Zoning Commission Public Hearing Jan 15, 2015, Case 14-11


From an email:

“More than 160 people signed up to make comments. (At least 6.5 pages on the witness list at 25 per page). Could not stay until the end so I don’t know if everyone spoke. They were processing about 16 speakers an hour when I left.

Looks like the speakers were about evenly split between pro-downzoning and anti-downzoning.

The hearing was about R-4 zone changes. If these changes go through and if the Lanier Heights downzoners succeed in changing Lanier Heights zoning from R-5-B to R-4 then Lanier Heights will be affected by these R-4 changes.

Attached is my statement. I read my statement shortly after the Lanier Heights downzoning leader, Denis Suski, read his statement supporting the reduction in R-4 zoning.

ZC-14-11-statement (PDF)

The hearing was video tapped and should be available for online viewing soon.


Ronald Baker
Lanier Height home owner

40 Comment

  • Video TAPED not video TAPPED.

  • I found it interesting that several attorneys spoke on behalf of unnamed clients who were “No on 14-11” but that the 14-11 proponents were exclusively homeowners, civic associations and ANC commissioners.

    I found it downright disturbing that two or three of the attorneys who spoke, recommended that in lieu of regulations, residents could just sue the “few” bad developers out there, if a project was mis-handled. Not everyone has the financial means to engage an attorney, and by the time you reach lawsuit stage, the damage is already done. So unless one of those speakers has a time machine and is willing to do pro bono work, the suggestion that homeowners just sue when developments go wrong really misses the mark.

    • This makes complete sense, since only homeowners and associations of homeowners have a material interest in inflating single-family home values. Whereas lots of other people, including homeowners, renters, developers, and anybody who is interested in seeing the city grow in a certain way, has interests on the other side.

      • that’s a very inaccurate description and assumption

      • +1

        These homeowners want to keep the housing supply small to increase the value of their property, which might help them financially but undermines affordability for the city as a whole. On the other hand, of course renters and those hoping to be homeowners in these neighborhoods also are driving by financial interests. So let’s not pretend that the pro-downsizing lobby is somehow driven by pure, nonfinancial motives and that homeowners are the underdog. There are financial interests on both sides.

        The real POLICY issue at stake is what direction housing affordability and growth will take for the city.

        • For some (many? most?) homeowners, it’s more a matter of aesthetics than of financial value.

          • laws should not change to please aesthetics. laws should be objective and NOT subjective reasoning.

            soon you will have what georgetown is. no change and so expensive no one can afford it and no one willing to do business there. funny how gentrifies which came in and changed the neighborhood are now standing up for change and growth. self entitlement if you ask me.

        • R4 zoning is a little less than 15% of DC’s available housing. There isn’t a housing shortage in DC as bad as developers would have everyone believe. There are limited housing options in in the two or three row house neighborhoods where small time developers can maximize profits to the absurdly extreme. This isn’t about homeowners trying to protect their $$$…it’s the other way around. The opponents are low time developers trying desperately to keep the gravy train rolling.

          I’d love to see what these developers (majority who live in suburbia) would do if their neighbors built a 40 ft crappy tower next to their beautiful HOA trimmed yard. hypocrites.

        • Where do people come up with the idea that homeowners who live in 100 year old row houses, in neighborhoods they love, want to inflate the value of their homes? Are you familiar with property tax? There may be a few people who have purchased as an investment, or a few very long tern residents, who are ready to cash out now who want their home value inflated, but they weren’t at the hearing. Everyone I know is here to stay and higher values mean higher taxes, year in and year out.

          • +1
            With all the banging on about how great development is for home values, no one mentioned the seniors and others on fixed incomes who cannot afford to stay in their homes (even with tax relief for seniors).

        • Smart growth is very possible without destroying the limited supply of single-family row houses.
          There was one developer who said last night he was sitting on a property he’d bought in 2008 because of the market decline, and another who said he would only do 9 units in larger projects because at 10 units the affordable housing requirements kick in. It’s about profit, pure and simple, and while people should be allowed to make money and prosper, they shouldn’t be allowed to do it at someone else’s expense.
          When you take a neighborhood like Petworth and rapidly increase the population, there is a cost– paid by the pre-existing residents. It’s not as easily quantified as dollars are, but if you think there is no cost, you’re fooling yourself.
          At any rate, the city needs to incentivize development in those areas which can sustain it and in those properties which can support it while protecting the rights of the people who chose to buy into the row houses. It is immoral that a developer with no ties to the community can have a negative impact on my life and my investment just so he/she can turn a profit.

