Greater Greater Washington: It's now harder to add more housing near Adams Morgan (01-12-2016)
Lanier Heights Downzoning Updates (01-13-2016)
A pre-emptive downzoning of Lanier Heights by the Zoning Commission went into effect in December.
Although deemed "temporary" pending a public hearing and final action by the commission, home owners in approximately 165 row houses in ZC case 15-09 now have reduced zoning rights (that is, existing R5B rights are now "temporarily" reduced to R4 rights).
Commissioners voted for this pre-emptive downzoning as a way to deter developers from obtaining building permits under existing R5B rules while the issue of downzoning is under discussion before the commission. This "temporary" downzoning is estimated to last for several months and will become permanent if the commission votes in favor of the downzoning application.
One row house development appears to have passed its final legal hurdle yesterday as the Board of Zoning Adjustment voted to grant an area variance for two parking spaces at 1636 Argonne Place (BZA case 19154). This development was stalled for several months by repeated stop-work orders in response to complaints from some neighbors and appeals to the BZA by those neighbors and ANC1C.
Three adjoining row houses on Argonne Place (1630, 1632 and 1634) are planned for conversion to four-unit buildings under R5B zoning. The original building permits were withdrawn following complaints by some neighbors and concerns from ANC1C. New permits were obtained prior to the Zoning Commission's "temporary" downzoning of Lanier Heights.
Four other projects (two each at 18th Street and Ontario Place locations) are currently going through the BZA appeals process after challenges from some neighbors and ANC1C.
These eight projects have been underway for several months (more than a year in some cases) and most of them now sit vacant and gutted as stop-work orders, ANC appeals and requests for variances work their way through the system.
The exception is 1636 Argonne Place, where construction was largely completed months ago but progress was blocked pending yesterday's BZA action. The owner anticipates finishing work on the building promptly and placing the renovated units on the market very soon.
From the Office of Planning's ADAMS MORGAN VISION FRAMEWORK draft document (released online November 9, 2015).
[We give the Office of Planning credit for noting that the proposed downzoning of row houses is a "polarizing issue" in Lanier Heights.]
At the rate of five dozen pop-up permits annually, the conversion of all 35,000 homes in R-4 zones will be complete in just under 600 years.
On pages 5 and 6 of EXHIBIT 308, filed in the final minutes before the June 1 deadline by a vocal opponent of pop-ups, we finally discovered some evidence in a section titled ANNEX 1: R-4 Zone Conversions. Although not an official list of pop-ups, it was compiled by anti-pop-up supporters who combed through the public records of building permits issued during the thirteen months from March 2014 through March 2015. We assume the list is both accurate and complete since every pop-up permit issued would add to the anti-pop-up argument.
On June 8, 2015, the District of Columbia Zoning Commission took the required final vote to approve proposed text amendments on Case 14-11, which deals with height and occupancy restrictions in R-4 zones. Below is a question and answer to help explain how that vote affects projects today.
Are the rules in effect now?
When will the rules take effect?
Who determines when the rules will be published in the Register?
How will a pending building application be treated before the new rules take effect?
How will the new rules affect an issued building permit?
Will the new rules affect my neighborhood?
DCRA and OP are waiting on the publication of the final rules before the agencies will be in a position to share additional guidance, such as any needed interpretation of the vesting dates established by final rule. As soon as the final rule is published, the agencies will provide more information about it on their websites.
ZONING COMMISSION VOTES TO LIMIT HOME OWNER RIGHTS
Members of Neighbors Against Downzoning are concerned with the loss of home owner zoning rights. When a private citizen’s “Matter-of-Right” is turned into a “Matter-requiring-Neighborhood-ANC-BZA-Approval” that is a real loss for private citizens.
What people do with their zoning rights is not our major concern. Add a story to their house for a growing family, convert a basement for their in-laws, sell to a developer who wants to turn it into 3 or more condos, choose NOT to sell to developers and only sell to a family, or do nothing at all: those are choices that we wish the Zoning Commission would have left to the home owner without new restrictions.
