Archive for the ‘Zoning’ category

Update on AFRH Zone A Development

June 6, 2022

Development Plan for AFRH Zone A showing location and configuration

On Thursday, June 2, 2022, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) had a public meeting for an amendment to the Armed Forces Retirement Home’s (AFRH) Zone 1 development plan. Neighbors have long desired that any development at the AFRH would lead to increased access to green space. While Urban Turf has briefly covered this meeting, this is a good opportunity to share my thoughts on the develpment and next steps.


In short, I remain deeply disappointed and underwhelmed by the AFRH development plan and dispite the many successful community events that the Friends of the Soldiers Home has organized on their grounds, the AFRH leadership seems to be reverting to a position of resisting community access. In my assessment, this will only change with strong community involvement moving forward.

On June 2, 2022, the National Capital Planning Commission reviewed an amendement to the AFRH Zone A master plan. This is the large development that has been in the works for over a decade and is located near the cloverleaf at Irving and North Capital Street (see image above). Only three people testified before the NCPC: myself, ANC4C Commissioner Jonah Goodman, and John Hughes of the Friends of the Soldeirs Home. No one testified from Ward 5.

All three of us testified that a significant flaw in the development plan is the lack of community access to the neighborhoods to the west and north. While the AFRH has talked a good game about creating public green space as part of their development, I pointed out in particular that the development plan makes it clear that the green space is not designed as a benefit to the neighbors living here now, but instead as an amenity to residents they hope will move to their development. The configuration and massing of the planned buildings clearly convey that for all intents and purposes this is a “gated community” without the fence and gate.

Many of the NCPC Commissioners heard this position loud and clear. While they approved the amendment, the also included the following request in their report (read full report here).

Requests: that AFRH re-engage with NCPC staff, the District of Columbia Office of Plannign, the National Park Service, and the community to evaluate the feasibility of possible public access through the western portion of the AFRH Zone (golf course and open space) as part of a future AFRH submission for the golf course and open space.”

It was clear at the hearing that AFRH leadership was disappointed that the issue of public access was raised and it was clear that they did not expect testimony criticising their development. It was also clear to me that the community needs to organize and mobilize to have a strong voice and push the needle on this.

Next Steps

While the NCPC voted to approve the Zone A amendment, there will be several key areas where community members can, and need to, be involved — these include Zoning and Historic Preservation approvals. Both will require public hearings where all interested neighbors can and need to engage. The development plan is not far enough along for hearings to be scheduled for either yet, so this is something that we all need to monitor.

While the AFRH leadership clearly doesn’t see how “their development” concerns the greater community, they are mistaken. By designing a car-centric, disconnected neighborhood in an area with poor access to public transportation, the 3,000+ residential units they hope to construct will have a significant negative impact on general quality of life, especially with traffic and polution. It is in their best interest to create stronger pedistrian and bike connections to Park View and Petworth to mitigate those impacts. This is a win/win approach that not only would provide neighbors with better access to green space, but also meet the future demand of the over 3,000 residents that  AFRH hopes to bring to the area. 

I believe the time has come for neighbors to again re-engage and push back. I will be working with my ANC collegues and other community leaders to determine the timeline for engagement and opportunities for feedback. I’ll repost again when I have more information to share on this front.

Park Morton Steering Committee Meeting Schedule for Tonight

March 23, 2017
Tonight’s scheduled Park Morton Steering Committee meeting is Open to the Public and designed to report out to the community where things are with the project. The meeting will be held at the Park View Recreation Center in the rear community room, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.
Topics to be discussed include:
  1. The Park Morton and Bruce Monroe PUD process and status to date;
  2. Receive an update from the Park Morton Relocation and Re-occupancy sub-committee; and,
  3. The upcoming Bruce Monroe park planning process.

The Zoning Commission held a Public Meeting of March 13, 2017 for Final Action in both Zoning Commission Case No. 16-11 and No. 16-12. Those public meetings are available for viewing here.

