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Office of Planning Asks Zoning to Limit “Pop-Up” Additions

by Lark Turner

Office of Planning Asks Zoning to Limit "Pop-Up" Additions: Figure 1
This building at 11th and V Streets NW is the primary target of pop-up vitriol.

Last week, DC’s Office of Planning (OP) submitted recommendations to the Zoning Commission that, if approved, would lower the allowable height of rowhouses in the city’s R-4 districts to 35 feet, five feet less than the current limit of 40 feet. The proposed change is largely aimed at reducing the number of “pop-ups” that have become more prevalent in the city.

Pop-ups, two- or three-story additions that are often much taller than homes on the rest of the block and, according to the OP, “frequently designed out of character with the remaining homes in style, materials and scale,” would be curbed by regulations that make them more difficult to build, if the Zoning Commission adopts the new rules. The OP suggested “many, if not most” of the pop-ups were in the R-4 zone, and suggested that zone be the target of the regulations.

In an analysis, the OP found that 94.4 percent of the city’s rowhouses fall at or below a height of 35 feet, so that’s where they set the maximum allowable height. The new rules would allow rowhouse heights of 40 feet, but only with a special exception from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. OP also recommended changing the definition of mezzanine, or the space between floors, so it is included in calculating a building’s height.

The OP also recommended changing the maximum allowable height of a roof structure on single-family and flat residential buildings to ten feet.

In addition to making it harder to build taller rowhouses, the OP also recommended only allowing conversion of non-residential buildings to “apartment houses” in the R-4 district under special conditions. Under the new rule, here’s what developers would have to prove:

  • The building was built for non-residential use. That means it was likely built as a church, school or government building.
  • It wasn’t meant to be part of a row of homes.
  • There would be at least 900 square feet of lot area per new and existing unit.
  • The building won’t have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. That means any alley extensions should match the street wall that’s present in the neighborhood. Plus, neighbors’ light, air and privacy can’t be “unduly” affected.
  • The lot occupancy doesn’t exceed 70 percent.

If approved by the Zoning Commission after a public hearing period, the new rules could take effect as early as late 2014 or early 2015.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/office_of_planning_asks_zoning_to_limit_rowhouse_height_to_fight_pop-up_add/8675

3 Comments

  1. TedSmithSellsDC said at 8:12 pm on Monday June 30, 2014:
    My first impression is that it looks like one of the fortified towers in San Gemignano, Tuscany--not a particularly welcoming gesture to the street or neighborhood.
  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 8:40 pm on Monday June 30, 2014:
    This proposal will do almost nothing to reduce the problem. The pop-up problem in R-4 has almost no relationship to conversions to apartment houses, because there are almost no such conversions. In R-4, zoning already has the 900 sf/unit restriction, and exceedingly few existing rowhouses have a 2700 sf lot. Conversion to "flats" (2-unit bldgs.)can put pressure to add upward, but this proposal does nothing about that; it remains by-right. The infamous V Street pop-up shown is not in an R-4 zone -- and it's much taller than 40'. It may be a dreadful building, but it's in the C-2-A zone, with an ARTS overlay, which essentially means that the powers-that-be (i.e. Office of Planning, zoning, and historic) targeted the area for for denser development. (Which makes sense, given the proximity to a Metro station.) They probably had in mind the entire row of tiny rowhouses being replaced, rather than a crazy 3-story addition, but you can't say that the developer went against City development policy. Moreover, I just don't see that many others like V Street will be built. The efficiency factor has got to be so low that I'm amazed the developer could find financing. And in this hot hot market the units aren't exactly selling quickly, because they aren't good units (almost can't be, in such a vertical configuration), and the building has negative curb appeal (less because of its unexpected height than its cheap materials and bad proportions). The popup problem, especially in R-4 zones, is rarely about height. It's virtually always about design, which in this case usually means LACK of design. The examples are always mindless boxes stuck atop the pre-existing building, sometimes adding insult to injury by obliterating the best pre-existing architectural feature (the cornice). The carefully-designed popups don't get much press. Many--of both traditional/blending and modern/contrasting stylings--add positively to the character of their blocks. Although I don't think lowering the height by 5' in R-4 zones will hurt many homeowners, it doesn't get at the heart of the issue. Urban Turf should seek out good, well-designed popups to show the other side of the story.
  1. curt3214 said at 11:43 am on Tuesday July 1, 2014:
    All I ever hear is how expensive housing is in DC but I it seems like I can’t pull up any of the DC blogs without reading about problems with development. That “pop-up” at 11th and V creates more density in a high demand area. Pop-ups are not the problem. The problem is a lack of housing. If we didn’t want pop-ups maybe the office of planning should have pushed to have height restrictions removed and developers could build highrise apartments in high demand areas.

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