Shaw Pop-Up Stalled for Better Design at Board of Zoning Adjustment

by Lark Turner

Shaw Pop-Up Stalled for Better Design at Board of Zoning Adjustment: Figure 1
Better Living Development wants to add a story to the red end-unit rowhouse above.

A planned Shaw pop-up supported by both the Office of Planning and the local ANC was delayed at the Board of Zoning Adjustment on Tuesday because a member of the board took issue with the design of the addition. The case is a good example of the problems the BZA may encounter as it attempts to follow newly-passed rules attempting to snuff out pop-ups.

Better Living Development LLC owns the two-story rowhouse in an R-4 district at 1551 3rd Street NW (map), which it purchased in January for $710,900. It plans to construct a 10-foot addition to the rowhouse. The addition will rise 34 feet above the roofline, about a foot less than the new allowable height in R-4 districts.

Shaw Pop-Up Stalled for Better Design at Board of Zoning Adjustment: Figure 2
A sketch of the proposed addition to the rowhouse.

Better Living Development took its application before the board to request a special exception to zoning regulations on lot occupancy. Like many rowhouses built in DC in the early 20th century, the building is already well over the allowable lot occupancy in an R-4 district, which is set at 60 percent. The planned pop-up at 1551 3rd Street would reduce the building’s lot occupancy, but it would still be non-conforming at about 70 percent.

Shaw Pop-Up Stalled for Better Design at Board of Zoning Adjustment: Figure 3
Another view of the proposed addition.

Special exceptions from the zoning regulations are usually not too hard to obtain, particularly when they involve lot occupancy in a rowhouse neighborhood. Because many rowhouses in R-4 districts aren’t conforming, the Board of Zoning Adjustment typically allows well-conceived projects with the support of the ANC and the Office of Planning to move ahead. Better Living Development’s plans include a slate, mansard-style roof intended to reduce the scale of its pop-up, and the Office of Planning noted that because it’s an end-unit rowhouse, having an addition might be less of an eyesore than if the pop-up were in the middle of the block.

“Historically rowhouses on the corner of a block would be marked with a special architectural treatment such as a turret, so additional height on this site would not be inconsistent with that concept of urban design,” Planning wrote in its favorable review of the pop-up’s design.

But Better Living’s application comes at a tense time for pop-ups. Just two weeks ago the Zoning Commission passed new rules that will limit the height in R-4 districts, reduce the ability of developers to convert rowhouses into condos and attempt to stop pop-ups. The Commission’s decision came after months of lobbying from neighbors in R-4 districts who asked DC to “Stop the Pop.” And timing wasn’t the only bad news for Better Living: Currently seated in rotation on the Board of Zoning Adjustment is Michael Turnbull, a member of the Zoning Commission who was vigorously in favor of the new regulations.

“This is an orgasmic response of outrageous proportions to the whole block, to the rowhouses, to the neighborhood,” Turnbull said when Better Living showed up before the board on Tuesday. “This is not only a pop-up, this is a pop-up plus-plus. …. I’m really astounded that the Office of Planning has gone along with this.”

Attorney Marty Sullivan said Better Living wasn’t there to get approval for the pop-up’s height.

“The relief that we’re requesting is for the lot occupancy, not the height,” he said. “The lot occupancy itself is not affecting the street frontage.”

Sullivan argued that Better Living could build the addition as a matter of right with conforming lot occupancy and it would still look the same.

Some DC residents, including UrbanTurf commenters, pointed out after the Zoning Commission’s pop-up decision that the ruling may not stop the pop-ups from happening. Many homes in R-4 districts are two-story rowhomes well under 35 feet, so the new height restriction doesn’t prevent pop-ups as a matter of right — as Better Living Development’s application demonstrates. And unless a property is designated historic or sits in a historic district, it’s not subject to a rigorous design review, and DC’s zoning agencies aren’t given a mandate to do much about bad design. That was the chief complaint from commissioners Robert Miller and Marcie Cohen, who voted against the new regulations because they said they would limit property rights and density without addressing the big design problem.

On Tuesday, though, Better Living was asked to return before the board with more renderings and design improvements. They’ll appear before the board again on July 21.

See other articles related to: pop-ups, office of planning, board of zoning adjustment

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/shaw_pop-up_stalled_for_better_design_at_board_of_zoning_adjustment/10035


  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 8:37 pm on Tuesday June 23, 2015:
    It's bad precedent when BZA doesn't keep to the issue at hand -- which is the lot occupancy variance. That said, it's hard to be too upset when one sees a design that's all about a mansard, but where the architect clearly doesn't understand the design particulars of a mansard! Specifically, in a traditional mansard, the primary slope does not overhang the wall below; it meets it directly. There is a flare at the bottom and/or a built-in gutter which creates the cornice below. This design has neither the cornice below nor the flare, and as a result it looks cheap and amateurish, a weird marriage of an older base with a 1970s style mansard. Not good. Surprising that no one at OP has the eye to notice such an obvious architectural offense. Points out the need for design review of pop-ups.
  1. Truxtoner said at 6:58 pm on Thursday June 25, 2015:
    This is Truxton Circle, not Shaw, no?

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