Dear PoPville – Developer Wants to Build an Apartment Building in an Alley

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Dear PoPville,

I noticed some activity in the building that use to be the JC Auto and Frame Repairs shop in the alley on Irving St NW. I got the above flyer last night. I think building residential apartments in an alley is crazy.

Public Meeting Notice (PDF)

What do you guys think – could an apartment building in an alley work here?

36 Comment

  • Blagden Alley and Naylor Court would disagree with you.

    • Those might be called alleys, but they’re really more like streets.

    • they have apartment buildings?

      • Obviously a huge fifteen or twenty unit apartment building won’t work in an actual alley, but a small two to four unit building certainly would. I know many people on Naylor Court in alley houses, and I’ve known a few people who’ve lived on Brown’s Court on the Hill.

        Big bonus about having people *live* in your alleyways: those people will make sure the alley stays clean and safe. They regard it as a little street, and the pride they take in that little street is pretty amazing. Graffiti issues, bad lighting, loitering, etc all improve pretty dramatically when someone actually lives there.

  • it’s a great idea. we need more density.

    • We do?
      How much is enough density? I’m not sure I agree with this unquestioned mantra that more and more density is always good.

      • One thing great, vibrant, buzzing world cities have in common is high density populations. In the US, think San Francisco and Brooklyn, NY. In Europe, think Paris. In Asia, think Hong Kong and Tokyo. At ~10k/sf density, and a well documented suburban dominated metro area, DC has plenty of room to benefit from higher density development policies.

        • Let me correct myself before I’m pounced upon….that should be ~10K/sm

          • Fair enough… but New York or Tokyo aren’t my models for what DC should become. I actually like the fact that DC feels like a small city, with quiet tree lined streets.

        • Increasing density will not magically turn DC into a world-class city like NYC or Paris. I think there are a lot of other factors at work.

        • I would NEVER want to live in Tokyo, New York or Hong Kong. Density isn’t always a virtue. I like my alley the way it is and I like a little sunlight on my backyard.

      • i’m actually fine with DC being a medium density 3rd tier city.

        • Me too. Like it or not, DC will always be America’s Brasilia.

          • As someone who has been to Brasilia a number of times, I would say DC is nothing like it. I get the comparison about both being planned cities and smaller capitals, but DC obviously has much more history, is much more compact and walkable, and generally has a lot more liveliness to it.

  • There are still enough buildings in the area to rehab before new alley construction is necessary IMHO

  • God help the yuppies who will have to walk down that alley to get home at night.

  • Seems like a good idea to me. Super close to Columbia Heights, would be a great spot to add some density. Would likely be semi-affordable too, seeing as how, ya know, its in an alley.

  • clevelanddave

    There is lots of history to building houses where there used to be an alley-I believe they are called “spite” houses because they were often built by the alley owner to spite their neighbhors. Some of the small houses in Alexandria and Annapolis are these alley houses. This might not be the case here but that is what this might kinda sorta be.

  • It’s a great idea and goes with the overall goal of the zoning re-write which is to get more density. Allley dwellings do very well sales wise too. Be happy for good in-fill development and don’t be a NIMBY.

  • As would the Adams Alley building in Admo, between 17th and Ontario, and Euclid and Kalorama. And these are units are luxury condos.

  • +100, this is the kind of smart infill development we need.

    If we don’t want to raise the hight limit or knock down the existing housing stock, then we need to use all of our remaining land wisely. There are only so many supermarkets left to put apartments on top of.

  • Adding quality density is great BUT think about how tight this alley area seems to be.

    Think about what it is going to take in terms of getting a new building in there – the existing seems like crap so I guess they will scrap it and start fresh. And in that tight space, how will they get it built so as to not kill the life of the existing people around the alley.

    Lastly, I guess there is little or no parking at the site and turning around, getting in and out will be more than just a little bit of a bitch! Every unit comes with its own Vespa and a pledge to not bring a car into the neighborhood?

  • I mean, historically, people lived in alleys all over the city. Not always legally, but out of necessity. No reason not to use them, unless they’re practically a main road, and it would screw up traffic too much.

  • What’s the problem with this? Because I don’t see one and I’m familiar with that alley.

    If the OP has concerns they should spend some time walking around capitol hill where there are many, possibly hundreds of “Alley” dwellings. of course they could also go to London or Paris or most any world class city and find thousands of “alley dwellings” which are usually highly desirable. I doubt these guys are looking to build a little piece of Calcutta back there.

  • I don’t see the problem – check out Snow’s Court or Hughes Mews in Foggy Bottom…

  • Yeah I’d be stoked if I were you. You’ll probably have the cleanest safest alley in Columbia Heights as there will be “eyes on the alley” and building management has a vested interested in keeping it tidy and as rat free as possible. What would you rather have it be? A loud hipster bar? Cause that might just be what you end up with if you Nimby this project to death.

  • People in the neighborhood should be excited about this. The developer is an architect, who is fairly obsessive about things so the building should be good and he has rehabbed many properties in the city already

  • What a great idea. Finally a good use for the building. I’m guessing they will have some parking as it is a garage right now.

  • I’m pretty sure this body shop was in George Pelecanos’ novel The Turnaround. So… landmark status?

  • This sounds like a great idea, Mary is looking forward to meeting the developers!

  • i just hope the alley isn’t blocked during construction.

  • I don’t get how people in DC don’t know there are TONS of alley houses in the city. And most of them are amazing architectural pieces. It’s a great use of space, and (as an alley-dweller) I can say they provide a quiet protection that you can’t find anywhere else in the area. Build build build!

  • that would be awesome. alley dwellings are the best because you’re in the middle of the city but you still get quiet. i think alley dwellings should be built everywhere. it’s better than having some abandoned building that will never be put to use

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