“Perhaps, it’s just another sign that this is a broken city in search of gaining statehood, but with little chance of achieving it if it can’t even take down a chicken coop.”


“Dear PoPville,

Please take a look at these photos. The first ones were taken on Memorial Day, 2014. The last one was taken today, November 15, 2015. In that time period, I’ve probably sent almost 80 emails. This “chicken coop” at 1319 Fairmont St NW was built illegally. The only permit the only had at the time was for plumbing work, and that was for January of 2014. It’s been an eyesore and an embarrassment to this part of Columbia Heights.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m the ANC commissioner for this part of Columbia Heights. I’ve tried working with City Councilmember Jim Graham’s office, and then Brianne Nadeau’s [Brianne Nadeau’s office has worked to find answers more than anyone else], DCRA, the Mayor’s office in two administrations, and the District’s Attorney General’s office. I think it will take an act of Congress to take it down since nothing else seems to be working. I called the police two or three times when work was being done on it after 9pm.

No one seems to know why it continues to sit there or who’s in charge of trying to bring it down. Perhaps, it’s just another sign that this is a broken city in search of gaining statehood, but with little chance of achieving it if it can’t even take down a chicken coop.

I just want everyone to see how RIDICULOUS this problem is!!

Mark Ranslem
ANC1B08 commissioner”


53 Comment

  • I fail to see the issue.

    • See that red door in the top photo? That used to be my front door. I was a renter in the second floor apartment. The work next door was slapdash and legitimately dangerous. Several times large pieces of plywood and other debris blew off of the third floor worksite and one time landed feet from me. Would have knocked me unconscious if it had hit me square. I sent complaints to the city and piled all the debris on the owners front stoop. To parrot the OP, nothing ever happened.

  • It’s a dangerous illegal structure, I agree– but what do chicken coops have to do with anything? Maybe you’ve got DCRA looking around in the back yard when the problem is on the third floor.

  • EckingtonDoodle

    the horror! the horror!

  • I am sympathetic to the OP, but I’d recommend that in future he refer to this structure as an “illegal addition” or something of that nature. At first I thought someone had built an actual chicken coop and was keeping chickens in it in violation of D.C. regulations.

  • Is this actually a chicken coop? If it is, since chickens are illegal in DC, maybe DPH will help you. If this is some sort of deck/addition, is the issue with zoning or permitting? You mention permitting several times, so I’m guessing this is an allowable addition that hasn’t been properly permitted, and the problem is a lack of enforcement from DCRA. I’m of two minds about DCRA: with all the development going on, DCRA seems like an important service to protect residents from faulty construction. On the other hand, a contractor recently estimated it would cost $3000 to obtain permits to rebuild the 15′ x 4′ retaining wall in front of my rowhouse. At that price, it will just have to stay dilapidated.

    • Typical retaining wall permits are only $46/$1000 construction cost. You can actually sketch it out, submit it online, and obtain the permit yourself.

      • My understanding is that because the wall is adjacent to the sidewalk, DDOT and DOE are involved in addition to DCRA. Any idea whether 46/1000 is inclusive of the other departments?

        • DDOT is just checking property line issues, not engineering. The public space permit is separate and about $100. DOE is part of the building permit review process. $3,000 for permits is what you charge for construction valued $100,000 to $150,000. Your contractor is trying to rip you off. If you don’t believe me, go get the permit yourself at the Homeowner Center at the permit center. If it costs you $3,000 I’m wrong and use your current contractor. If it costs you a whole lot less, I’m right and find a different contractor.

          • If you disturb over 50 square feet of earth DOEE requires Erosions and Sediment control plans signed by an engineer. The permit fee alone is over $1000 for E&S approval, that doesn’t include fees to prepare plans, and permit processing fees.

    • $3,000 for permits? That contractor is treating you like a cash machine. They don’t hire an engineer for retaining wall drawings, they photocopy the drawings out of a standards book. How much time does it take to get such a permit at the permit center? Two hours tops and you can do it yourself.

  • Happily, this kind of thing really isn’t part of the qualifications for statehood.

  • justinbc

    It’s nearly impossible to get a structure taken down in DC once it’s already up, unless you can prove it poses an imminent danger to someone. Generally, you have to stop these types of illegal construction before / as they are occurring, which poses an obvious dilemma if you don’t know about them until they’re completed.

    • And when, if you call and call and call about them as they are being constructed, it is impossible to get an inspector to come out. And they don’t work on the weekends, which is when much of the illegal construction happens. The whole thing is like living within a catch 22.

  • If the work is illegal, then why does it not have a stop work order on the PIVS website? Generally these additions run afoul of zoning, but I’m not convinced that this structure — if it were to be fully enclosed (which appears to be the ultimate goal?) — would present a zoning problem because it’s not a pop-up (the new zoning regulations that went in to effect earlier this year), nor is it a pop-out or pop-back (i.e., additional lot coverage). I’m not necessarily disagreeing with the OP’s position about illegal construction, but normally there is a stop-work order on the PIVS website if DCRA agrees that illegal construction is taking place.

  • “this is a broken city in search of gaining statehood, but with little chance of achieving it if it can’t even take down a chicken coop.”
    What a shitty attitude for an ANC commissioner.

    • Emmaleigh504

      totally agree

    • This building is in ANC 1B08. The 2014 winner, Mark Ranslem, received 350 votes, with 203 “under votes”. Like a lot of ANC races there was no opposition.

      • What’s your point? Being an ANC rep is (as far as I can tell) a pretty thankless job, and an unpaid one. It’s not surprising so few people are interested in running.