          • Biker chick wrote: while people should be allowed to make money and prosper, they shouldn’t be allowed to do it at someone else’s expense.
            I’m sorry, but that makes no sense. Either the commenter meant to say something else or she simply doesn’t understand how our economic system works at its most basic level. Lots of people don’t understand money or economics. I’m not that smart about money myself, but I do know profit is always derived at someone else’s expense. That is precisely how our system works.

          • Sorry, I could have worded that better. In reply to Anon. Profit is made at someone else’s “expense” but generally that someone else has willingly engaged in the transaction. Like a buyer or a supplier who voluntarily participates. In the townhouse conversion situation, often it is the neighbor, an unwilling participant, who absorbs the cost while the developer profits. Solar panels are a great example of this: neighbor invests money to install a solar array and has a reasonable expectation that the investment will pay returns in X number of years (for me it was 4 years). Developer pops up the house next door and blocks access to the sun. Solar panels produce significantly less energy and neighbor’s investment doesn’t return, thereby taking money away from the neighbor, while Developer pockets $$$$$ in profit.

            That is not fair. That is development that rewards an often out-of-city business at the expense of the established homeowner.

      • But the developers said if conversion of R4 homes to condos were not allowed to continue, home values would fall and not increase. So which is it? Stop the development in order for housing values to go up, or allow development in order for values to go up?

        • I think the effect is ambiguous, actually, on average, but pronounced for some individuals. If you currently live next to a pop-up, or in the shadow of one, your home value falls with zoning reform, because you can only sell your house to somebody who wants a single-family home – someone who presumably cares that they’re in the shade. (A developer would pay a lot more than a single-family homeowner, because they could build out from under the shade.) If you don’t currently live near a pop-up, I think the effect is ambiguous. You lose the value of selling to a developer, but over time the supply constraints may dominate that and improve your home value.
          However, zoning reform restricts the number of HOUSING UNITS (by disallowing carve-ups/expansions). So while the effect on the value of single family homes is ambiguous, the effect of the zoning reform on housing affordability is unambiguously negative. (By affordability, I don’t mean “affordable to low-income”, I mean the average price of a housing unit.)
          Americans have the biggest houses in the world. It’s pretty clear that under many conditions people want smaller houses, if it means they can live closer to things they value. Even people with families, if the school system functions. Not everybody needs that much space. The fact that developers can allegedly make so much money off these conversions is a sign there aren’t enough of them to meet demand.

          • there’s always a demand for housing in trendy neighborhoods. That’s never going to change. The solution isn’t cramming more people in an area that isn’t set up for it. The solution is planned growth in parts of the city that can support it.

            I live near Arkansas Ave NW and Upshur Street where there are 6 or 8 pop up projects within 4 blocks of me. At an average of 4 units each, that’s 24 new households in a very small area, and those are just the developments I know about. The nearest Metro is about 20 minutes walk. So we are basically serviced by busses— like everywhere else in the city. Our streets are not wide enough for two cars to pass each other if there is a car parked on each side. The backups during rush hour are horrendous. according to pepco there is only one more slot on our section of grid for a solar array. The alleys are narrow and not getting any bigger even if there will be 48 more trash cans and 24 more recycling bins back there. We do not have the infrastructure for these new residents.

          • But the point isn’t that there’s “demand”, the point is that the demand is so intense that people are willing to pay enough so that developers supposedly make a ton of profit by turning big homes into smaller ones. That is not a dynamic that exists everywhere, and if it’s the case, it’s a strong sign that our housing stock is an economically inefficient size. Do you think Paris was always full of teeny tiny flats? Have you seen the width of their streets? I don’t have any problem with the height limits. It’s the inability to subdivide (which doesn’t “destroy” anything) that is outrageous.

  • Ron Baker is on a personal crusade with the 50 or fewer supporters he has to continue allowing pop-ups. He has made it his personal mission to spam every discussion on this topic with his own agenda. It is very clear that the overwhelming majority of residents are in favor of measures to put an end to the nonsensical pop-ups and the developers who are exploiting and breaking the regulatory laws in this city.

    The residents are fed up. The only support outside of Ron Baker and his select few supporters are the bad-actor developers — or small-time developers as the washington post called them.

    He has every right to his opinion, but do not mistake his view as speaking for anyone other than a very select few.

    • I am a long-time renter in and resident of Columbia Heights, and as a matter of both progressive politics and personal interest I support residential growth in the city. I have never met Ron Baker, but I support his view.

