Another Mega Pop Up Coming?


A reader writes:

“This building south of the New Jersey Ave/Florida Ave is popping up – way up! I thought they were going to stop at just one floor above the surrounding houses…but no. They’re going even higher. Is this another Ella in the making?”

49 Comment

  • Should we just complain without doing any research? Or check the zoning regulations and permit history. Let’s try option 2!!!!

    1) 1724 New Jersey (this building) is zoned C-2-A
    2) C-2-A allows 50 foot building with an allowable stair penthouse no wider than four feet.
    3) Hey, what do you know, they have permits to add two stories and a stair penthouse, which is the third “story” you see there.

    • The OP didn’t allege that this was contrary to zoning or that permits were lacking — he/she simply remarked that it was popping up.

    • Yea, why does this comment matter at all? Are you only allowed to complain about things that are illegal? Can we only express negative opinions about restaurants that suck if they’re also violating multiple health codes?

  • It amazes me that people are willing to live right next to a gas station like that.

    • Especially that gas station. That place is a nightmare

    • I think another PoPville reader was concerned about plywood construction being next to a gas station (unless that person was talking about a different building):

      • Which is asinine. Modern codes don’t say if we all have 1 hour fire rated hardie board we’re good. No, they say we have automatic sprinklers. And fire separation between units. And interconnected alarms. The fire department has signed off on this project. What more do you want the developers to do?

        DC has shown very little interest in altering international building/fire codes (outside of adding on various green requirements). And until they do this is what we get.

        • No reason modern codes need to prevent 18th century fires. First, fires happen a lot less often. UL certification means appliances are relatively safe. Inspection means electrical is safe. Electricity means nobody is using gas lamps and few are using wood stoves for heat. Second, mitigation and warning systems are better. Sprinkler systems, extinguishers on the wall, fire retardant drywall, and treated wood all mean fires spread slower and are put out faster. Alarm systems mean residents are alerted sooner. Building codes mean people have multiple means of escape.
          Also, when is the last time you heard of a gas station burning down? Ever? Gas stations have tons of mitigation/prevention/warning tech required by code.
          The risk of this building is relatively little. On the other hand, do residents want to live next to a gas station? Probably not. Sure is stupid someone is prohibited by law from buying the station and turning it into something that doesn’t actively pollute our community.

          • “Also, when is the last time you heard of a gas station burning down?”
            Exactly. I would guess that residential buildings blow up due to natural gas leaks far more often than gas stations blow up due to gasoline.

    • Well no one knows if they are willing to yet… But that is a sad little building, should be interesting to see what happens.

  • It seems completely reasonable to have high density housing in areas zoned commercial. The only thing I would be up in arms about is that DC forbids anyone from buying and developing that (and many other) blighted stations.

  • POP, I think you need to virtually sit down with your readers and go over the zoning map (, and allowable buildings by zone (

    With that in mind, we can go crazy on this property.
    1) DCRA Permit status (, which has lots of good information on why certain parts of building permits are being approved/denied. In this case, you can tell the developers initially wanted a habitable penthouse, which isn’t allowable in C-2-A.
    2) DC Property Information Verification System ( This has more information about issues permits, as well as basic business licenses, any holds/restrictions such as historic districts or metro lines underneath the property. You can also see they were issued a couple of supplemental permits here.
    3) DC Real Property database ( This has the land square footage. I have no idea why it’s no in PIVS but this is important for 60%/100% land occpancy issues. In this case the land is 1722 square feet and since it’s a 100% residential building, i went to the informating from the zoning map and realize they could build on 1033 square feet of their land.
    4) Interactive Zoning Information System ( Not relevant in this case, but this has documents related to the Board of Zoning Adjustment or Zoning Commission. For fun you should read some cases like 14-11 (R-4 downzoning) or 08-06A (the proposed zoning rewrite)

    • While these are useful links for people to have — nobody claimed that this pop-up failed to comply with the applicable zoning regs.

      • Exactly.

        • Though nonetheless the entire point of the OP (how tall will they go? Will it be like The Ella?) could have been answered.

