Concerned with BZA loosely approving high density zoning adjustments to permit 4 unit condo in R4, single family neighborhood

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Topic: Concerned with BZA loosely approving high density zoning adjustments to permit 4 unit condo in R4, single family neighborhood

Governement and Politics April 22, 2013 at 10:10 am

Concerned with BZA loosely approving high density zoning adjustments to permit 4 unit condo in R4, single family neighborhood


Dear Neighbors,
I thought that some of you might be interested to hear that the guardians of zoning rules have abrogated their duty to protect the community in order to benefit one of their own, the former Chairman of the BZA Board. The case (#18448) concerns an investor who applied for an adjustment to build four condo units in a row house normally limited to two units in an R4 area. He wants to accomplish this by popping the roof of the two story townhouse, which sits in a row of two story townhomes with similar facades. Even an adjustment to three units would have cut some balance between the interests of the community and the investor. The January 15 decision, however, places the entire burden on the community (aesthetic interruption of an historic row, higher density on a one-way single-family street, reduced parking, etc.) to benefit of an investor who wants to make more money than is legal allowable without an adjustment, which is supposed to be exceptional.
The decision is foul on two levels: how is the Board supposed to rule objectively when the applicant is represented by the former Chairperson? The decision does appear to be consistent with adjustment rules, supporting the contention that this is insider trading and influence peddling. However, the ruling has not been published so there is time to intervene. In any case, the parties against the petition plan to appeal.
The Ruling does not apply the three pronged test, which is intended to make adjustment exceptional and protect the community, stringently. The Chairman and the Board appeared to rule solely on practical difficulty, represented by financial needs of the investor. However, this financial difficulty does not amount to practical difficulty of the property. The lot is completely rectangular and ordinary, and the investor provided no evidence of surprising structural degradation. Furthermore, during the hearing the investor supported his claim by highlighted the difficulty he has experienced selling the basement unit of a three condo building he completed around the corner on 13th Street. A variance to the zoning code should not be used to increase the profits of investors or rescue an investor out of a completely predictable financial situation. The variance does represent a practical difficulty to the neighborhood, the third test. A four unit condo is substantial variance burdening the livability of an R-4 neighborhood in terms of parking, combined sewer load, and architectural cohesion.
Your concerned readers can follow the case at the address below and should write the BZA, the Board of Zoning, their Councilman, and the Mayor.


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I searched for the case number on the DCOZ web-site, and this house on Otis is described as being a “two-story, 11 bedroom rooming house.” How in the world could there be 11 bedrooms in the property?!

it was a boarding house, with one bathroom and 3-4 bedrooms per floor, 1 or zero kitchens. This is one of the exceptional circumstances that the investor is using to justify “exceptional situation or condition” of the propoerty. However, this standard is associated with the physical condition or shape of the lot; it is itself a variance to R4 which is antiquated and no longer relevant. Going to a four condo variance (up to eight baths and 4 kitchen) creates a greater variance from R4. If a change is considered, the BZA should return this to standard zoning condition without variance, that is R4, two units max.

Well if it was a boarding house for 11 people and if 11 or more people lived in the property previously wouldn’t there be limited impact of they type you are describing – increased parking, increased sewer load?  The maximum now sounds like 16 people but presumably not 16 adults, and more likely somewhere between 4 to 12 adults at the maximum (1 to 3 adults per property).  This seems to be an important piece of information left out of the original post.  It doesn’t seem like pop-ups are limited much in DC.  I would think 4 apartment/condo units would be preferable than 11 bedroom rooming house.

Firstly, the property had been empty for a while. Secondly, boarding house residents tend to be low income and hence don’t have numerous cars. However, two adults in each condo could equal 8 cars. Also one bathroom per floor and one shared kitchen, so the load is increasing. Thirdly, the base zoning for this street is R4, two units max for good reasons. A boarding house is a variance and not ideal, and any change should bring it back to the base zoning rule, R4. If citizens want a change in antiquated zoning rules and applications, that is fine. There should be an open debate. This example demonstrates that people with influence and money circumvent the rules, which is not ok. 

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