Zoning Reform/Pop Up Battle Heats Up in Lanier Heights – ‘Stop Pop Ups’ vs ‘Stop Nimby-ism’


Update on “Ugly Pop-Ups: Destroying Family Housing on Lanier Place.”.   Thanks to a reader for sending the photo above:

“A few days ago, I was walking on Lanier Place and saw these signs in front of that pop-up. This is just getting ridiculous and makes our friendly neighborhood seem not that friendly.”


And I spotted this ‘Stop Nimby-ism’ sign outside the Adamo development coming to the former Adams Morgan Exxon Station:


101 Comment

  • If you ask me, something has to be done to stop the destructive wave of shoddy pop-ups coming to DC. It’s destroying the skylines, and they’re often flimsy top levels added just to make properties worth $40k more than they should be. There’s a reason why buildings are set at the height they were, because many neighborhoods in DC were meant to have low lying skylines to enhance their appeal in residential settings.

    Square footage is a value driven item with homes in any market. If the city allows someone to buy a 800sf house and then turn it into a 1800sf house, it depletes the value for existing home owners in the city, even more-so when there are a bunch of poorly done conversion jobs floating around.

    Someone needs to take this up with the people who are approving these construction jobs at DCRA. That’s my idea on quelling/reducing the controversy.

    • Who is supposed to determine which proposed pop-ups are shoddy?

    • You assume a homebuyer will look at the square footage alone and thus diminish the value of your smaller home. That’s nonsense. There will always be a market for historic single family homes, but sometimes people need more space and there aren’t satisfactory alternative options in the neighborhood…hence pop-ups and condo conversions.

      If you don’t want a pop-up going next to you, I suggest you move to a historic district or seek to have one established in your neighborhood. Don’t complain about the fact that you live in a non-historic district and people are doing what they want with their own property within the bounds of the law.

      • Why should I have to move? I was here first! >:/

        That kind of logic is the same logic that killed eminent domain rules, which protected lawful home owners from being pushed out of their houses by government and big business. The same reason people fought against Wal-Mart and lost in DC. Just because you may have a valid and considerate pop-up idea, opening the flood-gates means that people with poor ideas will get through them also. I don’t mind building out, it’s upwards that I’m worried about in DC.

        It hasn’t really been an issue yet for me in my neighborhood, but I’m really worried about the future of where this kind of encroachment and opportunism can go in neighborhoods in the city…. “City mouse vs. Country Mouse” is a real thing, trust me.

        • You may think you were there ‘first’, but the rules that allow the pop-up were there before you. The zoning sets the allowable height and that has been in effect for decades; the fact that no one has taken advantage of the allowed height yet is no predictor as to whether or not they will in the future. Every property owner needs to be aware of the zoning for his/her property and the ones around it. (There also can be a myriad of uses allowed in a residential zone other than homes, which can be a surprise when one appears on your block.)
          As to whether or not “it depletes the value for existing home owners in the city” – which I doubt – that is already built into the vision for that neighborhood as established by the city via first the comprehensive plan and then by the zoning regs which implement it. That is when the potential look and feel of a neighborhood -including the maximum height, for instance, was decided. Again, just because buildings have not yet been built to that height doesn’t mean the city is opposed to it. Property owners should be aware and educate themselves on these matters.
          (And side note – don’t assume all pop-ups are shoddy – the much-hated Ella has a steel frame, so is likely to be causing angina for many many years.)

    • I’m sorry but I disagree. I think home owners should be able to either build up or out(backyard). I think developers should be able to build up only to allow a maximum 2-units conversion. Majority of DC housing stock have small foot printers and can accomdate a 4-family household. If the city wants to entice families to stay here there needs to be big enough homes to house them. The more families that stay, the better schools will get etc, etc, etc….Just my opinion!

