Pop Up Controversy on Shepherd Street

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1400 block of Shepherd St, NW

Thanks to all who sent emails about the Washington Post article It’s pop-ups vs. solar panels on Shepherd Street NW in Columbia Heights:

“But Shepherd Street’s residents now face an unexpected obstacle to their environmentalism: pop-up rowhouses potentially blocking their solar panels’ access to sunlight. Two Shepherd Street homeowners with solar panels are especially upset because one rowhouse is slated to grow to three stories right in between them.”

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TV crews getting in on the action

39 Comment

  • DC really needs a developed process for selling air rights.

    • Purchasing the pop-up rights would definitely work. But an extra floor add serious value to the house, and most people don’t want to pay 100k per story. It is easier to petition the politicians to pass zoning regulations.

    • With well-defined property rights and no bargaining costs, we’ll always come to an efficient solution!

  • Well, the 900 block of Shepherd has rampant drug dealing and people who verbally abuse passer-bys… Is much rather be dealing with a pop-up controversy.

    • I understand the issue has declined with the closure of 4000 Kansas (another issue altogether), but if yuo are still seeing things, you need to call vice, so you can help them help you.

  • Solar panels aside, I would contest that ugly thing if I lived on this block. It’s ugly as hell and breaks up the flow of the block. Popups are indeed a problem in this city that should be dealt with legislatively so everyone knows what to expect. It’s a free-for-all now.

    • I wonder how the pop-up debate plays out among homeowners vs renters. Personally, I am a homeowner and feel as long as folks do not violate zoning regulations (I believe in most DC residential areas you can build to 40 ft), build away. Some are ugly, but people do plenty of ugly non-pop-up things to their homes. It’s their right to do so, and that right should be protected, imo. I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t do to my home as long as I stay within existing zoning regulations.

      However, the solar issue complicates the matter. I’d be mad about that too, but I am not sure there is a good solution for all parties.

      • People don’t own the sunlight, and if we start infringing on a homeowners right to build to his zoning allowances because a neighbor put solar panels in, then that neighbor should pay the homeowner for lost value of his land.

        This guy has no more right to the sunlight being blocked by this popup, than do the flowers in my front yard do from the neighbors tree that they just planted.

        • Nope. While you are right that your neighbor doesn’t own the sunlight, they have a right to build up such that they block light on your garden, unless you’ve got a view easement or a right to light easement.

          • I think that’s what Frank meant – that if someone with solar panels is trying to prohibit their neighbor from blocking the sunlight, then the solar panel owner should have to compensate the neighbor for the loss of building potential.

      • The neighbors should just raise their panels up to the 40ft limit. Problem solved.

    • Yes, it is a free-for-all regarding development on many levels. DC is a small city and is manageable if there was a will to do so. DCRA, HPRB, and the ANCs are not protecting the city; there is no plan or vision. This period will be looked back on in 15 years with chagrin as a time of quick and absurd profits and ugly cheap construction that scarred this historic city.

      • I think the riots in 1968 were probably more of a scar…

        • +1. How quickly we forget.

        • What’s your point? The poster didn’t say that pop-ups were the biggest scar ever on DC, only that they are scarring the city today. And she is right.

        • Indeed the riots scarred this city tremendously. But your comment as a reply to mine is a non sequitur.

          • I think he was pointing out the underlying irony of modern DC. After 40 years of decay the city is finally in growth mode, and eventually small plates and pop-ups will replace all of the scars and blight. Yet you view this recovery as a period to be looked back on with chagrin–because all of the houses aren’t the same height anymore.

      • Also, though, the reality is that many communities within DC have had a historic preservation conversation and voted against. A large amount of people don’t want to be told how to dispose of their property. Also, the ANCs have much less sway than the councilmembers on a city-wide basis. Some SMDs are simply not affected – or haven’t been affected yet.

  • The answer is simple: Just “pop up” the solar panels! Duhhhhhhh!

  • I’ll admit the pop-up issue is preventing me from moving forward with solar for my home. Just not worth it with the real possibility that somebody’s going to block it in a years’ time. Popups are in dire need of regulation.

    • Pop ups are regulated by zoning codes and in historical districts by their rules. Just because you think they’re ugly or don’t like the regulations doesn’t mean they’re not regulated.

      • *FURTHER* regulation. Especially with regards to their effect on solar potential of neighboring homes. I thought that was clear in my post. And I didn’t say anything about them being ugly.

  • Can you not buy easements to sunlight in DC? It seems like a reasonable thing to do if you’re concerned about your solar panels.