(Buildings on Park Road belonging to Park Morton, which will be razed and replaced as part of the Park Morton redevelopment effort.)

How Would You Redesign Park Morton?

December 9, 2015

The redevelopment of Park Morton is both necessary and something that will have a positive impact on everyone who lives in the Park View community. Yet, at the first Park Morton Planning and Design Workshop held on December 1st only about 50 residents participated. The next Planning and Design Workshop is scheduled for Saturday, December 12th, from 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Bruce-Monroe @ Park View School.

At the first workshop, the unsettled questions surrounding the former Bruce Monroe School site related to scale, density, and park programming also proved to be more of a distraction for some groups than others, preventing them from focusing on areas of agreement which would help answer the build-first site questions.

So, in the interest of coming up with some concrete ideas to ensure that the new Park Morton is a success and inclusive of community participation, I’m encouraging people to think about how the current Park Morton site could be developed in a way that knits back into the surrounding community. These ideas can then be shared at the November 12th workshop.

Park Morton Existing(Park Morton as it exists today.)

Above is a plan of the current Park Morton site, and you can see how the streets and houses were arranged just prior to the creation of Park Morton here. The general plan from 2008 is below. As you can see, many of the buildings are far more dense than is allowed by the R-4 zoning. In short, massive buildings were considered in 2008 as there wasn’t enough land to accommodate the mixed income community that is planned.

Park Morton Plan 2008(Park Morton Plan from 2008.)

Below is an idea I came up with which, I believe, addresses many of the challenges to redesigning the site while complying with the sites current zoning much more than the 2008 plan did. It retains apartment buildings along Park Road, the west end of Morton Street, and the southeastern corner of Morton Street. The large central building on Park Road is sited away from the street to help provide some green space and convey an entrance to the community.

Morton Street is opened up to Warder Street, and alleys are extend through blocks eliminating dead ends and cul-de-sacs.

Rowhouses line the north side of Morton Street, and face a park on the south side of Morton Street.

Lastly, there is some open land behind the apartment building at the southeast end of the property which could also be programmed as either a playground or a community garden.

Park Morton Redesign 3(One possible layout for the Park Morton area.)

Solving the planning puzzle for the current Park Morton site will help answer the question of how many units will need to be in the build-first phase of the development, which also helps answer the question of density.

So given the size, shape, and zoning (which is R-4) of the current Park Morton site, how would you design it?

Public Comment Period on Pop-Up Regulations Open Through June 1st

May 21, 2015

Regardless of where you stand on Zoning Case No. 14-11 — aka the Pop-Up Regulations — if this issue is something important to you you’re going to want to send in your comments to the Zoning Commission before June 1st (the comment period began on May 1st). While there are many items in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking of interest, to me the most important issue needing community input is implementation — should the Pop-Up Regulations be implemented immediately upon approval or should there be a delayed implementation date?

Below is the announcement from the Office of Zoning Web site:

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Zoning Commission Case No. 14-11 – Text Amendments to Chapters 1, 3, 4, 26, and 31, Maximum Height and Minimum Lot Dimension Requirements and Use Permissions in the R-4 District – or the “Pop-Up” Regulations will be published on Friday, May 1st , in the D.C. Register. The public comment period will open on May 1st and close on June 1st. If you wish to submit documents, please do so by email to, by mail or hand delivery to the Office of Zoning, 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 200-S, Washington, DC 20001 or by fax to (202) 727-6072

The proposed rules are intended to address concerns heard by the Commission with respect to what have come to be called “pop ups.” A pop up generally is a row dwelling upon which an addition is constructed that results in the structure visibly rising above the roofs of adjacent dwellings. Pop ups have been on the increase in R-4 Zone Districts where a maximum height of forty (40) feet is permitted and where buildings existing prior to May 12, 1958 may be converted to apartment houses provided there is nine hundred square feet (900 sq. ft.) of land area for each existing and added unit.

