the need for a Gas Station Advisory Board at all. Rather than agree with that, the Council doubled down and declared by fiat that no gas stations may close unless the government says so.

This is a virtually unprecedented display of central planning. Sure the government often puts a cap on certain uses in certain areas (e.g. the liquor license moratorium) but to mandate an incredibly narrow and specific commercial use for a property is significantly more invasive.

This will impact Georgetown directly. Right now two gas stations are to be sold to Eastbanc, who plans on constructing new housing in place of the gas stations. A third gas station (the Exxon at Q and Wisconsin) is also under contract with plans being developed to construct housing. With this law, it is unclear whether any of these projects will go through.

Maybe the disappearance of gas stations inconveniences you. This is what happens when your business is no longer more valuable to the landowner than the potential business from a new use. It’s a real bummer when a shop you love closes! GM laments that all the time! But aside from a half-serious proposal to influence who can rent commercial space in Georgetown, GM would never propose something as self-centered and entitled as legislation mandating that the current use of a commercial space must continue indefinitely.

It’s a real testament to the privilege automobile-owners have, even in a place like DC where fewer than half the residents commute by car. Does DC mandate that housing remain affordable for all? No. Does it mandate that healthy and cheap food is universally available? Nope. Does it mandate that desirable things like bakeries, coffee shops and news stands remain conveniently located? No. But subject a car-owner to even the flicker of the vagaries of the free market and heavens will be moved to prevent it.

If car-owners’ business is not enough to support four gas stations in Georgetown, then maybe it’s not the best use of scarce land for there to be four gas stations in Georgetown? Not according to the Council.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Will New Law Block Condo Projects?

  1. Who is on the Gas Station Advisory Board? Who appointed them and are they getting paid? I’d like to know what kind of financial breaks EastBanc is getting from the city. What is Georgetown getting in exchange? Is there going to be a supermarket on the ground floor? A percentage of tax credit apartments for citizens with a moderate income? How about an indoor community pool? We can think of lots of things EastBanc can contribute to the neighborhood in exchange for the fortune they are going to make on this deal.

  2. kerlin4321

    Requiring people living in residential neighborhoods to commute many miles to buy gasoline for their vehicles creates traffic, environmental and safety issues. The reality for neighborhoods like Georgetown is that Metro is quite a distance away, and our bus options are woefully inadequate. Other residential neighborhoods have adequate access to gas stations. Many of us need to drive at least some of the time and that means having reasonable access to fuel. I don’t know what tax or other incentives gas stations have received, and how much money the City might demand be refunded inthe event of a change in use. But it may be substantial enough to make the land a little less attractive for those seeking to build yet another block of condos. There are surely other land-use and zoning issues involved in converting gas stations to condos.

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  4. The GSAB hasn’t had any members since 2006. Here’s more about the errors that the Post article made, and why this post (not the authors fault – it’s the Post’s) is based in faulty input.

    http://www.thewashcycle.com/2015/05/the-gas-station-preservation-act-of-dc-actually-isnt-law-yet.html

  5. Pingback: Law That Would Block Gas Station Conversions Not Actually Law Yet | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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