While there are many development issues that concern me as I see area real estate purchased and flipped by developers, one that is near the top of my list is chopping existing houses up into multifamily dwellings. I understand that there is a certain level of density that developers — and those willing to open a new business — consider desirable. But I’m not convinced that chopping up our housing stock to create more density is the right solution.
Fortunately, to increase density legally with our existing housing stock a developer needs to go before the ANC and the Board of Zoning Adjustment before they can convert a house into more that two units in most cases. This is because the zoning in our area — at least off of Georgia Avenue — is R-4 which is for single-family residential uses. Within the R-4 zoning, conversions of existing buildings to apartments is permitted for lots with a minimum lot area of 900 square feet per dwelling unit. The rear yard requirement is twenty (20) feet. Very few houses actually have the land to meet this permitted use.
This does not mean that we don’t already have properties in the neighborhood that have already been converted. Examples of these are more numerous in Columbia Heights than in Park View due to the availability of three story houses. In Park View, such houses are primarily on northern Warder, Quebec Place, and Rock Creek Church Road. They can be found throughout Columbia Heights.
It seems to me that the community’s need for smaller apartment and/or condo space is being addressed with the new development that has occurred on 14th Street and is continuing to arrive on Georgia Avenue. I’ve seen existing houses converted to multi-unit dwellings — most commonly by finishing off the basement as rental space. What I have not seen is new single family houses built.
My concern with the increase in smaller living spaces in the region can primarily be summed up as: 1) Children, and 2) Parking.
Children — At meeting after meeting I’ve heard about the importance of families to healthy communities. I happen to agree with this. If our community’s stock of single family houses shrinks, we may eventually have fewer families with children living in the community, and development issues such as the modernized school or renovated Recreation Center will end up being less relevant — and less beneficial — to the neighborhood’s residents.
Parking — Parking is tight on many blocks already. Many families may have one or two cars that are parked on the street. Additional living units created in former single family houses generally don’t include onsite parking, thus increasing the number of vehicles in the area requiring surface parking.
Hopefully the development trend in Park View will continue to favor renovating single-family houses rather than chopping them up. Within our current zoning laws there really isn’t much more that can be done than take each project requiring public input as they come up.