          • The Ella comports to the zoning regs. No one is arguing that.
            That doesn’t mean that we can’t find it ugly. It also does not mean that we can’t try to change the zoning regulations to ensure a certain aesthetic quality of a particular neighborhood. Major, thriving cities all over the world have regulations that control for aesthetics and still manage to provide affordable housing at all income categories. We can do better without destroying our history.

          • +1 to Anonymous 5:00 pm.

          • @Anonymous 5:00-
            You want to control for aesthetics. Okay. Who’s idea of aesthetics gets to decide? I personally think most of the squat row house blocks in this city are hideous and should be replaced 7-8 story Haussmannian apartments/condos. You don’t want to destroy our history, so I’m guessing your sense of aesthetics differs.

          • @Ryan: “I personally think most of the squat row house blocks in this city are hideous and should be replaced 7-8 story Haussmannian apartments/condos”
            I’m surprised these tacky monstrosities have not been built in Northern Virginia yet. We could call the development Petit Paris and situate it next to a Silver Line station. Cha-ching $$$!!!

      • Sure, but often information about projects to increase housing density in high demand urban areas (so called “pop-ups”) is without context or downright misleading. As has been discussed before, photos of C2-A zoned buildings have often accompanied stories about the proposal to downzone R-4 areas. The journalistically responsible thing to do is to provide minimal context.
        The elitist “Stop the Pop” group also frequently tries to conflate permitting/safety issues with zoning issues. Neighbors and owners around the city have rightly complained when developers do un-permitted work that threatens the structural integrity of other homes. “Stop the Pop” has tried to manipulate people into thinking downzoning R-4, meant to keep housing prices high and prevent poor people from owning homes in the city, will somehow improve regulation. Housing density and code inspection/permitting are separate issues.

        • Generally agree with these comments, although I don’t know the “Stop the Pop” folks well enough to characterize them as elitist. Maybe they are, maybe not, I just don’t know. But that is not the real issue.
          Neighbors Against Downzoning (the group I helped form) isn’t pro- or anti- pop-up. We simply want people to keep their property rights and the freedom to use those rights as they choose.
          Some home owners develop their own properties for their own uses. Others sell to developers. Some choose NOT to sell to developers because they don’t like pop-up condos.
          Downzoning will result in home owners losing significant property value and rights. No one has shown pop-ups to be such a huge problem for the city that every homeowner needs to lose the zoning rights that came with the house they bought. Additional small scale condo developments can help solve the current housing crisis.
          As the comment by SURE states, there is a clear difference between unregulated or dangerous construction and legally permitted pop-ups responsibly built. Banning all pop-ups is a poor substitute for the effective enforcement of existing rules.
          Some city council members are trying to get additional staff for DCRA so they can respond more quickly to alleged violations and speed up the process for permit approvals. That is a better approach than city-wide downzoning.

    • On the request for a habitable penthouse. Perhaps the developer will simply wait it out. With Zoning Commission Case 14-13, the habitable penthouse might become a matter-of-right change, thereby adding a significant amount of habitable space to the project. The case had not been decided, and there are several different options under consideration for zone C-2-A.

  • And honestly, assuming the neighboring houses to the left of this building are zoned the same, it is only a matter of time before those are popped up as well. High demand areas with low density. That area of Shaw/Truxton Circle has a ton of smaller two story rowhomes. What can’t be torn down and turned into large condo buildings will eventually see pop ups. Too many people want to live that close to downtown for it not to happen where it can.

