Wednesday, January 09, 2013

DC zoning regulations review #3: alley dwelling units

Alley dwellings.  Yes, Bloomingdale has alley dwellings on Bloomingdale Court NW.  But that is not what we are referring to here. 

We are referring to lots with houses facing the street -- and a second building on the same lot facing the alley.  Currently, alley dwellings cannot be residences.  They * can * be non-residential artist work space studios.  But not residences. Not currently.

But first -- before we even get to the discussion about alley-facing buildings that can be dwelling units -- a discussion about buildings in general along alleys.  

R-4 neighborhoods like Bloomingdale actually * do * allow for the construction of garages along alleys.  New construction garages are permitted under R-4. (Thanks to OP's Jennifer Steingasser for clarification!) The catch?  Many (most?) of the lots in Bloomingdale are not conforming: total lot size is too small, lot width is too narrow and the alley-from-center length is too short.  

Not long ago, a neighbor wanted to construct a new single-story garage abutting the alley.  Here are the nonconforming lot items, each of which was its own zoning variance:

(1) total lot size.  R-4 zone = 1,800 sq. ft.  Lot 807 = 1,746 sq. ft. 
(2) lot width.  R-4 = 18 ft.  Lot 807 = 17.46 ft.
(3) alley from center.  R-4 = 12 ft.  Lot 807 with garage = 9 ft.
In order to build a new construction garage in an R-4 neighborhood like Bloomingdale with "lot issues" listed above, one must undergo the zoning variance process.  Some neighbors don't want to go through that process.  Not surprisingly, I haven't seen too many (legally) created garages in Bloomingdale over the 20+ years that I have lived here.
So new construction garages are permitted in R-4, but in Bloomingdale, zoning variances are likely required.  Not a matter-of-right in many/most cases.
Okay, back to the topic of alley dwellings.  The proposed zoning regulations update allow for alley buildings that can be dwellings.  The term used is "accessory dwelling unit," but this term does not apply to R-4 neighborhoods, since multiple dwelling units are already permitted in R-4.  But DC Office of Planning info just uses the term ADU, so we have to mentally split out ADU's between R-1, R-2 and R-3 (currently  not permitted) and R-4 (which currently allows multiple dwelling units per lot).                                            
Currently, properties in R-4 zones are allowed two units in a house as a matter of right [900 sq feet per dwelling unit]. Under our proposal, one of those by-right units could be allowed in an accessory building (such as a carriage house). The property would need to conform to all development regulations, including lot occupancy and rear yard requirements. If a second unit is proposed for an accessory building, the building must conform to a number of limits (including separating from the main building). You can find these rules in the draft of Subtitle D.1 in § 304. In addition, all accessory buildings in these zones (whether containing living space or not) are limited to a footprint of 450 s.f.   See this.                                                     Minor note of clarification – in the R-4 zones (tentatively to be renamed the RF zones), a dwelling unit in an accessory building is technically not considered an ADU. It’s just a second dwelling unit. An accessory dwelling unit would not be allowed in these zones — you could just have the two. So the proposed zoning update is really proposing is that you can have the same two units you’re allowed now; you can just move one of them from the  main house to a carriage house.                Under the proposed zoning regs, an accessory building (whether or not a second unit was included) could be 22 feet. Under the current code, it can be 15 feet.
Here is what the DC Office of Planning has to say about ADU's.
Accessory Dwelling Unit 
Fact Sheet
What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit?
An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is  a separate dwelling unit on a single-family property. It can be included in the primary building, such as a basement apartment, or a separate building, such as a carriage house or converted garage.

How are ADUs Regulated?
Currently, ADUs are allowed by special exception throughout the city. Some zones also allow them by right only if they are being occupied by family members and household staff. The special exception requirement means that property owners have to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in a public hearing to have an ADU approved before it can be rented.
ADUs must be subordinate in size to the primary dwelling unit, and are limited by several other restrictions. Either the ADU or the primary dwelling must be occupied by the owner of the property. The property is not subdivided and only one accessory dwelling unit is allowed for each property.
Proposed Zoning Changes
The Office of Planning proposes to allow ADUs by right in residential zones if the ADU is either within the main house or occupies an existing garage or carriage house. This would allow property owners to create ADUs without going through a lengthy review process and would remove antiquated restrictions  on household staff and family requirements. Special exception review would still be required to establish an ADU in a new accessory building, to ensure that the new ADU fits in with the neighborhood’s character.
So -- single-story garages or two-story carriage houses can become dwelling units -- but only with some level of effort since it would not be matter-of-right.

You can read what Greater Greater Washington has to say about alley dwellings.
by David Alpert   •   January 5, 2013 10:13 am
And I should mention the DC Zoning Update blog.   Worth checking out. 

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