D.C. looks to fill dwindling industrial spaces

Washington is a company town. Same goes for the region. It is not a hotspot for manufacturing and heavy industrial business, and its inventory of those spaces reflects as much.

But unlike the first ring of D.C.’s suburbs, where industrial square footage has grown (albeit slowly) over the last decade (2.7 million square feet added since 2003), D.C. is trending in the opposite direction.

A study produced for the Montgomery County Planning Board on the county’s industrial and flex spaces includes an interesting tidbit on the District’s industrial inventory — it’s disappearing, likely rezoned and razed for office or flex space (D.C.’s industrial land cannot be rezoned for residential uses).

According to the Partners for Economic Solutions report, there was a net reduction of 1.08 million square feet of industrial space in D.C. between 1993 and 2012, the vast majority disappearing since 2003, 848,433 square feet, when property values really started to take off.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed. The D.C. Office of Planning, with D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, D-Ward 5, launched an industrial land transformation study in January “to develop a strategic plan for the modernization and adaptive use of industrial land in Ward 5.”

Industrial land accounts for 5 percent of D.C.’s 68.3 square miles. Half of D.C.’s industrial land, and 400 industrial businesses, are located in Ward 5.

“We never were an industrial city,” Planning Director Harriet Tregoning told me Wednesday. But the District does have a future, she said, in “post-industrial manufacturing,” the production of “all sorts of stuff” in demand locally.

D.C.’s report is expected by the end of the year.

The Montgomery County study, meanwhile, suggests no reason to expand the supply of industrially-zoned land on a countywide basis, but rather to preserve existing industrial space closer to the Beltway — Brookville Road area, Howard Avenue in Kensington, and Parklawn/Twinbrook — “to assure continued availability in locations convenient to the county’s residents.”

“It is not sufficient to have plentiful industrial sites up-county where land is less expensive,” per the PES report. “A distribution of sites closer to the businesses’ customers contributes to a more balanced economy accessible to customers and employees alike.”

Montgomery has added 638,407 square feet of industrial space to its inventory since 2000, though its space has declined since 2009. The Planning Board has scheduled a briefing on the report for Oct. 31.

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