    • This is about developer greed and pop ups. Not “growth” They have found easy meat in the many homea owned by older black residents who seek to move, or have died etc and this is their loophole. I for one don’t want my city and his from birth to look like parts of Hong Kong

    • Thank you.
      Saying I am on a “personal crusade” is about the nicest thing any proponent of downzoning has ever said about me. It almost sounds like I am motivated by idealism rather than greed. Perhaps I am.
      Perhaps “anon” who made the comment will reveal his or her identity so I can figure out if they know anything about me other than my support for home owner rights?
      Oh, and whoever you are, I don’t think “spamming” means what you think it does. I read several blogs and sometimes make comments. When those blogs are all covering the same event, like this public hearing, where I submitted a written statement, I posted my statement as a comment.
      Sometimes I email press releases to certain blogs and newspapers. Sometimes (as with the present PoPville post) my press releases are published.

  • I don’t know, from the looks of that sign, it sounds like they’re rallying against you, PoP!

  • I’m relativley new to the area and rent in the neighborhood. Like a few others here I’m progressive and support higher density development and affordable housing this close to the urban center and therefore oppose the changes.

    What I find most disturbing about the whole thing though is the efforts by proponents to act as is home owners in the neighborhood are the only legitimate stakeholders in this debate. Owners frequently cite the number of owners who have signed their petition as if they are the only ones who matter and they portray any opponents as moneyed interests from outside the area. Elected leaders in this town represent everyone, not just property owners. This behavior is anti-democratic, elitist, and despicable. Owners have a right to their opinion, but they do not have the right to force that opinion on their neighbors who rent (and who, incidentally, far outnumber owners). The rest of us have a say in the future of our neighborhood too and most support easing the housing crunch.

    • +1. Could not agree more.

    • Perhaps if there were more developers willing to go past the 10th unit (the point in many neighborhoods where they have to include a certain number of low-income-affordable units) and focusing on larger projects instead of cannibalizing the row houses for micro projects, overall housing would be more affordable. The competition between developer and private buyer for a single-family townhouse creates artificial price pressure and drives prices up at abnormal, unsustainable rates. It will only get worse as long as development is directed towards these small projects that amount to just a drop in the bucket– which it will always be, so long as it is allowed, because the profits are huge and the investment is comparatively small.

    • Our petition is open to anyone who lives in D.C.
      We were asked by ANC-1C how many of our supporters are row house owners in Lanier Heights. The ANC made the same request of the pro-downzoning petitioners. The ANC explained that request by saying that Lanier Heights row house owners are the ones who will be most affected by Lanier Heights downzoning.
      I think the opinions of all residents should count, not just the opinions of property owners.

  • Im not sure developers who often have shaky financial legs and absentee landlord types…taking a 100 year old rowhouse in a 100 year old stable family community from some old person who dies or sells AWAY from a stable newcomer family…then puts up a 40 ft monstrosity ostensibly billed as “luxury units” on the shell of that rowhouse…within no setbacks etc…tum can’t sell so has to rent out this” back-door housing project”…is good for the city. This doesn’t go over in the burbs. Single family homes built this renaissance of DC, along with multi unit dwellings in areas designed for that density. Making the single family parts city look like parts of Bangkok or Sao Paulo is not the answer, and

  • Ron Cohen of the anti-downzoning group says “Looks like the speakers were about evenly split between pro-downzoning and anti-downzoning.”
    However, the Washington City Paper’s article about the hearing — which I imagine is less biased than Cohen’s summary — says that “[s]ome members of the public” testified against the proposed changes to the R-4 designation, but “most residents testifying before the Commission” were testifying in favor of the proposed changes.

    • This is consistent with what I saw. I’d say it was 65% for, 35% against.

    • My estimate was based on a quick visual scan of the sign up sheets at about 7:30. looked pretty even to me at that point, but people were still signing up. I did not stay until the end of the hearing. The video tape will give us a more precise number of how many spoke and what their positions were. I heard some people who were in support of parts of the various proposals but not all. There was even someone who thought allowing a 35 foot height limit was too much and wanted a 30 foot height limit.

      • maybe some of the lawyers left early. Hourly billing and all.

        • Maybe lots of people left early. The video tape is four and a half hours. The opening remarks and presentation by the Office of Planning took 20 minutes or more. Would have needed between 9 and 10 hours to give everyone who signed up their allowed three minutes.

  • I’m a homeowner and I’m against most pop-ups but the reason is not the value of my property at all. It has to do looks and light. That’s it. I don’t think regulating pop-ups will increase the value of my home and I really don’t care if it will or not since I’m not planning on selling. If anything I would prefer for the prices to go down so I don’t have to pay higher property taxes.

  • I’d love to put a “stop the pop” sign in Ron Baker’s yard. Or maybe 100 of them…

  • I was a supporter of the popup regulations, but no longer. I have a legal remtal in the basement and from what I understand it will impact my ability to rent it. No thanks. Support the concept, but this doesn’t seem well thought out.

    • If it is a legal basement, this proposal won’t affect your ability to rent it. I’m not sure where you heard that but it’s incorrect. Your rental unit would not be affected.

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