    • Jack, your comments assume a sort of “end of history” sense of physical space, as well as a master design – that the city was developed with a single vision, and that once that vision was accomplished (presumably successfully?), it should be held in place.
      Holding aside for the moment your ability to understand what DC was “meant to have”, do you really think that if we adopt your point of view that this city will really thrive? I mean this earnestly: name me a single city in the history of human habitation that has ever succeeded by remaining static.
      Was DC fulfilling its true destiny as neighborhoods emptied of people yet buildings remained low, as they were “meant to”? Now that DC is again a safe(r) and attractive place to live, are we meant to chain ourselves to this sense of what DC was “meant” to be at the expense of what it “could be”?
      I’m not saying popups aren’t often ugly. Or that we can’t reasonably control them. Just please think through your comment. It assumes so many things that seem so very far off. “Just to make properties worth $40K” more? How is that a bad thing? “than they should be”? Who makes you the arbiter of a property’s value? And isn’t square footage a huge determinant of value?
      You confuse the heck out me.

    • “It’s destroying the skylines”

      Your opinion. I think some of them look tasteful and nice. Others not so much. But I have no idea why my persenal aethestic preferences — or yours — should determine what people can build. What I do know is that they add much needed housing supply and space (as indicated by rising prices).

      “and they’re often flimsy top levels added just to make properties worth $40k more than they should be.”

      Given that these pop-ups often cost well over $100K, I’m guessing your math is pretty off.

      “it depletes the value for existing home owners in the city”

      I think you mean it makes homes more affordable. That’s a good thing. Not sure why making homes more expensive should be a goal (I say this as a condo owner).

    • Pop Ups are destroying the skyline?

      • Yes. And they kill puppies.

      • Have you guys seen the infamous 5-level tetris house on here?!? It’s just one example of how things can go horribly wrong. If you asked neighbors what they think I’m quite sure they’d tell you they’ve lost home value because of it.

        Yes, they destroy the skyline. If someone made the house across the street from yours a 5 story building from a 2 story building and suddenly turned your view of the city into a view of cheap plastic siding over a plywood frame it would be a NIMBY issue for you too. New and additional housing is supposed to be addressed by new construction which is happening everywhere in the city right now. Big buildings are going up everywhere.

        Rules for building permits are often easily approved in struggling communities like Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, etc to encourage growth, but there’s a reason why building permits are harder in areas like Georgetown and Capitol Hill, because they want to preserve character in those neighborhoods which leads to value for residents. If Petworth becomes the land of pop-ups, it will run ripe with shoddy construction and withering houses which yes, decreases property values for everyone.

        Pop-ups are a cheap scheme for flippers to make easy profit at the expense of others and they should be limited unless the original character of the house is fully retained. The air space we have in Petworth is part of what makes it a great untapped community that isn’t trying hard to look like Philadeplhia. Lets be careful what we wish for here…

        • The city does not regulate the aesthetic aspects of a home expansion if the property is located outside of an historic district. Georgetown and Capitol Hill have historic districts – and regulations and review bodies – of long standing. That is why it is harder to build something there.
          In communities without historic districts, the zoning regulations are the tool the city uses; there are the zoning regs that define some basic geometry – max height, distance from side, front, and read property lines, and sometimes the total amount of floor space that can be built in a property, but – outside of an historic district – if you are within those limits (and comply with construction standards for safety), the city should give you a building permit without getting involved in whether or not what you are building is ‘pretty’. That is the way that zoning typically works in the US – property ownership is a very highly regarded right, and thus the owner is generally given as much leeway as possible. The only tool the District currently uses to regulate aesthetics is the historic district and its additional regs and reviews. Some cities also create neighborhood design plans and reviews but they are not very common yet as they require a pretty intense effort on the part of the city planning office. (These are somewhat similar to a souped-up Homeowners Association review you find in some suburban communities – with all the pluses and minuses that they have.
          So – for the most part, especially here in the District, the only way to get what you are asking for is to promote historic districts throughout the city. But, as you say, be careful what you wish for, since there is a reason building permits are hard to come by in historic districts – the review process can be, and should be, rigorous; it can be time-consuming, and sometimes expensive, because everything matters.

  • I agree on stopping pop-ups …

  • In this case, the NIMBY claim is stupid. The conversions of houses in Lanier Heights takes lovely, historic single-family homes that would sell for 750,000 to around a million bucks and turns them into not-affordable, tiny condos that make developers big bucks. I own a townhouse in LH, and it’s true, I DON’T want a hulking, noisy, badly constructed condo project in the house next door to me. I DON’T want to break up my friendly block of neighbors that all hang out on each others’ porches and watch out for each other.

