Pop Ups and Development in Hill East

Pop Up at Independence Avenue and 17th, SE

Pop Up at Independence Avenue and 17th, SE

Pop Up, 1600 Block of A Street, SE

Pop Up, 1600 Block of A Street, SE

Pop Up Near Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, SE

Pop Up Near Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, SE

Rear View of Pop Up in 1800 Block of A Street, SE

Rear View of Pop Up in 1800 Block of A Street, SE

United Church of Christ Child Care Services on 15th between C and D, SE

United Church of Christ Child Care Services on 15th between C and D, SE

Condos at 15th and D, SE

Condos at 15th and D, SE

Condos at 15th and D, SE

Condos at 15th and C, SE

Condos Near 18th and D, SE

Condos Near 18th and D, SE

Pop Ups and​ ​Development in Hill East

Office of Planning Proposes Restrictions on Pop Ups

by Larry Janezich

In Hill East, immediately outside of the boundaries of the Capitol Hill Historic District, development has trended toward condo​s ​for young​er DC residents.

In addition to stand alone multi-residential units, some of the development has taken the form of pop up additions to row houses – both for the purpose of adding living space for families ​and the conversion of single family units to multiple residential units by developers.

This conversion of existing housing stock to multi-residential units is blamed by the Office of Planning (OP) for pushing up the prices of existing townhouses, as developers pay more for properties to convert them than the homeowners who intend to reside in them.

To that end, OP is proposing a series of amendments to the zoning regulations to make it more difficult to build pop ups and to convert row houses to multifamily units.

The proposals would:

1) Reduce building height for row houses in residential districts from 40 to 35 feet without special exception;

2) Change the definition of “mezzanine” to include these partial floors in the number of stories permitted in a residential zone; and,

3) Eliminate a zoning law provision that allows for the conversion of row houses to multi-family (more than 2) buildings.

These changes might be a tough sell in areas where the potential for easy pop ups and additions increase the value of existing housing stock. Homeowners there are caught between desire for increasing property values and trying to maintain the character of neighborhoods.

​As the accompanying photographs illustrate, much of that character has already deteriorated, owing either to pop-ups or to developments that – in distinct contrast to the historic preservation areas where residential development is held to perhaps too exacting a standard – give the residents a sense that there is no threshold whatsoever to meet when it comes to building in Hill East.

ANC6B will soon have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed zoning regulation changes which could be the subject of public hearings in late October or early November.  On August 4, ANC1A in Columbia Heights and ANC1B in the U Street District, held a joint meeting to hear presentations by representatives of the Office of Planning on the proposed changes to the zoning regulations as well as legislation currently being drafted to provide for the creation (by neighborhood petition) of “conservation zones” which would require Historic Preservation Office review of any major alteration or expansion of existing row houses.  See posting on the blog “Short Articles About Long Meetings” (SALM)) here http://bit.ly/1Ch32mA


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12 responses to “Pop Ups and Development in Hill East

  1. Alex

    So what you are saying is that housing prices are being pushed up from the already unaffordable $600k range to the even more unaffordable $700-800k range…but then broken down into somewhat affordable condo prices? Please, bring on more of these pop-ups and condo buildings. It’s the only way you’re going to keep a middle class, unless the goal is to continue to turn this place into an exclusive rich, white enclave.

    • nora

      easy there che. for however convenient it would be to pretend otherwise, neither race nor class have anything to do with the popup debate, either with respect to intent or effect, and i suspect that you know this but just find it convenient for your position to act otherwise. the people moving into “these pop-ups and condo buildings” are pretty much the same demographic as those buying the houses (i.e generally white with graduate degree), except they’re the younger, single version, rather than the DINK/toddler version.

      price per sq ft correlates much better to race/class than overall size of dwelling unit, so if you want to alter those neighborhood demographics it will take a much different sort of intervention in the market than one simply aimed at keeping building height down.

      what this debate is really about, and the reason why the old timers are almost always on the ‘conservative’ side of it, is the difference between continuity and transience. having young professionals moving into and out of neighborhoods after 1-3 years is no doubt a major driver of most DC development in general, but must it be that way for *every* neighborhood in the city?

