Zoning Commission Hardens Rule Restricting Pop-Ups

by Lark Turner

Zoning Commission Hardens Rule Restricting Pop-Ups: Figure 1
A pop-up on Buchanan Street NW.

In a surprise twist Monday, the Zoning Commission restricted its ruling on pop-ups, making it harder for developers to convert rowhouses in R-4 districts into apartments. The Commission also finalized its decision to reduce height in R-4 districts to 35 feet.

And in a last-minute discussion toward the end of its hearing on the topic, the Commission also made its ruling on conversions effective as of July 14, 2014 — meaning any conversion projects permitted after that date must be constructed to adhere to the new rules. The Office of Planning (OP) had recommended that date for conversions, spurring comments from the public that called the back-dating unfair.

When asked, OP’s Jennifer Steingasser said she did not know how many conversions were in the works that might be affected by the back-dating. Commissioner Robert Miller voted against the provision, with the rest of the commissioners in favor.

Projects on single-family houses, individual flats and existing apartment buildings can continue without being subject to the new rules as long as they were permitted as of Feb. 1.

The Commission had been narrowly divided in its proposed pop-ups ruling, voting 3-2 to lower the height in R-4 districts to 35 feet in March. Chairman Anthony Hood, Michael Turnbull and Peter May were in favor of the new rule, and Vice Chair Marcie Cohen and Miller against it.

But in March May used his swing vote to allow conversions of rowhouses in R-4 zones into buildings with up to four units as a matter-of-right subject to several conditions, something Hood and Turnbull opposed. On Monday night he reversed his decision. Instead of allowing the conversions to proceed as a matter-of-right, conversions of more than two units must now go through a special exception process, meaning developers pursuing them will have to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment to move forward with their projects.

Conversions moving through that process have to have 900 square feet of lot area for each dwelling unit and meet other conditions, including:

  • The conversion can’t have “a substantially adverse effect on the use or enjoyment of any abutting or adjacent dwelling or property,” including the way a property looks from the street.
  • Rooftop architectural elements original to the house can’t be significantly altered or removed, a provision also included in the matter-of-right option the ZC rejected.
  • Neighboring chimneys, solar energy systems or vents can’t be blocked, a provision also included in the matter-of-right option the ZC rejected.

The commissioners grew heated discussing the provision. When Cohen opposed the measure because she said it would limit housing stock and make housing more expensive, Hood dismissed the connection between looser regulations and affordable housing.

“A lot of the stuff we say up here is shuckin’ and jivin’,” he said to the crowd’s applause. “This connection to affordable housing, I have not seen it yet. It’s not a reality. I have young people that work with me now telling me that they need to move to Silver Spring, so let’s be real. What are we really doing?”

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

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/zoning_commission_hardens_rule_restricting_pop-ups/9982


  1. Brandon Mayhew said at 3:57 am on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    The shuckin and jivin comment by Hood was astoundingly offensive to Commissioner Cohen, who spent her career in affordable housing. He should publicly apologize. I guess anybody that disagrees with Hood is shuckin an jiving, and the rules of supply and demand don’t apply to DC Housing because he knows people that have to live in Silver Spring. Very scientific analysis.
  1. Brandon Mayhew said at 4:02 am on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    District Government to those who would invest in this City: You're not welcome here. We have enough prosperity and can't handle any more. And your property rights are ever at risk.
  1. Brandon Mayhew said at 4:08 am on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    Bait and Switch. ZC Votes to retain 3-unit conversions (which Turnbull calls shoving it down the community's throat, even though it has been the status quo for almost 60 years) and after the comment period is closed, changes that to eliminate 3-unit conversions, without the chance to comment. Planning by Mob. What do we need an Office of Planning for - let's just do whatever the (very small) Mob wants. Nice leadership.
  1. DC no vote & taxed res said at 6:52 pm on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    Thoroughly concur on all 3 points, Brandon. "so let’s be real. What are we really doing?” asked Commissioner Hood, so named for the hood he wears over his head blinding him to the 'reality' he thinks he sees, and his own 'shucking & jiving'. This man does not know what he's talking about and represents the(very small) Mob of the "I got mine" and the Rest of You Be Damned". If he can't get the restrictions on property and their owners and the cost of housing in the District, then he really is wearing a hood and blind to the 'realities' of markets and economics. But then, I'm sure he got his.
  1. DC no vote & taxed res said at 7:03 pm on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    This is about property rights people. Your property rights and what you can do with your property, your assets that you have paid your money for and your taxes on (votes be damned). Yet weasely little Napoleons and their little mobs feel right at home telling others they can't do what has lawfully been their right to do so, essentially taking away people's rights and what's more - adding injury to insult by the financial implications. Additionally, adding pressure to the cost of living in the District by restricting housing supply (and therefore 'affordable housing', Mr Commissioner) with backdoor parliamentary procedures like changing publicly agreed upon measures and rearranging them after the public's permitted comments season. I guess, unless one has an inside track and the ear of any commissioners wanting to change what they want to change because they (and their small mobs) know what's best for the unwashed masses. Like it. Or move to Silver Spring.
  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 8:10 pm on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    It appears that the Zoning Commission and Office of Planning punted the problem to the Board of Zoning Adjustment. BZA will now be deluged with cases in which neighbors aver that there will be a "substantially adverse effect" on them. Some of these neighbors will in fact be correct, but based on my experience: --Most neighbors cannot read drawings and therefore are mostly verbalizing their fear of the unknown; --Many neighbors have a very loose grasp on the effects of the sun moving across the sky and therefore are convinced that they will be put in a crepuscular haze all day long, even if they are south of the proposed building; and --Almost everyone grossly underestimates their own ability to adapt to change -- and therefore are convinced that even minor changes will have disastrous results. So BZA gets to sort that out because OP failed to show any backbone and unloading the problem onto someone else was the only way the ZC could find enough votes to act. Shameful all around.
  1. Makeba-The-Architect said at 8:42 pm on Tuesday June 9, 2015:
    I can understand some reform on this. There have been some irresponsible developments that were about greed and showed no respect for the consistency of the block. But...in order to increase the amount of citizens in the city paying taxes, it appears that your shooting yourself in the foot with this one. A 3-unit should still be allowable if the lot is large enough. Focusing more on design impact / consistency seems to be the move. At current prices...some deals will no longer work if adhering to the new rules. Eventually...pricing will have to drop to make it affordable for people to buy an entire row house. This ruling has affected a few of my projects in not the best way. Time will tell. Meanwhile...Baltimore?? www.gaineskelly.com
  1. DC no vote & taxed res said at 3:33 pm on Wednesday June 10, 2015:
    HeHe - Makeba, Good Luck with the Balto angle.
  1. Marcio Wilges said at 6:45 am on Friday November 27, 2015:
    I'm not surprised about the zoning restrictions. I hope at least they won't force owners with existing additions to go through removals to meet their regulations.

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