    And when you rip up a lovely historic home, you can’t get the charm and historic details people love this ‘hood for back. Pop-ups suck, and I hope the zoning board stops these greedy developers in their tracks. Affordable housing, hahaha.

    • I’m confused – a million dollar house is affordable but a smaller unit that doesn’t cost that much is a “not-affordable” condo?

      Limiting the supply of something doesn’t make it cheaper.

    • Ironic that you claim it’s NOT Nimby-ism by saying that you literally don’t want this in your backyard.

    • No one who lives in a condo conversion is friendly, hangs out on a porch, or looks out for anyone else.

      It’s in all the condo docs in the city. We were hoping single family home owning NIMBYs wouldn’t find out. Uh-oh, you’ve caught us.

      • +1 also how could they be “unaffordable” but at the same time make the developers “big bucks”. Also why is 750k affordable but 1M is all of the sudden “unaffordable”. Interesting that a universal cutoff exists somewhere between these two amounts.

    • My fiancee and I own a condo in a pop-up in Lanier Heights. Without the pop-up, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to live in that neighborhood. So, to say the condos are “not affordable” is completely false. To that note, we didn’t want a huge space that we didn’t need. And we have children and dogs that live in our building – can you imagine! less than 3,000 sq ft per home and everyone is happy and satisfied!

      “Pop-ups” are sustainable for the community and the environment. Six families living in a space that used to only house one family = less resources, less urban sprawl, less utilities per family. Not to mention that we are all putting money back into the Adams Morgan area by going to the local corner stores, restaurants, and shops.

      That’s our home and that’s our neighborhood. Why don’t you try being “neighborly” by making us feel welcome instead of making us feel like we just ruined something for you.

      • Pop-ups almost always disrupt the visual coherence of a block. The developer could have accomplished the same general purpose (turning a single-family home into multiple units) without creating this disruption… but chose to “pop up” to make even more money.
        Why should people in the neighborhood make you feel welcome if they feel that you’ve contributed to the presence of something that looks unattractive? If I lived on V Street, I wouldn’t be feeling very friendly toward the residents of the “Ella” montrosity (if those units ever get sold).

      • Because you did just ruin something for me. I live in Lanier Heights as well in a semi-detatched home. The owners of the home with which I share a wall renovated their house from a one-family home to a three-unit apartment building. They did so without going up a floor or moving back the property line. They did a good job and the apartments are quite nice (though on the issue of affordable housing, $2700/month doesn’t seem like that much of a bargain.)

        An owner three doors down on the other side from me is finishing construction on a pop-up as we speak. Where I formerly had a lovely view from my back balcony of the Ontario, I now have a grey wall. I’ve lost about two hours of sun exposure on my back deck. So, yeah, that pop-up has directly impacted my quality of life and potentially damaged my property value. Pardon me if I don’t bring over muffins when the new owners move in.

  • I was only able to afford a small row home, 2 stories without a basement, when I purchased my home. In the future I would like to a pop-up instead of having to move. Should I be denied the ability to build a pop-up because other people have split previous pop-ups into condos?

    • I think there’s a pretty big difference between a home owner wanting to expand and a developer coming in, ripping everything out and slapping up a huge poorly constructed monstrosity that will be sold as condos.
      For example, the people in the smallest house on my block (no basement, less wide than the others), built a third floor addition. It’s maybe two feet taller than the surrounding houses (as it was shorter to begin with) and looks like it belongs. They did a great job blending it in with the surrounding row houses so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
      By contrast, the condo project going in around the corner is two stories larger than the surrounding houses and looks like it could topple over at any moment. It’s a mess and I’m sure whoever buys it will end up having issues considering how shoddy the work appears to be.

      • You do realize that developers don’t typically run around developing other people’s properties. They are the “home owners” even if they don’t live in the home.

        What type of bright-line rule would you propose to separate the bad popups from the good ones like your neighbor? Do you have to live in a home for a certain number of years before you can popup? Does your home need to be smaller than others? Are you just opposed to multi-unit popups? Everytime this discussion comes up, it inevitable devolves into “they should never have let that popup be built”, but if you don’t have any actual ideas about how to change the system, this is just kvetching.