    • And why not tear down all of those 2 story houses and make them taller? There’s nothing wrong with a 3 story building – it doesn’t reduce walkability or neighborhoody-ness. Many of the houses in Shaw, Truxton, Bloomingdale, etc were built over 100 years ago and some of them have outlived their useful life. As someone who has renovated one of these houses, I can tell you that the “they built it better back then” sentiment is pure nonsense. Although we love our place, old homes can have just as many – if not more- issues as new homes. With the four masonry walls of our house alone, we encountered issues with walls being out of plumb (including the whole back masonry wall of our house), wavy walls (i.e. the interior side of one of our party walls was incredibly wavy – up to 2″ out of level), and features that were not aligned (e.g. fireplaces that are at different elevations). Less old homes – like those built in the 50’s – can have issues with hazardous materials. It’s inevitable that these houses will have to be rebuilt over time – sometimes that means renovating, and sometimes that means tearing them down. Preventing someone from maximizing the value of the land (i.e. by preventing “pop-ups”) is like trying to dam the ocean – and, in the short run, it reduces affordability across the region. I find it frustrating when politicians complain about a lack of affordability out of one side of their mouth – and then turn around and try to pass regulations that reduce supply – thereby driving prices up!

      • I understand your point and agree with some of it. However, whenever someone mentions popups and affordability I have to shake my head. Time and time again I see homes popped up and then an individual condo costs more than a rowhouse in the neighborhood! For example, they razed three rowhomes on Newton Place and replaced them with nine condos. Sounds great, right? Now instead of three people getting to live there, nine people will live there. Well, those condos range in price from $434k to $774k! Oh and parking will cost you an extra $35k! Sorry, but that is not affordable. Maybe $434k for a one bedroom is decent, but tack on a parking spot and HOA fees and that’s a pretty expensive mortgage!

        • As Anthony Hood of the Zoning Commission said: “Affordable for who?”
          Well in fact these small condos can range from $300K – $400K for the smallest unit on the lowest level to $750K for larger 2 or 3 bedroom penthouse dwellings with roof decks.
          Sure the people who can afford the $750K penthouse with roof deck could have bought a whole row house — but the “penthouse” level would be a 3rd story unfinished attic / crawlspace with no roof deck.
          Meanwhile the people who bought the $400K unit would have the option of trying to find a small unit in a large condo complex, renting, or moving to the far out suburbs and suffering long daily commutes.
          Our city doesn’t have home ownership options for people who make $25,000 – $40,000 a year. How about some caring folks form a non-profit to buy and convert row houses into condos that are 100% set aside for people on the low end of the earning scale?

          • Ronald: I think you are getting your wish-come-true with the new Lincoln Westmoreland folks who are building The Channing E. Phillips low-income high-rise with 56 VERY low income housing units coming to the market. Even though this economic model of high-rising poor people into ghettos — which they are definitely doing here — was proven VERY wrong and a downfall of the Great Society programs which we (and the people that live in these slums) are still paying for dearly: HERE THEY GO AGAIN.

          • Anonymous Shaw Dweller: My “wish-come-true” would be lots and lots of small row house conversions to condos all across the city, set aside for purchase by really low-income workers. Not a “high-rising of poor people into ghettos.”

        • The point isn’t that housing will become “affordable”. The point is that allowing supply to expand will dampen the pace of home price growth.

        • If the condos sell, they are affordable for the people who purchased them.

          Also, pure economic principles of supply and demand say you are wrong. When demand outpaces supply, which I think most would argue it does south of Florida Avenue in NW, the more supply you have, the less quickly prices will rise. And the reality is there is even more demand for one or two bedroom condos than three bedroom homes in DC. So there is complete logic that a highly desirable neighborhood full of two or three bedroom townhomes will be converted into condos where possible to meet that demand.

          If more people starting families with children had options for schools and were not fleeing the city as soon as their children become school age, more of these houses would probably be preserved. And I would love to see that. I purchase one of these small two story rowhomes and love it. Sure, there are things about it that are inferior to living in a condo building, and obviously as a homeowner, opposing pop ups and adding supply in my neighborhood is not beneficial to my equity situation, but I know there is some balance needed. More one or two bedroom condos means more young people who can only afford that, which also means more services and amenities than might be in a neighborhood of only rowhomes. Look at Shaw. Do you really think without more density, you’d see the businesses that have popped up there?

          And I completely agree with Shaw Neighbor on the idea that some should be torn down for higher density condo buildings rather than pop ups. But good luck making that happen. It’s just easier for smaller developers/flippers to do it this way to make money.