Now that new restrictions have been voted into law by the Zoning Commission we will have a chance to see what the real effects will be on pop-up developments, home improvement projects, real estate values, etc.
ZC Chairman Hood stated at a public hearing that if these regulations turn out to be too restrictive then the ZC can “step them back.” We presume if they are deemed insufficiently restrictive the ZC may decide to reduce zoning rights even further.
Small scale pop-up condos and apartments won’t solve the city’s housing problems all by themselves, but they should be part of the solution.
See: DC Zoning website, Interactive Zoning Information System (IZIS), case 14-11.
PRESS RELEASE: JUNE 5, 2015
ANTI-POP-UP HYSTERIA MEETS HARD DATA
On Monday, June 8, the Zoning Commission for the District of Columbia will vote on a number of new rules for the city's R-4 residential neighborhoods. This vote is a "Final Rulemaking" and will mark the culmination of a process that began in early 2014.
Motivated by years of highly publicized complaints from residents about the redevelopment of single family town homes into small apartment buildings or condominiums --- often referred to by detractors as "ugly pop-ups" --- the Zoning Commission requested recommendations from the Office of Planning for changes to the regulations for R-4 zoned neighborhoods.
The Office of Planning presented a list of possible rule changes (known as "text amendments") to the Zoning Commission last summer. Since then a series of public hearings have been held on the subject (officially known as "CASE 14-11") and public comments were solicited.
On March 30, by a narrow vote, the Zoning Commission adopted a set of proposed text amendments for publication in the D.C. Register, setting the clock for final review and comment by both District and Federal agencies as well as additional comments from the public. This final comment period ended on June 1.
The current online file for CASE 14-11 consists of more than 300 documents (called "exhibits") from both supporters and opponents of the proposals --- although many in the anti-pop-up group oppose CASE 14-11 because they don't think it has enough new restrictions.
Opposition comments to the downzoning of R-4 neighborhoods come from a group of home owners, small developers, real estate professionals and smart growth advocates. They think these new restrictions will hurt property values, reduce home owner rights, and shut down an important option for adding new homes for the city's growing population.
• • • • •
Neighbors Against Downzoning has opposed changes that take long-held property rights away from home owners. We have observed "anti-pop-up hysteria" spread across the city in recent years. Today that hysteria is on the verge of becoming legislation that will hurt home owners in R-4 zones now and perhaps the city's other residential zones in the future.
Our filing in this case, EXHIBIT 268, expands upon the theory of anti-pop-up hysteria.
One of the most puzzling aspects of this "debate" has been an absence of hard data on the actual scope of the alleged problem of "ugly pop-ups." If there is any official count of how many pop-ups have been built in recent years, how many are currently under construction or the number awaiting permits, it is a well-kept secret.
What we have instead of meaningful data is a handful of "problem" pop-ups repeatedly referenced by traditional media and prominently displayed in image-driven social media outlets. The most widely reviled pop-up, located at 1013 V Street NW, is not even in an R-4 or any other residential zone. This lack of data suggests that "problem" pop-ups are in fact quite rare.
If "pop-ups" pose a threat to the 35,000 single family town homes in the city's R-4 neighborhoods, a threat so real that the Zoning Commission was compelled by public pressure to ask the Office of Planning for guidance on the issue, where exactly are the long lists of problem pop-ups? Where are the (presumably even longer) lists of pop-ups that are not problematic? How do the two lists compare to each other and to the existing 35,000 R-4 town homes facing lost value and lost home owner rights under the proposed downzoning in CASE 14-11?
Thanks to this list provided in EXHIBIT 308, we now know that fewer than five dozen building permits were issued in R-4 zones for pop-ups in that thirteen month period: an average of one building permit a week. Most were for conversions to a modest three dwellings for each pop-up.
For exhibits filed in Case 14-11:
D.C. OFFICE OF ZONING
(Urban Turf, May 8, 2015)
Less than 1% of D.C. homes have solar power panels. According to this article, there may not be room for significant expansion anytime soon.
