Saturday, June 21, 2014

DCRA updated its construction code to allow "homeowners the right to extend their buildings beyond the Building Restriction Line, without first obtaining a variance"

Optional reading here.

See the post below from the Historic Washington list at Yahoogroups.

I have no idea what impact the issue described in the Email below might have on a R-4 rowhouse neighborhood.

Anyone has any insight?

Is this an issue for rowhouse neighborhoods?


[HistoricWashington] DC code quietly changed to allow construction beyond building restriction lines‏

From: Wanda Reif
Did you know that a recent DC code change ----issued as an "emergency" --- gives homeowners the right to extend their buildings beyond the Building Restriction Line, without first obtaining a variance?
Without public notice or press attention, the DC Dept of Consumer Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) has hastily revised its building rules to allow homes to extend past building restriction lines on narrow residential streets. This new rule, steathily adopted without notice to the DC Council, or the ANCs, very conveniently accommodates Calvin Cafritz's design for the goliath new 5333 Connecticut Ave. building, which has bay windows across most of its Kanawha Street facade that project 4 feet past Kanawha's building restriction line. But in fact this new rule applies throughout the city, to all homes on streets 50-70 feet wide.
Here's how the rule change works: Under DC law, a homeowner's property line is at the edge of the sidewalk closest to the house. "Street" width is measured from the property line on one side of the street across to the other property line. In other words, edge of sidewalk to edge of sidewalk. The official street widths are posted by the Office of the Surveyor for DC. On many streets, especially those 50-70 feet wide, there is also another line---a designated Building Restriction Line (BRL), usually 10 feet from the sidewalk toward the front of the house. The BRL allows for green space between the house and the sidewalk. This space between the property line and the BRL is called the building restriction area. A property may not extend beyond this BRL into the building restriction area without getting a variance from DCRA.
On May 9, 2014, DCRA issued an "emergency" change to the DC construction code that would measure the width of a "street" from BRL to BRL, thus increasing street width to include the building restriction areas on both sides of the street. This would give property owners on narrow streets the right to build beyond the Building Restriction Line without requiring a variance. This is a drastic revision of existing law which would have far-reaching, undesirable effects on many neighborhoods throughout the city.
This major change has been put into effect on an "emergency" basis as of May 9, 2014, without notice or opportunity for public hearings, or for ANC consideration. A portion of the text of this change reads as follows [changes are underlined]:
"3202.7.1 Limitations based on street width. Except as otherwise permitted by this chapter, projections shall not be allowed on any street less than 60 feet (18 288 mm) in width.
"3202.10.3.3 Projection. The projection of bay windows shall be limited as follows:
1. Three feet (914 mm) on streets 60 feet (18 288 mm) to 70 feet (21 336 mm) wide.
2. Four feet (1219 mm) on streets more than 70 feet (21 336) wide.
For purposes of Section 3202.10.3.3, the term “street” shall include the public thoroughfare and any adjoining building restriction areas.
"3202.11.2.3 Projection. Projection of one-story high porches shall be limited as follows:
1. Three feet (914 mm) on streets without public parking, 60 feet (18 288 mm) to 70 feet (21 336 mm) wide.
2. Four feet (1219 mm) on streets without public parking, more than 70 feet (21 336 mm) wide.
3. Five feet (1524 mm) on streets with public parking. Porches more than one story in height shall conform to the provisions for bay windows in Section 3202.10.3.3 as to the extent of projection beyond the building line.
For purposes of Section 3202.11.2.3, the term “street” shall include the public thoroughfare and any adjoining building restriction areas. "
This change in building restrictions would have a significant impact throughout the city. There are many narrow residential streets with 10-foot building restriction lines. With this "emergency" change by DCRA, homes on those narrow DC streets could be built 3-4 feet beyond the Building Restriction Line, reducing green space on both sides of the street. Is this desirable? What is the purpose of a Building Restriction Line, if not to protect green space on these narrow streets? Shouldn't such a major change be discussed in public hearings before being implemented?
An "emergency" change is allowed to bypass the public notice and hearings normally required by DC law. DC law defines an "emergency" as something "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety, welfare, or morals." [See D.C. Code Sec.2-505(c).] How does this May 9, 2014 change qualify as an "emergency"?
If you agree that this change might not be in the best interests of your neighborhood street or the best interests of the city, and should not be deemed an "emergency," I urge you to contact your ANC representative, DCRA, and the DC Council.  I have sent notices about this rule change to all DC Councilmembers and the 3/4G ANC. The Council can halt any "emergency" rule change. Ask them what, if anything, they plan to do. This is a major change in the building rules that should be subject to public notice and hearings to assess its impact.
Here is contact information for all Council members:

The many mayoral and city council candidates have talked a lot about working to eliminate corruption in government. This DC code change appears to have been issued by DCRA, without fanfare or public notice, solely to benefit the city's developers----and to avoid public scrutiny by declaring an "emergency." How much did these developers contribute to the candidates' campaigns? Who wrote this rule change? How much thought, if any, was given to the impact of this rule change on the character of narrow residential streets, which previously had building restriction lines to protect green space?
Wanda Reif


Unknown said...

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Citizenalpha said...

Having been through the permitting process and having gone through it personally I've come to realize what's on the books doesn't really matter. Nobody in DCRA actually knows the codes. Five different people will have five different interpretations on what applies and how it's applied. Two more won't even know the code exists. Three more will make up codes on the spot.