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Zoning Recommendation Threatens DC’s Tiny Houses

by Lark Turner

Zoning Recommendation Threatens DC's Tiny Houses: Figure 1
Boneyard Studios

As part of a zoning rewrite, the Office of Planning recently made a recommendation that could spell the end for permanent tiny house developments on alley lots.

That’s especially important for one group of stakeholders: The tiny house-dwellers of Stronghold, who own homes built on trailers in an alley lot owned by Brian Levy (map). Levy’s is Minim House, which has won design awards for its sustainable and highly functional design. On Thursday, in response to a recommendation from the Office of Planning that could threaten Boneyard and similar developments, Levy and the other Boneyard Studios owners sent a letter to the Zoning Commission and the Office of Planning asking for more information on the proposed rule and for more support of micro development.

The zoning code is currently undergoing a rewrite, and the changes to the “Camping in Alleys” section were submitted by the Office of Planning to the Zoning Commission as part of a 90-page, comprehensive rewrite of the District’s zoning code. Planning sent the proposal on June 16. It recommends changing the restrictions in a way that appears to make them more restrictive for tiny house dwellers. Under “Camping in Alleys,” it reads:

“No camp or any temporary place of abode in any tent, wagon, van, automobile, truck, or trailer of any description shall be permitted on an alley lot unless approved as a special exception subject to the following conditions: (1) The use shall be located so that it is not likely to become objectionable to adjoining and nearby property because of noise, traffic, parking, lighting, sanitation, or otherwise objectionable conditions. (2) Open fires shall not be permitted. (3) The use shall not be approved for more than two consecutive weeks and no more than one month per calendar year.”

Bloomberg recently mentioned zoning issues in DC in a feature on tiny houses, which are usually built on trailers to avoid minimum size restrictions. Bloomberg quoted the Office of Planning’s director, Ellen McCarthy, praising the Stronghold houses and offering a caveat about tiny homes in general: “We need some level of controls so people aren’t setting up squatter camps in alleys. We’re trying to recognize that people’s situations require a variety of different living arrangements.”

In his letter, Levy said he questioned the risk of “squatter camps in alleys” cited by McCarthy in the Bloomberg article. He also asked Office of Planning to explain why the rule had been proposed. He concluded by urging the offices to protect Boneyard and similar development.

“In the interest of expanding affordable housing in DC, we strongly encourage OP to support micro housing units of all forms, be it multifamily apartments, connected or detached ADU’s, or trailer based micro homes,” Levy wrote.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/zoning_recommendation_threatens_dc_tiny_houses/8785

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