For more information about this case, please review a copy of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by clicking here.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Office of Zoning at 202-727-6311 or


Planning & Zoning Workshop This Saturday, September 27th

September 22, 2014

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding planning and zoning as it pertains to our older residential neighborhoods — particularly in Ward 1. In Lanier Heights, there has been discussion to down zone the rowhouse areas currently zoned R-5-B to R-4. One of the significant differences between the two is that R-5-B allows apartment dwellings whereas R-4 is primarly for single-family rowdwellings which “can” be converted to apartment dwellings under certain conditions.

In much of Columbia Heights and nearly all of Park View, our rowhouses are currently located within the R-4 Zone. Even here, there is a proposal to make changes to the R-4 zone to reduce building height from 40 ft. to 35 ft. and to limit conversions to no more than two dwelling units (unless the owner gets a special exception). The Office of Planning’s proposal to make these changes is in response to the ever increasing occurrence of developers flipping rowhouses in the R-4 zone, converting them to multi-family dwellings, and “popping-up” the houses with another level.

Often times, the result of these flips has been less than attractive, resulting in many reaching out to the Office of Planning seeking help in controlling this trend. Additionally, this has had a direct and negative impact on the number of available living units with three or more bedrooms, thus increasing the cost for family sized housing in the city.

On Saturday, September 27th, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 1A and 1B will be co-hosting a community workshop with members of the Office of Planning to foster open discussion on the current stresses within the District’s  rowhouse neighborhoods. The workshop will discuss the process behind their current proposals as well as the pros and cons related to adopting them.

See the flyer below for full details:


Planning Proposal Recommends Preservation of Family Rowhouse Neighborhoods

August 20, 2014

Map of ANC 1A and 1B, showing areas currently zoned R-4.

Map of ANC 1A and 1B, showing areas currently zoned R-4.

Zoning, Pop-ups, and converting single-family houses to multiple-family dwellings is something that is very much in the news these days. On on side are many residents who see pop-ups and house conversions as both undesirable and destructive to both the character and livability of decades old single-family neighborhoods. One the other side are residents who believe that adding height, back of the house additions, and converting rowhouses to apartments and condos is the only real answer to ensuring that housing supply meets demand which helps keep housing affordable in a growing urban environment.

Currently, the Office of Planning (OP) has proposed changing  both the height and the number of allowable living units within the city’s residential rowhouse neighborhoods — Zoned R-4 (see map for areas Zoned R-4) — with the goal of maintaining the residential character of these neighborhoods (Read the full OP Proposal and Recommendation here). According to the Office of Planning, the R-4 Zone was intended to be a family residential area composed primarily of row dwellings when it was created. The type of development that generally cuts up these structures into multiple units tends to be at odds with the original intent of this zoning.

Key elements of OP’s proposal include, but are not limited to:

  • Change the R-4 by-right height for a detached, semi-detached, rowhouse, or flat building from 40 ft to 35 ft with an allowance up to 40 ft by special exception;
  • Include mezzanine in the number of stories;
  • Conversions:
    • Limit to non-residential buildings (i.e. schools, churches, fire stations) by special exception;
    • Allow conversions of residential buildings up to 3 or 4 units by special exception with units beyond 2 subject to affordability requirements.

On August 4th, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 1A and 1B hosted a joint town hall so that OPs Jennifer Steingasser could present the proposal and answer community questions (See the slide deck from the presentation here).

Some interesting information that came out of the meeting is that areas zoned R-4 only comprises 15.6% of the District’s residential land areas. Areas zoned R-5, on the other hand, which supports apartments with no limits on the number of units, has a total land area of 29.8%. The full chart is below.

Residential Land Percentages

Another argument presented for preserving rowhouse neighborhoods introduced at the meeting was the need to preserve housing large enough to support families. This was described as housing with three or more bedrooms. According to OP, few if any new three+ bedroom units are included in new construction. As existing houses large enough for families are converted to apartments, it decreases the number of family units in the District and has been driving up demand and prices for the remaining family sized houses.

