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And be sure to read the long list of comments following the GGW post.
In neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, people have been converting row houses to 3- and 4-unit condo buildings. Should zoning stop this practice? It would under a new proposal from the DC Office of Planning, but not all of DC's zoning commissioners were enthusiastic about the idea.
This proposal would apply to the zones now designated R-4, including neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Trinidad, Bloomingdale, Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and Park View. Today, it's legal to have two separate units in one of these row houses, but not more unless the lot is particularly large.
OP's proposal would take away the ability to have more than 2 units at all. It would also limit houses to 35 feet instead of 40 (though owners could go to 40 with a zoning hearing) and end the current policy allowing small "mezzanines" to not count as floors.
The Comprehensive Plan defines the R-4 zone as primarily single-family row houses (perhaps with basement apartments), not as apartment buildings. But in booming neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, OP planners say, developers have outbid individual families for houses with the expectation that they could get BZA exceptions to make the building into a multi-unit condo and add on to the top and back.
Zoning commissioners worry this may reduce housing
OP Associate Director Jennifer Steingasser presented this plan to the Zoning Commission, DC's part-federal, part-local board which has the final say on zoning, on June 9. Commissioner Marcie Cohen asked whether this change would reduce the amount of new housing that can get built in the city. She said,
A major concern that I have is the need for housing, and that's usually the need that's brought before us in the BZA cases. It's adding housing. And no one seems to appreciate density, yet we have the infrastructure in certain neighborhoods for density and I guess I'm in favor of taking advantage to provide the needed housing that we have in the city. How do we balance that?
Steingasser laid out the arguments, and said,
It's just a balance. We're trying to encourage housing, by all means, but we would rather it not be in the single family and at the expense of the historic row houses, that it be geared more towards these larger lots or into these higher-density, multifamily, commercial mixed-use areas.
Something of a debate ensued.
Chairman Anthony Hood: I'm glad to hear you say that, Ms. Steingasser ... While I understand the need, there are a lot of folks in this city who bought in their areas for a reason. ... Do we just throw everybody on top of them or do we kind of balance that out? ... While there is a need for housing, we have to be delicate with that because in this city who's been there a long time, they spent a lot of money in purchasing their homes which is their biggest investment, and they didn't buy into that.
Comissioner Rob Miller: That's why there are five members on this commission, because it is a changing city, it is a growing city, and where you tip the balance—does two to three [units in a building] really change the character of a neighborhood? I don't think so. But maybe others do.
Steingasser: This is coupled with the new RF zones that we're proposing that do allow for more than 2 units. And where those get mapped will accommodate that. So it's not ensuring an amberification of all R-4, but allowing some areas to have more and some to have less.
Despite appearances, this doesn't deal with pop-ups very well
This specific proposal doesn't even address many of the complaints people have. This is mainly being billed in the press as a move to stop pop-ups. The lower height will deter some of the worst pop-ups, but it isn't going to stop people from adding a third story onto a 2-story row house in a place like Trinidad and the biggest objection is usually that the pop-ups are cheaply made and ugly. A design review process may be better than a zoning limit. Nor will this do anything about many of the more infamous pop-ups, likethe one on V Street, which is in an ARTS/C-2-B zone.