"Existing rich residents slamming the door shut on their own neighborhoods is the major engine of gentrification . . . "
" . . . the mark of genuine power is seen in the very desirable, expensive areas where new construction is not happening. Developers would make a king's ransom building apartments in Georgetown, but they can't because their strength is nothing compared to the hysterical NIMBYism of the upper class. Existing rich residents slamming the door shut on their own neighborhoods is the major engine of gentrification, because that's what pushes new residents into cheaper neighborhoods that don't have the political power (read: money) to resist expropriation and redevelopment."
"Any sensible fight against gentrification would begin outside the affected neighborhoods. But instead, the major political development in DC housing policy of late has been a proposal to restrict density increases, condo conversions, and pop-ups. It will, without question, make the affordability problem worse."
Read the whole article at The Week.
WAR AGAINST POP-UPS
Lanier Heights Battle Begins Second Year
Late winter 2014: anti-pop-up yard signs appeared in Lanier Heights.
One year later: some did not survive to see the first anniversary.
Meanwhile a nine unit condo development is nearing completion. The anti-pop-up sign in the yard next door is still standing, but this development isn't a pop-up.
A dilapidated fully detached house sitting on a large lot (not a row house) was demolished to make room for the new structure.
Lanier Heights is an apartment house neighborhood with a few blocks of row houses. Zoned R-5-B to allow multi-unit dwellings up to 50 feet in height.
Date: Monday, March 23, 2015
Goal: To disseminate information, inspire entrepreneurship, and create an atmosphere to foster positive action and to receive feedback.
Audience: The target audience includes current business owners who want to grow their business, get ideas, and have an opportunity to network with other business owners and District leaders.
What You Missed at the ANC1C Meeting (3/4/2015)
Photos of the much-hated V Street pop-up have been widely distributed to create fear and outrage in residential neighborhoods.
The photo above places the development in context and perspective.
This 65-foot tall pop-up is located in a commercial zone.
It would not be allowed in most residential zones, where 40 foot height limits are the rule (including zones R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4 which total 70% of all residential zones in D.C.).
Pop-ups like this one are NO THREAT to single-family neighborhoods.
Here are pictures of a few other pop-ups that should put people at ease.
Neighbors Against Downzoning finally has a Facebook page.
(Urban Turf, February 10, 2015)
35,000 D.C. Homes at Risk of Downzoning
Estimated $10 BILLION in Lost Property Value
Select Proposed Action: Z.C. Case No. 14-11 to view.
Video from February 9, 2015. (About 45 minutes).
A bad zoning plan would restrict expansion of housing in key D.C. neighborhoods
(Washington Post Editorial, January 30, 2015)
On behalf of more than 60 D.C. residents who have signed our online petition in opposition to the downzoning of residential neighborhoods in the District of Columbia, we respectfully ask the Commissioners to reject the proposals put forth in case 14-11 to reduce the existing zoning rights of District home owners in R-4 zones.
The proposals in 14-11 are crafted explicitly to satisfy the over reaction of some current residents to the inevitable changes that occur in a growing and dynamic urban environment. The proposals in 14-11 give little consideration to the larger population of R-4 residents who are unfazed by these changes or to the many residents who actively welcome them.
The Office of Planning Exhibit 1 shows that 70% of residential housing is in R-1, R-2, R-3 and R-4 zones, while only 30% is dedicated to R-5 apartment zones.
In testimony before the Zoning Commission (July 17, 2014, page 48) Director Steingasser described the R-4 zone, which makes up only 15% of our residential zoning, as a hybrid zone between single family detached zones R-1, R-2 and R-3 and multi-family apartment R-5 zones. The proposals in 14-11 attempt to shift the R-4 away from this mixed-use state and make it more like the lower density zones which already occupy the majority of residential space in the city.
The proposals in 14-11 suggest home owners can have “special exception” access to options they currently hold “by-right” under existing zoning. That will be small comfort to future home owners who spend additional time and money only to have their requests for special exceptions blocked by their ANC or denied by the BZA.
Rights once surrendered are difficult, if not impossible, to regain.