    • E. Masquinongy

      “…turn this place into an exclusive rich, white enclave” This is a troll.

  2. Corey H.

    Larry, a couple of nits to pick, all of the buildings above on 15th street are in a C-2-A zone. The OP proposals will have no affect on this development. Furthermore, a couple of these are well below 35 feet and again won’t be affected (depending on lot size, of course, they may be limited to two units).

    The residents of Hill East have had plenty of opportunity to expand the historic district and have rejected it. Even your discussion earlier this week with Jim Myers alluded to this. Most of the examples of development above will not (nor should the be) affected by zoning but they wouldn’t be allowed in a historic district.

    I do hope that all this recent consternation brings back the concept of historic preservation-lite. Something between no restrictions and full restriction should be one option moving forward for the residents of Hill East (and Lanier Heights and Chevy Chase and all the other neighborhoods that rejected historic districts in the past)

  3. Jerry 4 ANC6b02
    I am distinctly irritated by Larry’s pictures. I have taken some of these same sites for my ANC campaign literature and mine are not nearly so good.

    Assuming I can clip and paste, registered voters in ANC 6B02 can expect to see one of these disturbing photos again in my materials: the first plank in my platform is to be adamant about holding on to hard won zoning and licensing in ANC 6B02 and elsewhere.

  4. scottrobertsinbloomingdale

    Larry: Thanks for sharing your post. You have been a vocal opponent to neighborhood historic designation. Do you also oppose the DC Office of Planning’s proposed conservation districts? Do you prefer the proposed pop-ups zoning regulation to the proposed conservation districts? Thanks for your feedback.

    • Scott:
      Thanks for your comment and for reading CHC. CHC is a news blog as opposed to an opinion blog – except for the occasional clearly designated editorial. As a matter of policy, I don’t participate in the commentary on the articles I post. (See the “About” button on the home page). My intention is that the blog be a forum for the community to discuss the policies and procedures I write about.
      Larry Janezich

  5. BFM

    It’s hard for me to complain too much about the new 3 story condo going up across the street when the alternative was an abandoned and blighted convenience store. I guess I could pretend that keeping it empty and rotting would be somehow better than having new neighbors, but that doesn’t seem like a really useful mindset.

    • dcgent

      Yes, I think labeling the 2nd picture a popup is misleading. The abandoned eastern thrifty market being replaced by this construction is a good thing in my view. What is odd is what the building next to it remains vacant despite new windows and some renovation being done more than a year ago.

  6. Doug

    I think the condos pictured at 18th and D St were always three stories…unless I am picturing that boarded up mess wrong.

  7. Heather

    The condos pictured at 18th and D were previously three stories, and were a vacant eye sore prior to this nice renovation. I’m so grateful for whoever renovated that building so tastefully. And I’m not mad at the condo buildings on 15th street, either. They add a lot of density, and it’s a more commercial area: that density helps shops/cafes stay open. That said, I’m horrified by how hideous and neighborhood-character-crushing some of the pop-ups nearby are. Prime example: a TWO story pop-up going up on the 1800 block of Mass Ave SE right now that is such a criminal fugstrocity. The house is halfway down the block and now looms so much higher than all the others it looks like it’s sticking its middle finger up. The really sad part is that the man who used to live there was so opposed to exactly this type of tacky development. His family sold the house to this tacky developer when he died last year. I hope he haunts it.

  8. John

    as a hill east home owner I would oppose every single one of these suggestions. those pop ups look like progress, improvement and investment to me in an area that hasn’t seen very much of it in 50 years or so. i think they are actually directly counter productive to the ends sought and i don’t think uniformly low building heights is anything to cherish from an aesthetic stand point.