          • As a recent rowhome buyer, I tend to disagree with the fact that pop-ups decrease equity in existing homes by increasing supply. I actually think they increase equity by monetizing the airspace above your house, which had no value before this trend started. Sure the extra supply reduces the value somewhat, but that is made up many times over by the including the air space in the value of your home. There are definitely more layers to it than just this, but I think this is an under-appreciated part of the reason why the price of rowhouses keeps going up (that and scarcity of remaining single family rowhouses), despite the increase in supply from more units.

        • With constant demand, more supply means that prices go down. This is the real point about affordability and pop ups. Allow pop-ups, allow greater density, upzone – and supply increases over time to meet demand – causing prices to level out and/or decline. Generally, (and absent a major shock to the system) real estate prices take a bit longer to adjust than they, say, stock market prices – however, this fundamental relationship between supply and demand does hold true in the real estate market. If DC loosened some of its regulations and allowed greater density/supply, you would see prices decline correspondingly over time. Actually, if you look back at the supply/demand situation in 2006, you can see that this adjustment did happen in DC. The cost of condos came way down b/c of the excess supply/supply that out paced demand at the time. Going back even further, after the riots in the 1960’s, it was the same situation – people were fleeing the city; supply was way higher than demand, and prices came way down.

          We could nerd it up even further and discuss how the excess supply in the rental market can also drive down prices in the for sale market, but we’ll leave that for another thread.

          In terms of the other point you’re making about the cost of the original (presumably older, somewhat run down) house vs the cost of the brand new condos, new construction will always cost more per foot than older buildings. That’s just a fact – and even more true in a market like DC where construction costs are driven way up by regulatory burdens (e.g.,it takes forever to get a permit for anything – that adds to the cost of construction). Over time, as buildings age, new areas develop, etc prices in older buildings come down relative to their newer counterparts. For example, if you look at some of the older rental buildings in Dupont (e.g. 1990’s renovations), the price per foot is lower than the price of newly constructed buildings in Logan. Same holds true in the for sale market.

          • I think the price difference in a circa 1990 renovated Dupont condo versus a new Logan circle condo has less to do with “new construction costs more” and is a reflection of newly renovated = higher price per square foot and Logan is generally a more desirable neighborhood today than Dupont.

            I live in a fully renovated rowhome, the original structure of which is over a century old and I can assure you I paid more per square foot than any newly built condo in my neighborhood.

        • I think a friend of mine owns one of those condos with a private rooftop – on Newton between Warder and Georgia, right? They didn’t pay anywhere near that much (think it was around $600K) but I am still not sure it was a great deal. Their place is nice but the area can be a little sketch. Apparently the bouncers from the House are super nice and help patrol the neighborhood, though.

  • Zoning isn’t the issue. Aesthetics are the issue. I see what people are saying about the rest of the neighborhood needing more density, but making it happen in such a haphazard way seems ridiculous. And at a very base level, I have to wonder if (like the Ella) sales in this building will suffer from its obvious lack of taste, even at this early stage of construction. And yes, it does share a wall with the gas station next door.

  • Don’t lose the point on the Ella – it is so crappy that two years later two out of the three units are still vacant and the front yard is overgrown with weeds. Just because you can build it doesn’t mean people will buy it.

  • I would NOT be walking up all those steps! Elevator please!

  • FYI- same owner as the V street monstrosity!

    • Oh really? It’s the same flipper as V Street?!? This won’t end well.

  • For those of you who have seen this building in person: Is it just me, or is it crooked? It appears to lean to the left.

  • Visually, these pop-ups look a lot better at the end of rows than in the middle. I’m not sure I’m all that fired up about this one.

  • Back to the gas station next door. I can’t believe it, an earlier poster is right: you can’t re-develop a gas station without going through a tangled web of taxes and oversight. Thank you, Phil Mendelson and Vincent Gray, for helping to keep three gas stations IN A ROW along that stretch of Rhode Island. Ridiculous.

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