        • Yes they are “home owners” but they will not live in the home. My distinction is between someone who owns AND lives in the home as their primary residence. Not someone who owns the property and then will sell it without ever living in it. They won’t ever have to deal with any corners that may possibly have been cut etc, whereas someone living there is more likely to want it done right.
          And to be fair, I never said it shouldn’t be built. I just think it looks like a mess and I’m entitled to that opinion. I also happen to know the developer of that particular condo has a terrible reputation for shoddy work. I know of several other homeowners in the area who have had major problems with their work.

      • Your issue is predominantly with the workmanship of the pop-ups, so enforcement of DCRA rules is the issue, not stopping pop-ups. How do you know if the new pop-up near you is shoddy? Are you well versed in DC building code? Are you an engineer?

        The other issue is taste. You can’t buy it and you can’t legislate it, at least not fairly.

      • but by the same token, I currently live in a 4-unit condo building. Before we all moved in, it was a 2-story home on a lot and a half. All the other row houses on my street are at least 3 stories tall with a full basement. So the developer bought the shortest (and one of the widest) homes on the block, dug out the basement, and popped it up to look like the other homes on the block. It is still shorter than the other homes on the block and looks like it was built that way to begin with. One of my next door neighbors said that he watched the construction and that it was really well done. Why shouldn’t he have been allowed to do that? Sounds pretty much like the people in the small house on your block aesthetically. Each unit is almost 1500 square feet – which is large enough for a small family. If they had kept it a single home, it would have been unreasonably large and expensive. Like others have said, how do you divide between the bad pop ups and the good ones?

        We’re good neighbors. We shovel our walk (and other’s walks as well), we say hello, attend neighborhood meetings and BBQs, watch out for things in the alley and in the neighborhood (like when someone we didn’t know was trying to get into our neigbor’s car). So – what is so wrong with that?

        • Unfortunately, sensitively designed pop-ups — ones designed to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood, rather than “ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS” pop-ups — seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

  • “Affordable new homes.” Hahahahaha — as if!!
    Developers like pop-ups because they can squeeze more “luxury” condos into a space and make a bigger profit.
    Apparently the Office of Planning would like to create a new category, “conservation district” — less restrictive than a historic district, but restrictive enough to forbid major changes like pop-ups — but first it has to be introduced by legislation in the D.C. council.
    Interestingly, at the meeting I attended, the rep from the Office of Planning said that the overwhelming majority of pop-ups are done by developers, not homeowners. From the way the pro-pop-up folks on PoPville talk, I would’ve thought the breakdown was less lopsided.

    • Condos and apartments are built by developers, too. But I want more condos and apartments in the city, because it decreases the cost of housing.

      Developers make a profit; people who rent or buy homes benefit. The former does not negate the latter. A market economy – wow!

  • I assume that the crew opposing the Lanier Heights Popups supports other ways of making the city more affordable, such as lifting (or significantly raising) the height limit in appropriate areas, such as downtown (where there are no entrenched neighborhood interests) or north of H St. NE. That way we can have a more affordable city and retain the character of these special neighborhoods. I would hope that these advocates, who are obviously passionate and knowledgeable about these issues, put similar effort towards promoting affordability in the city as a whole.

    • You don’t even have to raise the height limit — what we need is more infill development, in places where it doesn’t destroy the rooflines of residential streets.
      I’ve been delighted to see 5-story apartment buildings going up on Georgia Avenue, and would love to see more of this kind of thing.
      It’s that size of building that really makes a difference in terms of providing more housing in the city, and does so without destroying D.C.’s architectural fabric.

  • As someone pointed out recently:

    All the great row houses in this neighborhood were built around 100 years ago by — wait for it — developers!

    Just don’t understand the demonization of developers. They are routinely denounced as “greedy” producers of “shoddy” condos and accused of “destroying” neighborhoods. But everything they build is instantly snapped up by people who want to live here.

    • I think the point is there are a lot of people who would love to buy an old house and restore it. However, any house that comes on the market that is a fixer upper is instantly snapped up by a developer. Then it’s gutted, stripped of its history and resold to people who can afford to pay astronomical prices. Regular people looking to buy a home to make their mark on don’t stand a chance.

      • This doesn’t sound like an issue that is limited to pop-ups. Developers buy homes all over the city and flip them or carve them up into condos without popping up.
        It sounds like the hypothetical homeowners you describe simply can’t afford the home they want. That’s sad, but not really the issue. If anyone wants to buy a fixer-upper in this city and they can pay the market price for it, they will get that home. They may need to compete with developers or come prepared with an all-cash, no contingencies offer…but that’s the reality of realty. The seller is allowed to accept the best offer.