The last item on note that I’d like to draw out from the meeting is that the limit preventing  converting structures to apartments would not apply to church buildings, commercial structures, schools, firehouses, and other non-residential structures.

After the August 4th Town Hall, it was clear that there is a lot of community interest in this proposal, and that there are still many aspects of it which need to be carefully considered. Both ANC 1A and 1B and currently working to schedule a follow up meeting for the community for a Saturday in September.

ANC 1A/1B Planning Town Hall Scheduled for August 4th

August 1, 2014

Construction at Columbia Road and Warder Street.

Construction at Columbia Road and Warder Street.

Pop-ups — or, construction projects that add height to existing row dwellings — has been in the news a lot over the past year. When pop-ups occur, it is often a prelude to a single family home conversion to a multi-family dwelling. One thing coming out of the discussion about pop-ups — and out of the Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) hearings — is a proposal by the Office of Planning (OP) to change two elements within  R-4 Zones. R-4 Zones are typically residential areas that largely contain 2- and 3-story row dwellings.

The proposal currently being considered by OP consists of two parts. The first would reduce the allowable building height within the R-4 Zone from the current 40 ft. to 35 ft. The second would be to limit subdividing an existing house in a R-4 zone to no more than two units regardless of lot size.

To better understand this proposal, ANCs 1A and 1B have collaborated to host a town hall meeting so that residents interested in learning more about this proposal have the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns (flyer below). The town hall meeting’s primary focus will be on OP’s R-4 proposal, although related topics will be introduced as they help provide a broader context and understanding for the discussion.

Jennifer Steingasser, Deputy Director, Development Review and Historic Preservation at the DC Office of Planning will be a key speaker at the Town Hall. It should be an interesting discussion.

R4 Town Hall

Redevelopment of Park Road Church Property Gets Board of Zoning Adjustment Support

July 23, 2014

Perspective 1 625 Park Road(Rendering by Arcadia Design)

Yesterday, July 22nd, the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) considered the zoning variances requested to redevelop the former New Community Baptist Church property located at 625 Park Road while incorporating the historic church structure. After hearing testimony from the applicant, the Office of Planning (which opposed the relief), representatives from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A (supporting of the project), and residents the BZA voted unanimously to support the BZA application. This is a significant step forward for this development. Prior to the BZA hearing, ANC 1A voted unanimously at its July meeting to support the project. (You can read a related post on UrbanTurf).

The core issue related to this property has been to balance the competing needs of preserving the historic church with the desire to add density and more housing to the area. The plan as approved achieves this, as the new building along with adaptively reusing the former church will create a 38-unit development (the ANC had previously considered and supported a 41-unit project).

Since first presented to ANC 1A, the front of the building has been set back a few more feet, the third level is now in line with neighboring rowhouses, and the three units along Park Road will now have individual entrances facing the street. As the church structure is set back from the street, this also creates a grassy court that otherwise would not exist. (Those interested in watching the BZA hearing can do so at this link).

The redevelopment of 625 Park Road will significantly help revitalize that section of the community.

Perspective 2 625 Park Road(Rendering by Arcadia Design)

OP’s Summary of the Zoning Regulations Review Amendments and Their Impact on Our Neighborhood

March 10, 2014

Late last week I received a summary of how the proposed Zoning Regulations Review (ZRR) amendments would impact ANC 1A from the Office of Planning (OP). It is my understanding that OP has sent such a summary to each Advisory Neighborhood Commission, so if you live in a different area of town you may want to reach out to your Commissioner or OP directly.

According to OP, the summaries provides a bit of background on the ZRR process and a description of current and next steps, but they mostly address the question “what is of relevance to my ANC?”  Topics covered include zone naming, including a list of zones in each ANC (page 7); use permissions; low density residential; parking; accessory apartment; alley lot; corner store; commercial zoning; industrial zoning; downtown; and campus / school plan proposed provisions.  Maps are included to help one locate where various provisions would, or would not, apply within the ANC. I’ve posted a copy of the report below for those interested in reading the summary.