NEIGHBORS AGAINST DOWNZONING has estimated the potential lost property value to Lanier Heights row house owners at between 30 and 50 million dollars if proponents of downzoning were to succeed in their efforts to change zoning from R-5-B to R-4 in that neighborhood. This estimate is based on lost property value to only 150 row homes. The proposals under case 14-11 would affect more than 35,000 homes and lost property values could easily exceed five billion dollars.
We beg the Commissioners to consider the drastic impact these proposals will impose upon current and future residents of the District of Columbia and reject case 14-11 proposals on that basis.
DEADLINE FOR YOUR COMMENTS IS JAN 29.
The D.C. Zoning Commission is considering a proposal to downzone residential neighborhoods throughout the city.
The affected neighborhoods are zoned R-4. The proposal will redefine the by-right building height in R-4 zones from 40 feet to 35 feet and impose a two-dwelling unit maximum per lot.
The Zoning Commission held a public hearing on this downzoning (case 14-11) on January 15, 2015. They are accepting comments by email until 3 PM on January 29.
Send comments OPPOSING case 14-11 to email@example.com
You don't need to be an expert in zoning issues to see that limiting residential growth opportunities will only make our current housing crisis even worse.
Even the former Director of D.C.'s Office of Planning is opposed to this drastic proposal.
Some Lanier Heights folks want to downzone Lanier Heights from R-5-B to R-4. The Lanier Heights case has not been filed yet but we expect it will be filed soon. If the R-4 downzoning plan is rejected by the Zoning Commission, then Lanier Heights downzoning probably will be rejected, too. If the R-4 downzoning passes, and Lanier Heights is down zoned to R-4, that will be a double loss to everyone living in Lanier Heights.
If this proposal passes it will have a huge impact on the entire city, not just R-4 neighborhoods or Lanier Heights. Everyone who cares about the future of D.C. should OPPOSE case 14-11 now.
PUBLIC COMMENTS WILL BE CLOSED ON JAN 29 at 3 PM.
The Zoning Commission accepts emailed comments only as signed PDF.
ZONING COMMISSION PUBLIC HEARING VIDEO ONLINE.
We saw six and a half pages of people who had signed up to speak, more than 160 speakers. Those who had checked off as SUPPORTERS and OPPONENTS of the proposal seemed about evenly split. However as the meeting progressed more and more people who were called upon to speak had already left due to the lateness of the hour.
On site, enter 14-11, click GO, then VIEW DETAILS, then VIEW FULL LOG.
(Click on image to enlarge)
NOTE for those who read the Washington Post headline below without clicking on the link for the full story: The "mini-skyscrapers" refer to pop-ups in some commercially zoned areas of the city that permit 65 foot height limits in blocks where some existing houses are only 20 feet tall. That is not the case in Lanier Heights, where current buildings almost always have a height of at least 40 feet, and where current R-5-B zoning limits height to a maximum of 50 feet.
In a city filled with pop-up loathers and lovers, D.C. ponders its mini-skyscrapers
The pop-up debate in Lanier Heights pits "property rights" against "neighborhood character"
Moratorium on Pop-Up and Pop-Back Developments. The Commission voted 7-0 to send a letter urging the Mayor and the District Council to enact a moratorium on pop-up and pop-back developments of rowhouses until regulations have been put into place. The Commission then voted 7-0 to send a letter urging the Mayor and the District Council to direct the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to use the grade plane method to assess lower level gross floor area, and to conduct an administrative review of DCRA’s processes for assessing construction permit applications.
BZA Appeal for 2305-2307 Ontario Road NW. The Commission voted 7-0 to include this matter on the agenda without the typical two weeks’ advance notice on the basis that doing so would not be adverse to the community. The Commission then voted 6-0 to join a BZA appeal with respect to the DC Zoning Administrator’s decision to allow the developer of these properties to provide less than the amount of parking specified in the zoning regulations.
TO: Anthony J. Hood, Chairman, Marcie Cohen, Vice-Chairman
Robert Miller, Michael G. Turnbull, Peter G. May, Commissioners
Dear Zoning Commissioners: