“Unintended consequence of anti-pop-up proposal”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

A reader shares this letter he wrote to the District of Columbia Zoning Commission:

“As a DC citizen and homeowner I am writing to comment on the Zoning Commission’s proposal to revise the rules on pop-ups, ZC Case No. 14-11. While I am sympathetic to the concerns that have prompted this proposal, there is an unintended effect in the proposal that will have a negative impact on me personally and is one that I do not think any of the proposal supporters would like to see happen.

I live in the Capitol Hill historic district and that should mean I am not affected since pop-ups are not allowed here anyway, but this rule change would have a major detrimental effect on me as a homeowner with a two-flat C of O in an R-4 zone. Currently I have two legal flats in my R-4 row house and I plan to make the basement legal in a few years. If I am to do that it would not take away any family housing in DC since the basement is not even connected to any of the other two flats. There would be no loss to families in DC and it would be a gain for people wanting more affordable housing because it would bring a lower-cost basement unit onto the market, increase density, and help ease the rental crunch in this city. It would also benefit me as a homeowner and a landlord and would be a win for the city which would collect more tax revenue. It would be a win for the city, a win for renters, and a win for me as a landlord. There are no losers in this.

However, the new regulations appear as though they will inadvertently prevent people like me from doing this. The fourth part of the proposal is to only give permission to convert buildings to multi-family use if the building was non-residential. This would mean that I could not legally make my unused basement legal.

That part of the proposal was supposed to keep row houses from being split up into spaces in order to preserve housing for larger families. In my case, however, the effect would be very different. It would not result in preservation of family housing since the basement is not being used as part of a larger family-sized unit. Instead it would merely prevent me from making that space available as a legal rental. This was not the intent of those who advocated this change and it would punish me unfairly when I have the money to renovate the basement.
I do not oppose the other parts of the proposal, but this part must be changed or scrapped in order to allow two-flat row houses with no legal living space in the basement to be converted into three-unit dwellings with a legal C of O for basement units.

I implore you to make this change not only for my own benefit but also for the benefit of more affordable housing in DC and more density that conforms to historic preservation and does not detract from family-sized dwelling in R-4 zones.

Ward 6 homeowner”

80 Comment

  • I don’t get it – if the OP’s house is already zone for R-4, they have a “by right” ability to convert their house into two legal units (maybe even 3-4 if the lot is large enough). It seems that this was already done by a previous owner, so (assuming the lot is only big enough for 2 units), the OP would need to request a zoning variance for their basement regardless of this rule change.

    • It’s already a 2-unit. The letter writer wants to convert the basement so there are 3 units. I don’t mind people being able to do this, but to say “there are no losers in this” neglects those neighbors who have to live through construction (often involving a basement dig-out when the ceiling is a little too low for occupancy) and have to compete for street parking. Those problems may be outweighed by the District’s desire to densify and get more tax revenue, but they are problems.

    • There is now a right to convert into a 3 or 4 unit building in R-4, provided the property is large enough. However, under the proposal there will be no more conversions allowed, so R4 properties won’t be able to have more than two C of Os. The reasoning is that developers are splitting up homes into smaller units and thus reducing spaces for larger families. In this case, however, it would not be a loss of a family unit. Thus it would be an unintended consequence of part 4 of the proposed regulation.

      • Tsar of Truxton

        It seems to me that often times the units are as big (if not bigger) than small row homes (not arguing for pop-ups/conversions, but just stating an observation). The developers usually add additions on the back as well as the pop-up. Also, what if a developer makes a 2 unit building. Would they be able to pop-up then?

        • But this case is about any exterior additions. The letter is simply about converting an existing basement and being caught up in a regulation intended for other situations.

    • Part of the proposed R-4 “reform” will cap row houses at a maximum of two dwelling units. The OP has two already but wants to make his cellar / basement into a third dwelling. Which he says he can do now, by right, and without popping up. But if a two dwelling cap is enacted, he will need a zoning variance and there is no guarantee he will be able to get it.

      Objections to “ugly pop-ups” conceal some deeper objectives of “zoning reformers” — they don’t want any increase in density that might create congestion, noise and competition for on street parking. Arguments about “aesthetics” and “saving family housing” are just eyewash.

      • I just reread OP’s post and I’m still not seeing where it states that he already has “by right” approval to build a 3rd dwelling.
        For me personally, the “aesthetic” argument is the one that really sinks in.

        • Regulation 11-330.5 states that an R4 owner has the right for “The conversion of a building or other structure existing before May 12, 1958, to an apartment house as limited by §§ 401.3 and 403.2.”

          • jeffb – you missed my point. I’m not questioning the right to convert a SFH to a multi-unit building. I’m questioning why the proposed regulation/change would make any difference to the OP as it’s not clear that they can create a third unit “by right” right now.

        • And there is no aesthetic issue here since there would be no change to the exterior and changes to the exterior are governed by different regulations. That is a separate issue, or at least it should be, but unfortunately the current proposal could have unintended consequences.

          • The “aesthetic” comment was an aside to Archduke of Argonne re: “Arguments about “aesthetics” and “saving family housing” are just eyewash.”

  • There’s a developer planning on turning a regular row house in my neighborhood into SEVEN two bedroom condos. To do so they plan on popping up, which honestly may not be that bad, but also plan on popping BACK, which will block pretty much all sunlight to the back yards of everyone else on the block. A lack of natural light in a small outdoor space is pretty detrimental to quality of life, especially for people who want to keep personal gardens. So, sorry if I don’t have any sympathy for you right now.

    • You should have sympathy for someone trying to do it the right way while people get away with monstrosities like the one you’re describing. That’s exactly the point.

    • Any details available on this project?

      • If you search for “DC Permit Application Status Tracking” on Google it will take you straight to the DC government page that allows you to see the permits. Search there for B1411058.

    • “A lack of natural light in a small outdoor space is pretty detrimental to quality of life”

      Not always. I live in a townhouse that has pop-outs on either side, and I like the privacy I have in my backyard created by the extended walls on either side. Makes for a very private urban oasis.

      • Well from my back yard I can see the sun setting over a couple of beautiful churches on 16th St. I am terrified that someone will buy one of the houses on the street next to mine, pop it back, and ruin the view I and my neighbors enjoy so much.

        • Terrified all the way to the bank. If your neighbors pop back that means you can to, and you can make a killing. Don’t complain.

          Or if they view is important, then buy your neighbors.

        • I am terrified that someone will buy one of the houses on the street next to mine, pop it back, and ruin the view I and my neighbors enjoy so much.

          Above display of petty personal entitlement is truly breathtaking.

    • You have misunderstood the letter. This is not about wanting to pop up or out, which is banned in the historic district anyway. The point is that this basement improvement would not do any of that kind of harm that you are experiencing. This is not an inconsiderate developer trying to change the exterior of a building.

    • It’s a 6300 square foot lot. It’s zoned for seven units. Not sure under what grounds you have to be upset. You knew about this when you bought/moved in (unless you bought prior to 1958).

  • This is insane. I have a hard time believing there is any demand for housing for larger families in row houses. Most people with large families couldn’t afford a row house in dc.

    • That’s not even remotely true. THere are plenty of dual income parents in the city with multiple children. Most of them have moved to Chevy Chase, Brookland and the like. The reason housing continues to rise in those locations is precisely because there is a demand for housing for people with children. And the options anywhere else in the city become more and more limited precisely because rowhomes are divided into 1200 square foot two bedroom condos that are insufficient for people with more than one child.

      Have you checked home prices in the parts of DC with free standing single family homes? High. And rising. Because there is less and less inventory.

      As for this letter, what the author seems to fail to notice is that there is always the option that the basement be finished and become part of the first floor, adding space for a family that would not otherwise fit there. Which again, is the point.

    • Isn’t that the point? Families can’t afford row houses because the supply is dwindling because too many are being converted into multi-family buildings?

      • The reason that “families” by which, let’s be real here, people mean your ideal two parent-two kid family, can’t afford row houses is that the demand for rowhouse living exceeds supply. It’s not that “too many” of them are being converted into multifamily buildings. Should we start prohibiting childless couples from bidding on row houses? They have more disposible income and can outbid “families” after all.

        • I think you hit the nail on the head. Forcing these row homes to stay intact means that only rich families or roommates will be able to live there. If DC wants to subsidize families, then they should encourage more development, not less.

        • Trust me as somebody in a DINK family who bought a townhome in NW, we could outbid many people with our household income. This happens all of the time in DC. Do I regret buying a larger house with no kids. Not one bit.

        • Um you understand those are two sides of the same coin. If demand for rowhomes exceeds supply, then clearly removing supply to create smaller condos reduces the ability of families to buy rowhomes.

          You seem confused.

          • Uh, if I have a fixed (or increasing!) number of buyers and decrease the number of available housing units, what do you think will happen to prices? Maybe I’m not the only one who’s confused.

          • If the rowhomes were unaffordable, you would have supply. The point is you don’t because people can in fact afford them. And do buy them. THere are plenty of families living in rowhomes in Brookland, Petworth, Shaw, Eckington. The regulation is intended to preserve supply, not preserve cheap supply. I don’t have a personal stake in the regulation, but I don’t think affordability is necessarily the problem. Although admittedly it’s hard to outbid a developer who has its sights set on dividing an $800,000 rowhouse into three $600K condos in a bidding war. Which is precisely what the regulation is trying to prevent from happening so that the families are the ones buying homes, not developers.

      • That is the goal of the proposed regulation change, MMMkay. But in this case the regulation is affecting some people who are not reducing family-friendly spaces. There should at least be an exception for people who are adding liveable space without reducing existing spaces for families and who aren’t enlarging their structure with a pop-up (which could not happen in this historic district anyway).

    • My next door neighbors moved out of their row house a few years ago when their two kids reached school age. They said they needed more space, but instead of popping up their row house for $250,000 they bought a detached dwelling in far upper NW for $1.1 million — in an area with better schools. So it’s schools more than space that drives the great family exodus towards the suburbs (those inside and outside the District proper) at least for those who can afford it.

      • You interesting anecdote aside, there are many areas of the city where people live and have children that are not upper NW. I have plenty of friends with kids living in rowhomes in Petworth, Shaw, Eckington, etc. Neighborhoods that, until recently, still had affordable rowhomes for families, which are quickly becoming unaffordable for most because of dwindling supply as more and more are converted to condos for people without children.

        I’m not passing judgment on the trend. It is what it is. But if the point is to protect inventory for families, the regulation makes sense.

        • Who do you think is going to be able to pay a higher price for a 3 BR row house? A family with two small kids and one parent working part-time or two DINKs? This proposed regulation will not hold prices down or decrease competition for 3BR row homes.

          • Locking in inventory of 3 bedroom rowhomes does not drive up the price of rowhomes faster than allowing developers to carve up rowhomes and reduce the inventory of 3 bedroom rowhomes. #MATH

            DINKs are not driving out families. Developers are driving out families (and DINKS). Everyone keeps talking about pricing. Pricing is irrelevant. If you can prevent developers from taking rowhomes and dividing them up into condos for singles or DINKS looking for two bedroom condos, then you are preserving at least some availability for families. Families who can afford the prices. I’m fine if DINKs are buying these homes too. Perhaps then those DINKS will have kids and stick around. Since when is a married couple not still a family? Geez. What is unlikely to happen is if DINKs become parents and want to move because they live in a neighborhood with no kids because all the neighboring rowhomes are one or two bedroom condos.

            I do not think the regulation is intended to keep prices low, it is intended to keep developers out. I do not think the regulation is intended to provide affordable family housing on the cheap. I think it is intended to keep family sized inventory available at whatever price the market dictates. I completely disagree there are not plenty of married couples with one or two kids who cannot afford a rowhome in DC.

            And while I have no kids and no personal interest in ensuring family inventory, I like the idea of living in a neighborhood with families and kids.

          • Sorry, that last comment should have read: “What is likely to happen without this regulation is if DINKs become parents, they will want to move because they live in a neighborhood with no kids because all the neighboring rowhomes are now one or two bedroom condos.”

          • If you’d like to keep developers out, there are ways to do so short of limiting the property rights of homeowners in R-4 zones, such as high tax rates or fees for properties resold within a certain timeframe. Your position in your comments is basically “I’d like there to be more 3 bedroom units in the city so I’m perfectly fine telling other people what to do with their property to achieve this goal.” Given that there is in fact a surplus of three bedroom units relative to families with children in the District, your position doesn’t make sense to me. #LOGIC (did I use that hashtag correctly?)