        • You’re right. I happen to know someone who had an all-cash offer, no contingencies, way over asking (10s of thousands) and still didn’t get the property. When I went to look at the house with my friend, there were developers there and they were super smug and rude and even laughed at us saying “oh you can buy it after we fix it up.” I guess I just have a bad taste in my mouth from that experience.

      • “I think the point is there are a lot of people who would love to buy an old house and restore it. However, any house that comes on the market that is a fixer upper is instantly snapped up by a developer. ”
        Translation: We should have rules in place to artificially limit the resale value of other people’s properties (and screw the existing homeowner, by the way) because otherwise, I can’t afford in the neighborhood in which I want to live!

    • But the rowhouses were built in such a way that they formed one cohesive looking neighborhood. There is a difference (at least an aesthetic one) between a developer buying a street of rowhouses and sticking pop-ups on all of them, versus a developer buying one rowhouse in the middle of that street and sticking a pop-up on top of that. The cohesiveness of the neighborhood is gone. It’s the urban analog to the McMansion problem of the suburbs – the new development composed entirely of McMansions versus the teardown of one house to replace it with a McMansion.

  • I am curious. The “Stop Nimbyism” sign touts “affordable” housing and not making it so that only the “very wealthy” will be able to live in Adams Morgan. How “affordable” are these new condos going to be?
    I’m not saying that development should be stopped. I just don’t buy the rationale that the basis for this effort is to keep the neighborhood “affordable.” I doubt that very many, if any, new low income residents are moving into Adams Morgan.

    • It seems like you’re using “affordable” as a synonym for “lower income” or “subsidized.” I think it’s pretty obvious a 550K condo is going to have a wider pool of buyers in DC than a close to a million dollar single family rowhouse. In that sense, the condo conversions are providing housing that is affordable to a greater number of people.

      • “Affordable” is a recognized term is this context. Per Wikipedia, “Affordable housing is housing deemed affordable to those with a median household income as rated by country, province (state), region or municipality by a recognized Housing Affordability Index.”
        I get what you’re saying about a $550K condo being more “affordable” than a $750K-$1M house, but let’s not kid ourselves that either is “affordable” per se. It’s like the store Design Within Reach — maybe it’s less expensive than buying something at auction, but for most people, it’s still not “within reach.”

        • City Paper did a study a few years back and the median income for the census tracts around the Woodley Park metro was something like $105K. It’s not as if someone making 45K a year would be buying a place in Lanier Heights but for these developers and their pop ups.

          • Right, but the point here is that for developers, the whole point of pop-ups is to squeeze one more luxury condo into what might otherwise have been, say, a 3-condo building. And the presence of luxury condos tends to push up house prices.
            I used to be not such a fan of houses being split into condos, but now I think that anything that leaves the exterior unchanged is certainly preferable to anything that involves a pop-up. (Though I do think it’s a shame when nice-looking original woodwork gets replaced with the ubiquitous “open” floor plan.) If developers want to split single-family Lanier Heights houses into condos, so be it. Just leave the damn roof lines alone.

      • When there’s not enough supply of high-end housing, rich people who would otherwise buy a $600k condo live in “lower-end” housing and drive up the price of that type of housing.

        When you build expensive condos, it captures some of those rich people’s demand for housing. They move into nice new places and stop driving up the price of older row houses in the “less desirable” neighborhoods they were forced to live in before.

        Great supply –> lower prices, all things being equal. The housing market is not so segmented by income that it overrides this rule.

        • This sounds like a theoretical musing rather than an actual proven economic mechanism. I have my doubts that your theory holds in enough cases to call it a rule.
          Oh and by the way, all other things are never equal in the housing market, so saying greater supply -> lower prices is, again, a theoretical assertion.

        • “When you build expensive condos, it captures some of those rich people’s demand for housing. They move into nice new places and stop driving up the price of older row houses in the ‘less desirable’ neighborhoods they were forced to live in before.”
          Like how the presence of the tons of expensive condos along 14th Street has funneled rich people into that area and stopped the prices of rowhouses in Petworth, Park View, etc. from going up? Except, um, that hasn’t happened.