ZRR screen shot

Based on my review of the summary, the following proposals of the ZRR would apply to the neighborhood:

  • Front-yard setbacks, which would help ensure new development is consistent with existing street character would be established in R-4 zones;
  • Incentives to “fill in” narrow courts and side yards in rowhouse zones  would be eliminated;
  • For areas close to the Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue Metro stations, and along the 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue metro bus corridors, parking would still be required for new construction, but requirement would be reduced by 50%;
  • In the R-4 zoned areas, a flat, or two units, is already permitted. The proposal would allow the second unit to be in a separate accessory building on the lot, subject to access conditions; and,
  • Corner stores would be allowed in R-4 zones. Currently, only grandfathered corner stores are allowed as it is not a permitted use. In Park View, there would be little to no impact as most of the corner stores operating in 1950 are still operating today.

According to OP, the summary is based on the version of the proposed text set down by the Zoning Commission (ZC) on September 9, 2013 for public hearing.  A paper copy of the September 9th version is available at each DC public library, with our closet location would be the Petworth Library.  Copies of the full text are also available on our ZRR website ( and the Office of Zoning website (

Each summary has also been uploaded to the OP ZRR website with a notice on the OP blogsite, and uploaded to the on-line Office of Zoning record for this case (08-06A).

Anyone with questions or comments on OP’s ZRR proposals should feel free to contact OP at or 202-442-7600. There are still a few open houses that OP is holding in March. The dates and times are below. Again, notice that the next meeting is Tuesday night at the Petworth Library.

Date Time Location
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 4:00 – 8:00 PM Petworth Library4200 Kansas AVE NWWashington, DC 20011
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 4:00 – 8:00 PM Deanwood Recreation Center1350 49th ST NWWashington, DC 20019
Friday, March 14, 2014 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM DC Office of Planning1100 4th ST SW, Suite E650Washington, DC 20024
Saturday, March 15, 2014 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SEWashington, DC 20020
Friday, March 21, 2014 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM DC Office of Planning1100 4th ST SW, Suite E650Washington, DC 20024
Friday, March 28, 2014 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM DC Office of Planning1100 4th ST SW, Suite E650Washington, DC 20024

Some Notes from Saturday’s Ward One Briefing on the Zoning Regulations Review

February 11, 2014

Last Saturday, February 8, 2014, Councilmember Graham organized a meeting for residents of Ward 1 to learn more about the current proposal to revise the master blueprint for the District of Columbia, the DC Zoning Regulations. This has been a process that has been in progress for the past several years. The Zoning Regulation Review (ZRR) is intended to be the first major rewrite of the District’s Zoning Regulations since 1958. The meeting was held at the Columbia Heights Community Center from noon to 2 p.m. and was attended by 50 to 60 residents from most sections of Ward 1.

The program kicked off with a presentation by Nancy MacWood, chair of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. While her presentation got a bit detailed at times, overall she gave an overview of the rewrite and hit on three major themes: the ZRR’s impact on parking, accessory dwelling policies, and neighborhood policies. Handouts on these three areas were provided (click preceding links). You can also view the slide deck from Ms. MacWood’s presentation online.

Following the presentation, there was a panel made up of Alma Gates (a Committee of 100 trustee and chair of its Zoning Subcommittee), Sue Hemberger (a political scientist and member of the committee of 100 Zoning Subcommittee and Planning Subcommittee), and Laura Richards (former chair and a current trustee of the Committee of 100).

As one might imagine, understanding zoning can be an arduous task … and I think it is safe to presume that to do so would take more than the time devoted to the subject on Saturday. Also, it is easy for interested members of the community to ask questions seeking answers to help deal with problems in the community that are related to construction and development but actually not zoning issues. A good example was when 1A Commissioner Dotti Love Wade asked if the ZRR would prevent a property owner from digging out a front yard and lowering it to grade level. This has been done on a number of rowhouses in Columbia Heights by developers converting former single family houses into multi-family units. Lowering the yard to grade creates a patio and entryway into the basement level of the structure.

In response to Commissioner Love Wade’s question, the panel initially misinterpreted the question as one seeking clarity on building setback … and reasonbly enough, as setback is a zoning issue, but lowering a yard to grade is not. The presentation also made it clear that issues such as “pop ups”, an issue that Councilmember Graham has expressed great concern about, is neither addressed by the current zoning code nor would it be in the revision.

Committee 100 zoning briefing(Committee of 100 members answering community questions during the Ward 1 Zoning Briefing.)

One thing I found interesting is that at the beginning of the panel presentation Ms. MacWood stated that the single issue that rises to the top of most residents as a concern is the affordability of housing. This struck a chord with me as both the presenters and nearly all of the attendees seemed to be in opposition to the proposed changes (there were no Smart Growth advocates on the panel, nor did any seem to be in the audience) to the zoning code and even suggested that the community seek a moratorium on neighborhood development until key concerns are addressed … yet one could argue that the one thing the code does by loosening many of the rules is that it would make District housing more diverse, more dense, and as a result, more affordable.

Instead, a resident from Mt. Pleasant expressed great concern that original single family houses were being subdivided into multi-family dwellings at an ever increasing rate. She asked if we could get the Federal Government involved or come under the oversight of the National Capital Planning Commission as this is the Nation’s Capital. The panel of presenters replayed that this was not the answer, but that such testimony could be made to the Zoning Commission at the Ward 1 hearing on February 13th.

The issue of corner stores in residential neighborhoods was also touched upon during the presentation. These are only allowed if they were in existence prior to 1958 since they are currently not allowed in R-4 zones. Ms. MacWood expressed great concern that corner stores again be allowed in residential sections as a matter of right. What I find interesting, from my perspective as a resident of Park View, is that nearly all of the corner stores we had in the neighborhood prior to 1958 are still operating and for the most part are assets to the community rather than burdens. Which made me wonder if some of the changes proposed in the ZRR — the changes that are being opposed for fear that they will destroy the unique character that is Washington, D.C. — are actually coming close to embracing the spirit of the building conditions that were in play when much of Washington was built (When the current code was adopted in 1958, many buildings and uses were grandfathered in because they no longer conformed to the code).

From my perspective, I don’t think the proposed zoning rewrite will have a significant negative impact (if any) in Park View. I agree with others that there are a few issues with the zoning rewrite, but the areas of concern I have with the rewrite are not due to what the ZRR does, but rather what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t address the compatibility of significant alterations to structures in any meaningful way … which is a concern that frequently is used by residents coming to ANC meetings in opposition of Zoning Variance requests. But then again, one could argue that “pop ups” and aesthetics really aren’t zoning issues, but rather preservation issues. Perhaps the best approach would be to adopt the more liberal zoning proposal and create large conservation districts for the prewar neighborhoods that don’t currently enjoy historic district protection, an approached I’ve already suggested before.

All-in-all, I do think that a couple of things were clear. The vast majority of the meeting’s attendees do care about their neighborhoods, and they would like more time to get to know what the ZRR is all about. Whether you support or oppose the ZRR, it seems reasonable to me to extend the process by another six months to provide the opportunity for those concerned that they have not had enough time to become acquainted with its content to do just that.

The DC government agency that will vote upon the zoning changes is the DC Zoning Commission (ZC).  The Zoning Commission has announced a public hearing to receive testimony this week.    The hearing for Wards One and Two will be held on February 13, at the D.C. Housing Finance Authority at 815 Florida Ave., NW beginning at 6:00 p.m. and is open to anyone who wants to attend and offer testimony.

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