        • JS is correct. I also wish there were more three bedrooms on the market–but locking in the inventory of rowhouses will only make prices go higher. Two dinks, or a collection of roommates will outbid most families.
          If you want to downzone to preserve row houses at current prices, then you must concurrently get rid of the height act and encourage real density nearby to absorb demand for living near amenities.

  • You lost me a “no losers”. If somebody converted a rowhouse on either side of mine into a 3-unit building I’d be pretty unhappy, especially if I bought into a family-oriented area. It would be a loss to the city in general if everybody carves up the houses into apartment buildings and there aren’t any single family homes left.

    Also, under R-4 you can covert into only two legal units right now. It looks to me like you’d need to request a variance for another unit at the present time, so I’m not clear how this is different.

    • Currently you can convert to a three unit in R4 if you have more than 1,000 square feet per floor and that allowance is was the proposal intends to eliminate. In this case it is not about losing a single family home. This building already has two flats and the basement is not used. It would not take away from any of the other two spaces but would merely add a unit. Seems like you just don’t want people living near you but there is a housing shortage in DC, rents are high, and we need to find ways to fit more people into this city. I doubt it would cause you much harm if you had a couple extra people living next door to you in a basement unit.

      • No – in R-4 zones it’s one unit per 900 sq. feet of lot area provided lot coverage doesn’t exceed 60%.

        • I just looked it up in regulation 11-401.3 and think you are partially correct, that it is 900 feet, but that is per “apartment or bachelor apartment,” not per lot area as you state. So to convert to a three-unit in zone 4 each unit must be at least 900 square feet. There is no minimum width. For maximum lot occupancy it is a little confusing. 11-403.2 says the maximum percentage of lot occupancy for conversion to apartment house is “Greater of 60% or the lot occupancy as of the date of conversion.” Not sure what they mean by the last part of that.

          • No – it’s one unit per 900 feet of lot area. That’s why a bunch of these converstions are happening on end unit properties – the lot area for those tends to be larger, allowing more by right development. Let me quote the DC’s government’s own summary on its zoning map tool: “Conversions of existing buildings to apartments are permitted for lots with a minimum lot area of 900 square feet per dwelling unit. Rear yard requirement is twenty (20) feet.” Also, minimum lot width is 18 feet. I know this because my house is on a nonconforming lot (narrower) and I’d have to get a BZA exemption for renovations because of that.

  • Supporters of this proposal think that prohibiting pop up conversions will make rowhomes more affordable. It won’t. Developers will still win bidding wars, except that instead of getting two 550 – 650K units, you get renovated row houses that sell for 850K plus.

    • Exactly. Smaller supply in the face of high demand is just going to make the single units much more expensive and put a crimp in total supply.

  • Losers would be schools that have a diminishing supply of children because of reduced supply of suitably sized family homes, over-abundance of SRO type housing stock (lowering rental value as more and more convert basements and row houses to multiple unit buildings (as landlords get desperate, rents are driven down and increasingly an appeal low-rent, transient populations); congested parking with more cars; appeal of a “family neighborhood greatly diminished; increase in policing costs as people on top of people tend to become like caged animals and fight; increased stress on infrastructure systems (a lot more crap going through the sewer system)…. bad idea all around.

    • But in this case no family-size unit is being lost. This is about an unoccupied basement. It does not split up an existing family space. So there would be no loss for schools (possibly a gain with a tenant who has a child). As for increasing supply, there is a shortage of units and the impact would likely be nothing. Your other points indicate that you think a less-dense area should be the goal, but if that is the case then there are always the suburbs and exurbs. This city has decided that it needs to create more housing to meet the increasing demand.

    • Well that escalated quickly. I’m surprised you didn’t use the word “undesirables” in that diatribe.

  • I think this is an excellent point.
    Another point I would make is encouraging an exemption for owner-occupied units. One of my neighbors told me about their experience with the victorian they live in, and I have to say, I had really hoped to be able to replicate it myself. This proposal would likely make that impossible.
    My neighbor bought the victorian as a three-unit building as a single guy in the very early 1980s. He didn’t need an entire house, and couldn’t afford to live in it by himself, but liked the idea of the investment potential. So, he lived on the first floor and rented out the two units upstairs. After he married, when he and his wife wanted to have children, they “annexed” the middle unit to make the lower two floors a large 2.5 bedroom property. When they had another child later, they “annexed” the top floor, converted it into a master suite, and used the whole house. After the children moved away, they converted the first floor back to an apartment and downsized to the upper unit. They are now older, own the house outright, and thinking about moving back to the first floor to avoid the stairs and either renting the large upper unit or converting it back to two smaller apartments. He often says he’s been in that house over 35 years, and he’s adapted it to whatever phase of life he was in at the time, and loved it. But, it sounds like that might not be allowable if this bill passes.
    So, I’d encourage an exemption from the entire bill for owner-occupied properties. That would still preclude developers from whatever “evils” they want to inflict on the neighborhoods, but it would allow the actual intent of the bill to happen – maintaining flexible space for families. It would also allow a family that’s growing to add an addition that lets an older generation move in with them or provide bedrooms for new children. It’s a shame to lose long-time community members because the city won’t allow them to adapt their own properties to their own needs.

    • I totally agree with what you’re saying. BUT – it will be nearly impossible to adequately police and enforce the “owner-occupied” clause. DCRA can’t even properly supervise and fine un-permitted work. You think they’ll be able to ensure that a home is “owner-occupied”? An investor will just claim it is his home, but never live there.

      • Couldn’t you just link the “owner-occupied” clause to the homestead deduction? I.e., if an owner is claiming the homestead deduction, DCRA assumes it’s owner occupied. DCRA doesn’t have to actively enforce because, presumably, the OTR has some enforcement mechanism. So people falsely claiming “owner-occupied” would be liable for whatever civil and criminal penalties that go along with tax fraud/lying to OTR. Do you think many non-resident investors claim the homestead deduction now? Seems risky to me.

        • “Do you think many non-resident investors claim the homestead deduction now?” The owners of the houses on both sides of mine are doing so.

  • Would the owner be willing to execute a deed covenant guaranteeing that one of the units is affordable, by government standards? No friggin way. They may charge less than upstairs, but not likely to rent below the affordable limit. And, even if they have a kind heart, what about the next owner?

    • Accountering

      Why should he have to do this?!? Affordable housing is a city-wide issue, not this persons issue. It is amazing the lengths that people who want to tell other people what to do with their property will go to make their argument.

    • Basement units rent for less money due to the forces of the market. Basement units have smaller windows, lower ceilings, and often less space because boiler/utility rooms are in the basement. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but on Craig’s List 2 bedroom basement units usually cost about $1900 or 2000 whereas upper unit two-bedroom apartments usually rent for at least $400 or $500 more and have a much higher rent ceiling. A unit with a seven foot ceiling and small units will always be cheaper; it’s just common sense.

    • why the heck would an owner do something crazy like that?

  • Those who are foolish enough to think that the anti-pop-up provision is going to drive down or stabalize the prices of row homes and other homes in DC is foolish and does not understand the nature of real estate. This will likely drive up the cost of housing since it will put a limit on supply of housing in DC. While this is great for homeowners in DC. It does not in any way make 3 BR+ housing more affordable in the district. In fact it will do the opposite, which is drive up the cost of housing. This is downzoning pure and simple, and the lesson from downzoning in SF is that it increases the cost of housing. But even SF was not stupid enough to disallow the subdividing of row homes to such an extent. This movement does not priciply understand the simple economics of supply and demand, and the reality is that this will not drive down the cost of housing. If anything it will push those who may have been satisfied with a subdivided condo into competing for the same houses as those who are looking for homes for their families, with a smaller amount of total supply on the market. As a homeowner in a house that cannot be subdivided this suits me fine, I will make out like a bandit, but as somebody who generally thinks pushing down available supply through dumb downzoning provisions which are not just economically misguided, but deeply problematic, this provision strikes me as deeply wrong. The residents who are pushing for the downzoning frankly do not know what they are talking about, this provision will drive up housing costs, not make it more affordable.

    • The real ways to control housing costs are anathema to America’s aspiring “rentier” class. You want to know what actually works in other countries to control housing costs?
      -Massive punitive taxes on flippers/investors who buy and sell property with 5 years
      -Large down payment requirements on any home second home (50% LTV or lower)
      -Restricting ownership to no more than two individual housing units within a given geography
      -Not allowing investors to purchase a SFH or individual apartment units (i.e., force them to purchase or build multi-family properties)
      These are ways that governments around the world frequently control costs. If I had my druthers, I’d start by restricting purchases of SFHs or individual apartment units by investors (and yes, you’re an “investor” even if you only own one extra unit of housing). Of course, this would have a dampening effect on housing prices and reduce transactions, thus the real estate and banking/lending industry would violently oppose it (“I love the smell of commissions and closing costs in the spring….”)