          • You fail to consider that new supply is insufficient to keep up with rising demand.

          • If that expensive housing on 14th street weren’t there, where do you think those people would live? Petworth, Park View, etc. You’d have even more people who want to live there, driving prices up even further.

            Look, I wish we’d see way more “Class B” housing built too. I live in “Class B” housing. But thinking that expanding the supply of luxury housing is “misguided” (by some mysterious standard) is not going to solve anything.

            The onus is on NIBYs to demonstrate why the laws of supply and demand magically don’t apply to housing. (This also means you, textdoc – show me that the market for luxury apartments is completely distinct for the market for “just decent” apartments. I know plenty of people who have moved from one to the other, and back).

            Extreme example: Build so much freaking luxury housing that prices will be cheap and even I’ll consider paying a couple hundred bucks more to have a place with W/D and dishwasher. There will be one more vacant apartment in Petworth.

          • Agreed @ textdoc…

            Supply & demand governs low-income housing, but not the rest of the market. Location is the primary driver for home investment when buyers have a choice.

          • Supply and demand don’t really apply to housing because it’s not a free market. Take away trillions in quantitative easing, full support of the RMBS market by the Fed, the mortgage interest deduction, Freddie and Fannie guarantees, and the numerous other ways that homeowners don’t bear the real cost of their “investment.” And then we can have a logical discussion about supply and demand factors.
            Housing prices in DC are not rising because of increased demand. Yes, the city is growing but not nearly at the rate to support 20%+ increases in one year. It’s loose money. No home owners in DC are any smarter than anyone else. They’re lucky and it’s government money that they’re playing with.

          • “Location is the primary driver for home investment when buyers have a choice.”

            OK that’s good to know, because I had been considering price in addition to location when I’ve looked for housing in the past. Going forward, I’ll only consider location. Thank you for clearing things up!

            Supply and demand apply to all situations everywhere, people. Markets may be distorted in some circumstances, market distortions are distortions precisely because they fuck with supply and demand in an explainable (though not always quantifiable) way.

            To say that supply and demand don’t govern high-income housing or interact with location is ludicrous and transparently false.

            To claim that monetary policy and fiscal policy impact the housing market is a banal truism that doesn’t negate the power of supply and demand. Fed/Congressional policy simply lowers the real price of owner-occupied housing relative to what it would be in the absence of pro-homeowner policies and/or “easy” money.

    • Yeah, “less expensive” is more like it. “Affordable” is sort of a meaningless term in a neighborhood like that.

  • Seems like the pop up debate needs to be viewed in the larger debate over the height limit and suburban sprawl.

    3 ways to grow (pick one):
    1) raise the height limit and allow more development in certain areas (downtown, around transit)
    2) redevelop row house neighborhoods to higher density levels (i.e. European style development lots of 4-6 story apartments).
    3) push growth to the suburbs.

    Yeah, there is still some more room for growth along main streets (H, 14th, 7th) new areas (NoMa, Navy Yard) and long term in some less connected areas (Walter Reed, McMillian). But, in the grand scheme of things these type of developments are pretty limited and won’t meaningfully limit the sprawling nature of the region.

  • I am duly impressed by the number and skill of the contractors commenting who are capable of detemining the quality of pop-up construction by sight alone!

  • Perhaps the real issue here is the failure of DC to really enforce building codes. These developers do quick flips and put as little effort into them as necessary to make a big profit. If we had more stringent enforcement (maybe the issue is more stringent standards) and put some of these shoddy developers out of business, these types of projects might not upset people as much as they currently do. Also, it seems fair to limit how many floors a person can pop-up a row so as to prevent the situation on V Street where one house is drastically taller than the rest (and looks ridiculous). Whether the limit should be one level above the neighbors or two, I am not sure, but something reasonable makes sense. Over time, if a whole row pops-up, then the owners could pop-up again.

    • Is there any evidence that exists anywhere that DCRA isn’t enforcing building codes? It would have been great had I not had to get an architect and pull permits to renovate my deck. But alas, DC enforces building codes.

      • I get the feeling from reading PoPville that DCRA can be very tough with individual homeowners, but tends to be much more lenient when it comes to developers.

