Revision of Zoning Regulations: Carriage Houses, Alley Lot Houses and English Basements

Revision of Zoning Regulations:  Carriage Houses, Alley Lot Houses and English Basements

ANC Narrows Focus on Changes Affecting Capitol Hill Residents  

by Pat Taylor

Thursday night, ANC6B’s Zoning Regulations Revisions Task Force held its second meeting which was devoted to listing and summarizing the proposed zoning regulation changes most likely to affect Capitol Hill residents. 

 A list of the regulation changes of most concern is as follows:*:

  •  Alley carriage houses and apartments in rowhouses.   Rowhouse owners will have the right to have a total of 2 “dwelling units” on their lots, providing lot dimensions are large enough.  The second dwelling unit can be in the rowhouse itself, (including English basements) or (new – such as a carriage house on the alley) – as a matter of right).  If the rowhouse owner already has a garage on the alleyway of her/his lot, the garage can be converted to a carriage house (i.e., dwelling unit) as a matter of right [providing certain conditions are met].  If the rowhouse owner already has an illegally rented carriage house, it can become “legal” providing the relevant conditions are met.  The carriage house can be rented; to up to 6 unrelated persons or any number of related persons can live in the carriage house. There is no requirement for off-street parking spaces for occupants of newly built carriage house occupants.  Carriage house occupants, under current DC law, are eligible to purchase Zone Residential Permits.
  • Alley lot houses  (especially of interest to Hill East residents).   Under existing code, residences can be built on alley lots as a matter of right only if the lot is located on a 30 foot wide alley (with street access through a 30 foot wide alley).  Residential use is prohibited in narrower alleys.  The proposed new code would allow residences to be built on lots located on narrow alleys, providing some easily satisfied special conditions are met.  Some of those conditions include a minimum alley lot size of 450 square feet;  on lots over 1800 square feet, there are lot occupancy requirements.  The maximum height permitted is 22 feet/2 stories.  There are additional conditions.  There is no requirement for parking spaces on the lot.  [Note: in most alleys, parking is prohibited on the alleyway roadways.]
  • Parking – proposed changes:  reduction or elimination of requirements for parking spaces in new buildings close to metro stations and high-service bus corridors and in new alley carriage houses and houses built on empty alley lots.
  • “Corner stores” would be allowed as “a matter of right” but with many conditions. These changes are many and complicated.  Here, the devil is in the details.   If you want to learn more, the best source is  
  • The definition of “residential” has been broadened to include “single dwelling unit, multiple dwelling units, community residence facilities, retirement homes, substance abusers’ home, youth residential care home, assisted living facility, floating homes and other residential uses.” The inclusion of substance abusers’ home and youth residential care home is a major change from the existing code where these were defined as part of Community-Based Residential Facilities  (see below) and subject to certain conditions.
  • “Community Based Institutional Facilities” (CBIF) is a new category that replaces the old categories of Community Based Residential Facilities with major changes.  [Note:  it is unclear whether Boys Town would have been categorized as a youth rehabilitation home and subject to conditions, or a youth residential care homes (residential, as allowed as a matter of right.]

The next meeting will be Thursday, January 24, in Hill Center from 7:00 – 9:00pm.  The meeting is open to the public, and residents are encouraged to participate.  That meeting will be devoted to developing comments and recommendations on the proposed zoning changes.  The Task Force will report these to the Planning and Zoning Committee which will make recommendations to the full ANC.  Ultimately the ANC will deliver its comments and recommendations to the Zoning Commission sometime this spring.

* If you are interested in more information on these changes, the best place to find it is on the Office of Planning’s zoning update website:      and click on “document center”   All or at least most of the regulations of interest are in Subtitle C and Subtitle D.

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