  • California passed the”Solar Rights Act” in 1978 & amended it a few times since. It looks like it was originally intended to apply to HOA but has been broadened. A somewhat similar analogy is that if I had solar panels installed, you couldn’t plant a tree that would shade the panels.
    Tree =/= popup, but I thought it was interesting that CA was looking to expand solar use back in 1978.

    • california loves to regulate.

    • It’s really an interesting question from a policy perspective. Although at no point was “popping up” ever forbidden here, many people paid a lot of money to have solar panels installed before anybody started building pop-ups in DC. I don’t find it difficult to sympathize with the frustration of somebody who spent $30,000 to install their solar panels in 2005, at which point absolutely nobody would have had any reason to foresee that a decade later, their neighbor’s house might magically get taller.

  • I know this has nothing to do with anything, but isn’t Shepard too far north to be considered Columbia Heights?

    • Depends on how you look at it. Strictly, yes, Columbia Heights’ northern border is Spring which is several blocks south of Shepherd St. But from a “where do most people identify” or “what’s the center of gravity” then Columbia Heights is correct. BTW – this is based on conversations with a mix of those that have grown up in the area and those that are new, so I genuinely don’t think its an adoption of ‘real estate neighborhoods’ for ego purposes.

  • This one really is ruining the look of the block! Boo!

  • This is more an issue of aesthetics, not ‘sunlight’ rights. Have those who object to the right of a homeowner to undertake legal improvements to their own property even bothered to check with the companies that installed their solar panels to determine whether it’s even true that the “pop-up’ will detrimentally affect the amount of solar rays hitting such panels?

    Taking a walk there demonstrates the sunlight actually falls on the roofs of ALL the homes on the 1400 block of Shepherd St. as well as the 1300 block of Shepherd St. Perhaps the solar panels may have to be tilted or otherwise adjusted, but the sun still shines for much of the day on Shepherd St.
    In any case the right of one neighbor to save money on their electric bill is NOT superior to the neighbor who seeks to make money from expanding their property within the law.

    If homeowners want a perpetual solar easement that diminishes the rights of another, the law should allow them to pay for it based on the on-gong “lost” value to the homeowner who can’t build upward within their own property line. OR, reasonable people can get together and find the win-win solution that’s really already there.

    • If you read the Washington post piece then you’d know that the neighbors never accused the pop-up as being illegal. Rather, that there should be a discussion related to the impact of pop-ups on solar panels. Seems rather reasonable to me – especially as the zoning commission is in the middle or rewriting the zoning laws.

  • Is it true that it’s not necessarily in the community interest for some neighbors, as a minority of the Shepherd St. residents are, to have solar panels to save themselves as individuals some money? Don’t such arrangements force a premium on such power when it is sold to the distribution utility (existing power companies) and when that cuts into the profits of those power companies, rates go up for everyone else who can’t afford to have solar panels installed? After all, power companies don’t exist to provide services, they monopolize power for the purpose of making a profit.

    There’s a lot of confusion about the pros and cons of solar power in DC and its effects on those who can’t afford solar panels or live in rentals without solar panels and pay utilities.

    • I’m not sure if this is true, but here goes:
      If you have feed in tarrifs that require power companies to pay for power that is “fed in” to the grid from homes with solar panels or other forms of power generation, then the power company marks up and sells that power to someone else who is consuming more energy than it’s using, the individual solar panels act as tiny little power plants, and the power company is the middle man, just as it is when it gets power from big coal fired power plants or whatever. So on a macro level the power company business method is the same.

    • Wait, so are you saying that any new and potential disruptive technology should be disregarded for the sake of the pocket books of those that can’t afford it? Seems to me that competition and viable alternatives will force incumbents to offer similar services. Or with regulated entities like PEPCO, it’d force local jurisdictions to push PEPCO into adopting new technology to stave off customer churn and ultimately help build the economies of scale to make new technologies affordable.

    • Although regulations vary by locale, a feed in tariff does not impose costs upon a distribution utility, in fact, it can save utilities money. The entity installing the panels has to cover the cost of connecting to the grid and the cost of the solar panels. The owner of the panels pays for all the electricity used from the grid, but electricity fed in to the grid from their panels offsets their use. Distributed solar can save power companies money, because it delays or eliminates the need to build more power plants. All customers benefit from this cost avoidance, at the expense of the entities that paid to install solar.

  • one of the many reasons I’m glad I bought a free-standing house in NE. never liked the idea of sharing walls.

  • Wow that’s ugly. When will the city finally step up and control pop ups?

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