      • Accountering

        This is interesting. I am going to be honest and say I am glad I live in America, and not the countries you are referencing in your post.

        • LOL, I had the same thoughts. That sounds TERRIBLE!

        • The point of many of these regulations is that those governments see housing as something everyone needs to live. They prefer to have housing “investors” focused on multi-family properties. IMHO, investors shouldn’t be competing with individual home owners for the same housing units. They should be separate, segregated markets. It would alleviate A LOT of the pressure on prices in urban markets.
          The situation is not helped by banks and homeowners having a de-facto subsidy from the federal government that leads to the underpricing of risk. So we must admit from the outset that housing in the U.S. does not exist in anything that resembles a “free market.”
          Of course, you need to combine such policies with incentives. For instance, provide preferential tax rates for new in-fill development by investors (that is, incentivize the building of brand new structures). That, in combination with ownership restrictions, would still leave you with a housing market free of artificial price controls but still increasing supply. Regardless, Americans need to stop thinking of their homes as an ATM machines or a stock that should be going up in price by 10% a year. Such increases are not tied to market fundamentals, but rather the willingness of banks to extend credit and the government to continue providing subsidies to investors, homeowners, and the various industries associated with housing.

          • Yeah, but it seems you’re looking at solely investors. There are lots of reasons why people might rent out their home, and it’s not necessarily because they’re an investor. If I got an amazing job opportunity in San Diego, but I knew I was only going to be there for 2-3 years I am not going to sell my house in DC. I would rent it out and then move back into it when I came back. I *might* buy a second place while in San Diego, but not if I have to put 50% down!

          • The transaction costs alone would probably wipe out any profit you’re making in buying a house and trying to resell it after 2 or 3 years, unless you made substantial upgrades to the new property. Especially in the SD market which was the poster child for bad, speculative “investments” during the Crisis (the rent-to-mortgage payment ratio was skewed more there than anywhere else in the country, assuming 20% down). But I totally understand your point 😉

  • It is somewhat disingenuous to appeal to the housing shortage in DC when it really is a shortage in the most popular neighborhoods. There is plenty of development opportunity in areas of the District outside of the row house neighborhoods. For the time being, until all other development is tapped out, a moratorium on pop-ups is not the greatest of evils. It would engender a greater diversity throughout the underutilized areas to have development money directed in those directions. Obviously the city would need to step up to the plate and direct funds to infrastructure expansion, but just an off the cuff guess here it would be less expensive to expand new infrastructure rather than remediate the overly subscribed neighborhoods’ crumbling systems, e.g. flooding and brownouts.

    • The letter is not about a moratorium on pop-ups. The letter states that the current effort to enforce a moratorium has been poorly designed and will affect some buildings and owners who have nothing to do with pop-ups or with the loss of large-family spaces.

      • Thanks. My mistake for using pop-ups because that is what the new zoning legislature is directed toward as a short-hand term for various types of renovations.

  • Yeah I hear you… I have a 2BR, 1,000 SF row house (one of those 12 footers) that probably cannot be subdivided (at least not in any sensible way) and I’m trying to figure out if this is good or bad for me… Probably good because it will limit the supply of similar spaces I think…. I guess we’d end up with an excess (I mean, slight excess) of 3+ BRs??? Just weird.

    Regardless, people don’t mind pop ups. They mind UGLY pop ups. Classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and legislating what is a perceived cause instead of an actual ill. But, ya know, I bought mine already so who gives a damn. At least that’s how a lot of people feel around here.

    • RE above comment: “people don’t mind pop ups. They mind UGLY pop ups.”

      Yes and no.

      The “V Street Middle Finger” project gets the most hate because it pops-up so much higher than surrounding buildings. People always trot out this “bad example” when they argue against pop-ups, but most of the pop-ups are nowhere near this extreme. This “bad example” is in the middle of a commercially zoned block where none of the other properties have ever been built up to their maximum limits. Anti-density folks use this “bad example” to create fear of what might happen in R-4 zones without “reform.”