        • Quite the opposite. The homeowners’ center at DCRA was incredibly helpful when I was renovating my place. Even though I had a GC (required by the financing I got), I obtained all the permits myself because the DCRA is much nicer to homeowners than flippers.
          With that said, developers tend to know the rules and push buildings right up to the limit of the law more than homeowners. (See, the Ella)

  • Of course, modern building codes control what pop-ups are “shoddy.” I’d also note that this debate is often very ideologically confused. There are so many urban blogger types who lament the advent of zoning, even going as far to blame urban segregation on modern zoning laws. There’s a big push in NYC, among the supporters of the new mayor, and Mathew Yglesias-types generally to move to more of a free market when it comes to residential zoning. The commenters here who seemingly want more regulation are at odds with the progressive common wisdom, and I think many don’t realize it.

  • I was walking along Lanier the other day. I can think of a few condo conversions done on that street — two near the dry cleaners (including one that was torn up and greatly expanded towards the back lot) and one towards the other end that has been profiled on this site recently. I think all three look great and add much needed housing supply. Fail to see what the issue here is. Also keep in mind that Lanier has a number of non-converted townhouse condo buildings already on the street that look like they have been there for many years. Not sure why townhouses on this street should be sacred. Bunch of NIMBYs with too much time on their hands.

    • The “condo conversion” next to the dry cleaners was formerly a single-family home, which was expanded up three floors and out toward the back. These 2-bedroom units sold for between $400k (basement) and nearly $1 million (4th floor) each. Not so “affordable.” And, two years in, they are already having major maintenance problems, including basement flooding.

      • Never said anything about them being affordable. And any maintenance issues seems like the problem of the residents, not a concern of the neighbors.

  • LOL, Lanier Heights. AKA the part of Adams Morgan who think they’re too cool to be called Adams Morgan.

  • I have absolutely no sympathy for these people. In Petworth we have real problems. I wish our problems were about popups. Our problems are like the group home on 1300 block of Taylor st of 12-21 year males that is going to be a jail diversion facility that is going to be 20 ft from an elementary school and DYRS is refusing to even consider not putting sex offenders in the house. You got no problems compared to others. Popups? Seriously?

  • I’m as hippy dippy as the next guy, but a free market is a free market. A developer is just a business you haven’t started yet. Don’t have the cash? Be the organizer / brains / sweat equity part of the operation. There are plenty of DINKs in this town with money to burn bidding on real estate. It’s not all out of town developers.

    After years of savings and wise investment, and after a year of putting bids in on properties, I recently purchased a neglected nearly-vacant apartment building in a lower income area and “developed” it into modest apartments. Did I raise the rents? You betcha. Because it’s now a place anyone would be happy to live–not just those who can’t afford anything but a dingy apartment.

    A friend recently purchased a tiny vacant house near Convention Center and popped it up to change a 1br house to a 1br+den house. Houses do fall apart over time, and living styles change (modern HVAC eliminates need for giant chimneys). He totally gutted the place and “destroyed its history.” All within the existing zoning regulations. When he sells, people are going to be falling all over themselves to buy the place.

  • I do not have a dog in this pop-up fight, but people have forgotten what “NIMBYism” actually is.

    NIMBYism is when someone agrees that a particular thing is a necessary public good, but does not want that necessary public good located near them.

    Example: “I agree that the city urgently needs a sewage treatment plant, but Not In My Back Yard.”

    In contrast, those who oppose pop-ups DO NOT AGREE that pop-ups are a necessary public good, like a water treatment plan, airport, power plant, or garbage dump.

    So would everyone please stop this incorrect use of “NIMBY”. This pop-up thing is really about people who want a communitarian approach to zoning to preserve aesthetics, versus people who believe in a more laissez-faire system in which property owners can do what they want.

    This is very different from a situation where everyone agrees on what is needed but no-one wants it built near them.

    • Disagree. The public good they want is a thriving city, replete with a newly bustling restaurant scene, good stores, and a tax base that supports good schools and other urban essentials. These things all come from growth and the rebound of the city. Pop ups are a SYMPTOM of the renewed interest in city living – they are not the cause. They are NIMBY because they want all the benefits of a thriving city, but don’t want that damn density built on to their historic block…

      • Example: “I agree that the city urgently needs [MORE HOUSING], but Not In My Back Yard.”

