When New Development Comes at Neighbors’ Expense
by Larry Janezich
The need and desire for more housing on Capitol Hill is the main argument offered in support of the conversion of one or two unit townhouses to multifamily housing.
With increasing frequency, as developers convert townhouses, development comes at the expense of the property’s neighbors. In some cases, the negative impact is limited to the unsightliness and irregular proportions of pop ups and more competition for street parking. In more dramatic instances, the damage to the neighbors is substantial, decreasing the value of their homes and quality of life – and the attitude of the city and ANCs seems to be: “we’re sympathetic, but our hands are tied.”
A case in point is the conversion of the townhouse at 1015 E Street, SE, just steps east of Hill Center, in the Capitol Hill Historic District. The property is a townhouse on a site which is zoned for commercial. Owner/developer Bruce Athey is converting the building to a five unit apartment house by building a large two story rear addition all the way to the rear property line as a matter of right. The new construction would result in a 24 foot high wall across the back of two residences on 11th Street which sit at right angles to the new construction. (see photos and renderings)
The matter came before ANC6B last night as the developer is seeking a zoning adjustment to extend a side-yard the length of the addition to the rear of the property.
ANC6B found no compelling reason to oppose the request to extend the side yard and accommodate the construction of the two story addition. Caught between sympathy for the neighbors and the fact that the planned expansion is a matter of right, the ANC voted to take no position on the request for the variance. Taking no position leaves the decision on the side yard in the hands of the Board of Zoning Adjustment which is likely to grant the developer’s request.
Commissioner Chander Jayaraman said he opposed the variance and the building itself, voicing support for residents and constituents who are disadvantaged by developers who take advantage of regulations resulting in dramatic changes to neighbors’ quality of life.
Commissioner James Loots summed up the feeling of a majority of commissioners: “I can’t in good conscience oppose the variance on the basis of damage done the neighbors,” noting that he is sympathetic to the neighbors but that the question before the ANC is not directly related to their concerns.
The final vote on the motion to take “no position” on the request for a variance was as follows:
In favor, Commissioners Oldenburg, Loots, Flahaven, Burger, