Posted tagged ‘zoning’

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


Conversation on Rowhouse Pop-Ups Continues

January 26, 2015
Over the past year, the houses on the southeast corner of Harvard Street, at 15th, have been slowly popping up. As each house falls like dominoes, the front porch is removed and the roof is raised. The house on the corner was the first to get renovated. The third house in was the last, and least compatible with the street.

Rowhouses on the southeast corner of Harvard Street, at 15th, have been slowly popping up over the past few years. As each house falls like dominoes, the front porch is removed and the roof is raised. The house on the corner was the first to get renovated. The third house in was the last, and least compatible with the street.

Leading up to, and since the January 15th Zoning hearing on the proposed text amendments to our rowhouse neighborhoods, a lot is being written both in favor and against those amendments. While there are several aspects to the text amendments, the focus has been on the additions to rowhouses known commonly as pop-ups. In reading through the testimony before the Zoning Commission on this issue, one might get the impression that should the amendments pass and be implemented that pop-ups would be banned in rowhouse districts. This is incorrect. The text amendments will be a good beginning in managing pop-ups, but it won’t stop them.

I wrote about pop-ups over a year ago and talked about how we need a process that will guide new construction in old neighborhoods — possibly the Conservation District — which will address the question of “How?” rather that “Can we?” I think there is real potential for new development in old neighborhoods with the proper oversight, design review, and guidance. Sadly, this doesn’t exist in D.C. at this time.

Today, Pop-ups will be a topic of discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show as well. I’m providing the write up from the WAMU Website below for those interested in turning in.

Kojo logo

Pop-Up Houses in D.C.

Some residential neighborhoods in D.C. are developing a jagged skyline as row house owners build up — adding on vertically to create so-called “pop-up” houses with more floors than their neighbors. Some home owners see them as a savvy way to increase a family’s space, or to create new units. But others consider them to be not only an eye-sore but a way to price more people out of the District housing market. We consider the practical, aesthetic and zoning issues created by pop-ups buildings.


  • Kent Boese D.C. ANC Commissioner (1A08); Chairperson of ANC1A
  • Martin Austermuhle Producer / Reporter,
  • Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, “Shaping the City,” Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park


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

Another Pop-Up Going Up in the Neighborhood

July 29, 2014

If you haven’t been at the southern end of Warder Street recently, you probably haven’t seen the pop-up at 423 Columbia Road. It is located right where Warder, Columbia Road, and Michigan Avenue come together and the house faces McMillan Reservoir. The Office of Planning is currently proposing some Zoning changes in R-4 Zones that, if implemented, would impact both building height and the number of units allowable in row structures. I’ll write more about that when I get a copy to the most recent version of Planning’s proposal.

423 Columbia Road(423 Columbia Road in the midst of adding another floor.)

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.

Ward 1 Zoning Meeting Scheduled for Saturday, February 8th

February 6, 2014

ZRRIf you’d like to know more about the proposed zoning changes that are being considered, Councilmember Graham has scheduled an opportunity for residents to learn more about them and ask questions.

Dear Neighbors,

There is today a major proposal to revise the master planning blueprint for the District, known as the DC Zoning Regulations.  This multi-year project is called the Zoning Regulation Review (ZRR) which will direct the growth of the city for the next fifty years and represents the first comprehensive revision since 1958.
As you can imagine, this is a huge effort that will influence our city’s growth, zoning, and planning for decades to come.  However, it has also been made clear that many citizens are overwhelmed by the deep complexity of this effort and many more are not even aware that the work on this document has been taking place.

I urge you to attend a briefing I am sponsoring on Saturday, February 8 at 12 noon to 2 PM at Columbia Heights Community Center at 1480 Girard St., NW.

This is a valuable opportunity to explore what can be done to limit overdevelopment (e.g. ‘pop ups’) in our neighborhoods, what changes are planned to parking requirements for new buildings, and what changes should be allowed to establish small stores in purely residential neighborhoods, and much, much more.

I have made contact with the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, an organization founded in 1923. The Committee’s officers, trustees and volunteer members contribute expertise and civic action in the service of responsible land use and planning in the District.  They will present an overview and answer questions at the Ward One briefing.

The DC government agency that will vote upon these changes is the DC Zoning Commission (ZC).  The Zoning Commission has announced a public hearing to receive testimony the week following the briefing I am hosting.    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 PM.  In preparation of this hearing, I am asking that you please attend as well as share the word with your neighbors that there is a forum to help explain these complicated issues.

Please contact my Director of Constituent Services, Wilson Reynolds with any questions at  Please join us.

Light refreshments will be served.

Ward One Briefing on Zoning Regulation Review
Hosted by Councilmember Jim Graham
Presented by the Committee of 100 on the Federal City
Saturday, February 8
12:00 Noon to 2:00 PM
Columbia Heights Recreation Center
1480 Girard St., NW

BZA Application for 3612-3614 Park Place Denied

September 11, 2013
3612-3614 Park Place. Both properties have be vacant for years.

3612-3614 Park Place. Both properties have been vacant for years.

Yesterday, the Board of Zoning Adjustment unanimously voted to deny the zoning variance request of the Bluewater group for 3612-3614 Park Place, NW. Earlier this year we learned that Bluewater had purchased the long vacant and blighted properties and was seeking a zoning variance from the lot coverage so that they could convert the two rowhouses into six living units. Five units are permissible by right.

While the Office of Planning opposed this proposal,  ANC 1A voted to approve the variance with strong support based primarily on the advanced state of decay and the compatibility of the design with the remainder of the existing rowdwellings. While the BZA has historically approved similar requests — many in far better condition than this property — in this case they chose not to grant the variance.

It’s too early to know what Bluewater’s next steps might be. It’s a very real possibility that the outcome will include the five living units allowed by right. It’s also a very real possibility that the buildings will be razed and replaced by new construction. I’m sure the developer will be exploring all of their options before deciding how to proceed.

I’ll post an update when more concrete details are known.

Ward 1 Zoning Meeting Scheduled for January 5

December 26, 2012

The DC Office of Planning is currently in the midst of hosting public meetings to discuss the draft proposed changes to the existing Zoning Ordinance (11 DCMR). The first three meetings were held this month, and the five remaining Ward meetings resume in January with the first public meeting scheduled in Ward 1. The meeting will be held at Harriet Tubman Elementary School on Saturday, January 5 and begin at 10:00 a.m. If you can’t make that meeting but are interested in the proposed zoning changes, you can attend any of the public meetings. The letter below includes dates, times, and locations for all the remaining meetings.

The Office of Planning has been leading this multi-year public effort to review and revise the District’s zoning regulations.  You can also visit the Zoning blog for additional details, copies of the draft proposed text, and related meeting materials.

Zoning letter


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