        Example: “I [DISAGREE] that the city urgently needs [MORE HOUSING], but that is because I don’t want it built in my back yard.”

        Example: “I [DISAGREE] that the city urgently needs [MORE HOUSING], but [I AM WRONG].”

      • I am the PP who wants people to use “NIMBY” correctly.

        Your argument for a public good here is pretty thin, because it would seem to suggest that more density is always a public good, which would in turn suggest that every city and neighborhood has to continually densify forever to support social services etc. But that’s clearly wrong – as others have noted elsewhere, DC runs a massive budget surplus and already spends more $$ per student than any other city or county in the US, and does not struggle to provide infra like water, sewage, roads, etc. Any problems the DC govt has in providing services (and it has many) are not a result of a lack of tax revenue. Thus increased density is not needed to provide these services. Plus, as others have pointed out the absence of pop-ups would lead to higher house prices and possibly wealthier residents of these neighborhoods, so again, no reason to think tax revenue will suffer.

        Rather, there are some people like you who prefer more restaurants, more lively neighborhoods, smaller accomodations (1 BR instead of 5 BR), etc. Plus, and probably most importantly, you are priced out of some close-in neighborhoods and would like to find a way in. Whereas others prefer more quiet neighborhoods, larger houses, lower density, historic aesthetics, and so on, and they already own, so they don’t need affordable options. And both of you want your ideal neighborhood to be ideally located too, which is why these battles unfold in Lanier and not Manassas. Neither side is right and neigher side is wrong. It’s a question of preferences and will ultimately be decided in the political process (success or failure of efforts such as down-zoning, historic districts etc). Again, it’s not a NIMBY question where everyone agrees that a public good is needed and no-one wants it next door.

        BTW I live in a historic district so as I say, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Me and my neighbors don’t have the option to build pop-ups unless they are very well-done aesthetically and in keeping with the neighborhood character (read: too expensive for most developers’ tastes). So as a practical matter they are rarely done, because developers obviously prefer to do it elsewhere where they can use vinyl siding and don’t have to pass historical review.

  • I do think it’s very strange that so many houses built before WW 1, even in middle-class or lower-middle-class neighborhoods, were so well constructed and included so many (unnecessary) details and evidence of craftsmanship. I think of the prevalence of turrets all around the city, for example, or extensive woodwork, or super-detailed masonry patterns on facades. Basically, the sorts of things that PoP routinely finds and posts on his walk-abouts. I presume this must have been because of the existence of an even larger pool of lower-cost immigrant labor living in much cheaper houses (probably alley dwellings) who brought trades like masonry from the ‘old country.’ Even apartment homes built after WWII in lower-income areas were typically built entirely of brick. It’s like, for some reason, developers didn’t find it necessary to use the absolute cheapest materials. I’m guessing the advent of laser-focus on cost (ie Wal-Mart vs. your local haberdasher) and the availability of superstores like Home Depot changed peoples’ mindset about what they were building from a focus on quality and professionalism to a focus on profit maximization.

    • Interesting line of thinking. A few thoughts: 1) occupancy was higher (number of people living in a house). In the Victorians throughout DC back then you could find a family of 4, plus 3 boarders, etc, which is now a 3BR. 2) If you are talking about the Victorians in Cap Hill, Bloom’dale, etc, these were definitely not lower class neighborhoods when they were built. They saw hard times in subsequent years, but back then they were well-off. 3) Land was very inexpensive. To build a block of Victorians you were subdividing farm land. Whereas now you buy a tear-down in Eckington for $400k.

  • Can popups happen in LeDroit Park?

  • Land values will drop and only the wealthy will be able to afford to live there?

    • Really not that complicated.

      Point #1:
      Property value will be limited when they lose the option to expand floorspace or convert to condos.

      Point #2:
      With no apartment or condo options: $1,000,000+ row houses can only be sold as $1,000,000+ row houses.

  • In a row of “row houses” how else does a home owner expand their living space except up. The mere definition of row house usually means that it’s attached on two sides. There is no way to expand left or right, only on top or in back. Personally, I don’t care, nor is it any of my business, if a homeowner (even my neighbor) pops up their house. If people want to stay in their homes and they have to pop up to do it that should be their right. My personal opinion shouldn’t have any legal merit in whether they can or can’t.

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