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Dear PoP – How and Whether – to Oppose a Request for a Variance?

by Prince Of Petworth September 15, 2010 at 1:30 pm 33 Comments

“Dear PoP,

I noticed this weekend that the new owner of a standard two-story rowhouse on my block in Columbia Heights has requested a variance from DCRA. The sign in the window states that he’s requested a variance from 1) the minimum lot area requirements, 2) the lot occupancy requirements, 3) the court requirements, and 4) the off-street parking requirements. He wants to turn what’s apparently now a “12-unit rooming house” into a “3-unit apartment house, with a new third story addition.” The property has been vacant for some time, has not been used as a rooming house in the several years I’ve lived nearby, and is described in the DC real property tax assessment database as a 4BR, 3 bath, 10-room, “multi”-type building. Being cynical, I read the DCRA announcement as “build an ugly pop-up out of keeping with the rest of the block, build a rear addition right to the property line or as close as they’ll allow, and create three crappy condos that’ll eventually go into foreclosure because someone didn’t learn their lesson in the housing bust.” Our block has come a long way in the last few years, from being anchored at all four corners by vacant/boarded-up houses to having all but one of those–and many others–re-done.

From DCRA’s website, I see that I’d have to file an application for party status at least 15 days prior to the hearing, since I’m not the ANC. Does anyone know what happens after that? And what are valid grounds for opposing a variance? The PoP commentariat seems to hate badly-done pop-ups as much as I do, but I imagine “it could be ugly” isn’t enough to convince DCRA to disapprove the request. Selfishly, I’d prefer not to have 3-6 more cars trying to find parking on my block, as we can almost always park right in front of our house now, but realize that’s a petty complaint. I could make a decent argument about increased stormwater runoff, since our basement floods if the alley overflows. But that’s about all I’ve got.

I don’t necessarily oppose the project, either. I’m not going to be a jerk and hold things up just because I can. I think I just want more info about what’s to come and it seems like participating in the DCRA process might be the only way to get that. What do your readers think?”

Has anyone ever opposed a variance? If so, what were your experiences like? Is this the best way to combat ugly pop ups?

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