A proposal to limit residential pop-ups in the District went before the Zoning Commission on Thursday night in a contentious hearing that was ultimately extended to February because so many people showed up to speak for and against the plan.
The Office of Planning (OP) is proposing rules it says would limit the increasingly common pop-ups, residences which rise above DC’s iconic rowhouses and are frequently used to enable two-unit conversions of single-family homes.
Here’s a quick primer on what the Office of Planning has proposed for the city’s R-4 zones:
Note: R-4 districts in DC permit matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses (including detached, semi-detached, row dwellings, and flats), churches and public schools.
Height: Planning wants to limit by-right height in R-4 zones to 35 feet, with homes up to 40 feet allowed by special exception. Roof structures on detached, rowhouse and residential buildings would be limited to ten feet. Planning says more than 90 percent of buildings in R-4 zones have heights no taller than 35 feet.
Conversions: Limit conversions of buildings into multi-family structures to the reuse of non-residential buildings, like schools. If this proposal is not accepted, Planning suggested a number of alternatives, including reducing lot area requirements per unit and establishing inclusionary zoning for any units beyond the first two.
Mezzanines: Redefine the zoning code’s definition of “mezzanine,” spaces between floors frequently seen in loft-style architecture, so that they count as a story.
The Office of Planning says pop-ups, especially pop-ups built to aid the conversion of a rowhouse into a two- or three-family building, are at odds with the zoning goal for R-4 districts, which are intended to facilitate single-family homes. Several ANCs in R-4 districts showed up to support the proposal. Some critics say the proposal doesn’t address the unattractive design of many pop-ups; opponents suggest it goes too far to limit development in a growing city. While one of the more infamous pop-ups is a five-story building on V Street near the U Street Corridor, that building is commercially zoned, meaning it wouldn’t fall under the proposal. The Office of Planning’s proposal would only limit pop-ups in R-4 zones.
OP says its preferred proposal, which would limit development, is legally in line with the city’s goals for growth.
David Alpert, the owner of website Greater Greater Washington and a proponent of smart urban growth, also spoke in opposition to Planning’s proposal. Alpert pointed out that a recent Planning document indicates that available land for new housing will run out in about 25 years or less if growth continues at a faster-than-expected pace.
But many neighbors of the pop-ups had a very different plea before the ZC: please, end the pop-ups.
“I can think of only one or two pop-ups in my neighborhood that are acceptable,” said Betsy McDaniel, a Bloomingdale resident, giving an example she called “particularly heinous.”
Or as DC resident Todd Crosby wrote: “I do not want to BBQ in a Panopticon.”