      • If you’d like to see how busy commissioners are in ANC1B, come to one of our meetings, which are held the first Thursday of the month. Better yet, come visit a Zoning, Preservation & Development Committee meeting (this month, on 11/30) at the Thurgood Marshall Center or one of the other committees and see what’s being done to help our community. Check out anc1b.org. I’m sorry if my sense of humor got the best of me by calling it a “chicken coop” or referring to it as a “structure.” In zoning lingo, it’s perhaps more of an “addition,” but even that word sounds wrong. I equate the word “addition” with something positive.

        Mark Ranslem, ANC1B08 commissioner

    • At least he’s better than the ANC 1D folks. They really went off the rails last night. One is in full kamikaze mode trying to down the plans for a park next to his house at 1900 Lamont. The other three went rogue with the agenda and voted to make the permitting process for the Mt. P triangle park secret.

      These are the same three who wanted to deny the farmers market last spring because they think it’s racist, so I can only assume they are doing this to this so they can object to the market in private next spring. Beyond the obvious, the idea that an ANC commission would REQUIRE communications that are subject to public record requests to be private is so anti-democratic to be almost unbelievable.

    • Scrillin

      Totally disagree – he’s been doing a great job, a thankless job, and people like you who care more about an esoteric pipedream of a goal rather than real governance are the reason why shit like this continues to happen in this city.

      The District government has completely lost the will to enforce its own laws and regulations.

  • This Horse’s Ass Award is way worse – and it has not changed at all since this posting back in the spring of 2012:

  • “It’s been an eyesore and an embarrassment to this part of Columbia Heights.”
    Dramatic much? I’m pretty sure this bothers him way more than anyone else. So much outrage, so little time!

  • I have a similar issue with an illegal addition (made from scraps) that can been seen from the Trolley Turnaround Park. All I ever got from DCRA was they had to find the work “in progress” in order to take care of the issue of an illegal structure.

    At least they were stopped by the police from burning wood scraps in their backyard!

  • I actually met the owner of this building randomly when ordering a set of blueprints for my building (just down the street) when I as at DCRA. She asked if I was interested in purchasing the building, apparently not knowing that I was lucky to find a condo I could afford in the neighborhood. I did however take her information because I do know a few people involved in real estate. I passed her info on to an agent who worked with a developer to view the property and even put in an offer (of over $1 million!) I did not see the inside, but was told that it was in complete disrepair and the building was not habitable. On top of that, the offer was turned down. maybe someone should try the vacant property route for getting this dealt with.

  • If regulatory inefficiency was a bar to statehood, not too many states would have ever gotten admitted into the Union.

  • I’m surprised everyone is so unsympathetic to the author. If everything stated is correct, it is reasonable to expect more responsiveness from the city. Although the use of the term “chicken coop” is confusing.

    • +1. This is hideous and I’d be very upset if it were in my neighborhood.

      Is there any way the OP or any neighbors can bring a lawsuit against the owner for …anything? It’s just awful.

    • I don’t disagree but as another poster stated, there doesn’t appear to be a stop work order on the pics website, which should be an indicator of illegal construction. Just wondering if there’s more to the story. It’s definitely hideous.

    • Agreed. Rules are rules. And if someone is breaking them, it’s pretty frustrating that there is no recourse. I’d be frustrated too.

    • The reason for the lack of sympathy doesn’t appear to stem from the issue itself, but the insanely over-the-top reaction, including some bizarre correlation attempt between this and statehood aspiration. If the OP had calmly said I have this problem and it’s a hazard, here it is maybe this will get it fixed, I’m pretty sure there’d be a lot more sympathy. As it is, it kind of sounds insulting to all DC residents that don’t immediately agree with the OP and storm Congress for removal.

      If it’s illegal and hazardous I absolutely think it should come down, but that letter made me never really want to have to deal with the OP.

  • I understand that we have zoning/permitting laws in place and people should respect the law. But, also, I can’t understand why people can get so personally invested in someone else’s property on what’s clearly aesthetic, more than safety, grounds. Just get over it and worry about your own house.

    • There are apparently safety issues at site, as some of comments noted.
      Regardless, I wouldn’t just “get over it” if I owned property nearby. Property values. I mean, I wouldn’t buy next to that.

      • Alleged safety issues. The chance debris fell and almost took the OP out “several times” doesn’t bolster the credibility for those claims.

        • I don’t think it was OP and the comment was more fairly written than you’ve indicated “The work next door was slapdash and legitimately dangerous. Several times large pieces of plywood and other debris blew off of the third floor worksite and one time landed feet from me. Would have knocked me unconscious if it had hit me square.”
          But fair point on alleged.

  • I’m unfamiliar with this home, but as someone involved in my own ANC, I sympathize with the OP. DC currently lacks the resources and competence to hold developers and homeowners accountable for construction-related projects.

    While it is easy to chalk this up as another NIMBY complaint, we are talking about real safety-related issues, not to mention the damage that can be done to neighboring homes.

    DC seems in capable or disinterested in enforcing their own zoning/permitting laws. Developers, in particular, know this and are taking advantage of it all over the city. If you’ve not been effected yet, count yourself lucky and have some sympathy for those who are battling to compel DC to enforce the most basic zoning and safety laws.

  • I would expect an ANC commissioner to have more pull. Kinda sad he has to resort to posting on popville for help.

    That coop looks like poop though, so I do feel bad.

  • Is this where the NPR chicken came from??

  • It definitely could be a chicken coop. I lived in the condo building next door for five years – on the same level and closest to the “chicken coop.” Before this “coop” was actually built, there was already a rooster living within the house / on the fire escape behind the house. The rooster would crow at various times, but the worst was when it would do so at 4 or 5am in the morning, for quite some time. Moreover, whoever owns the house has not been a good neighbor overall, having engaged in various “work projects” on the house over the years that were both unsafe and often without permits.

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