      So it is really an “apples and oranges” comparison that appeals to peoples worst fears rather than more realistic probabilities. This is a lever being used to roll back development rights that have been on the books for decades but have not been widely used until recent years.

      Then there are the people who claim that ALL pop-ups are UGLY because they alter the existing roof lines. I’m torn between feeling sorry for people who are that incapable of accepting any kind of change and wondering if they are really that way or if it is just another excuse against density.

      I haven’t seen that many pop-ups that I would call truly ugly. There are a few I don’t like but most seem pretty average. What I read on PoPville and other blogs is this weird idea that every development that isn’t well “above average” is somehow a disgrace to the city or an insult to the neighborhood. The harsh judgments usually come from people who don’t think enough money was spent on the project: as if every critic is a multimillionaire or identifies with multimillionaire tastes.

  • any restriction like this will stifle city growth. just imagine if the city outlawed group housing. there would be a mass exodus out of the city. this is exactly what will happen if this passes. i would consider this over regulation which will negatively impact the housing stock. i personally like the look of pop-ups, thus it is based on purely subjective view and laws should not be based on subjective views.

    it would be the same as if we decided to outlaw suvs solely because they are ugly and for no other basis. this is insanity.

  • Just a reminder: There are far more single-family homes in the District than there are couples with children to live in them. The majority of single-family homes in DC are occupied by non-related roommates or childless couples. We don’t have a shortage of family-sized units, if anything, we have a glut of them.

    • Now this is interesting. If anything, we need more multi-family buildings to house these people who don’t require a lot of space (singles, DINKs, empty nesters, etc)
      But that means affordable new construction apartments , not inefficient row house conversions.

  • I hope this does not impact those of us that currently have a legal rental unit in the basement. I get the pop-up issue, but why punish those with a legal lower level unit. Many people in Ward 4 have such units.

    • It won’t. It just caps the number of units per property to two in the R-4 zone no matter the lot size.

      • A two-unit cap would eliminate the potential for one or two additional units on larger lots in R-4 zones. That is a major financial impact a the home owner.

  • Any day at the Zoning Board, you’ll hear citizens (or absentee landlords) trying to enrich themselves by asking for an exception to something they knew about when they came to the District. In every case, they plead that it’s somehow “good for the city.” Maybe start by being rea — either acknowledge the greed, or don’t invoke the bogus public service angle. Recast the lower unit into a bi-level larger one, up to code, pay your taxes honestly, and everybody wins.

    • You (and everyone else who goes there) lost me at “greed.”
      While it is safe to assume some people are motivated solely or mainly by greed, the assumption that everyone who wants to develop a property is just greedy is a lame ad hominen attack that tries to change the subject from rational discussion to emotional condemnation.
      We live times of growing economic inequality and insecurity. Even D.C. lacks the type of job security once widely enjoyed through government employment. Really scary for people with families to support.
      People who think it is a big mistake to give away valuable home owner property rights are economic realists. Not all of them are greedy.

    • In this case that is not a good solution. There is no staircase between the basement and teh floors above and no good space to put one. It would not only be way more expensive but also would mess up the existing unit. Furthermore, the basement has two entrances and was laid out for apartment use by a previous owner. It would not be much more expensive and provide much less benefit if it has to be done as you propose.

      The other route also provides benefits and causes no harm. If that is the cases the owner should be allowed to choose. I am not opposed to regulation at all, it’s just that the regulations shoudl make sense. In this case it inadvertently would cause a harm to someone whom the proposal was not intended to target.

  • If anyone would like to read the original version of this letter, as well as all the other comments filed in this matter, they are available on the DCOZ website at http://app.dcoz.dc.gov/Content/Search/Search.aspx. Type in 14-11 in the search field, and click on “View Full Log” on the right.

  • The Zoning Commission is holding a public hearing on the proposal tonight, Thursday January 15th, at 6:30. All can attend and comment. It is at 441 4th Street, N.W., Suite 220-South – Judiciary Square. You can also submit a letter to the Zoning Commission. Must be pdf with signature (electronically pasted is fine). Also here is a link to the proposal. The letter that is the subject of this post focuses on #4. http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/local/district-of-columbia-zoning-commission-proposal-on-pop-ups/1064/

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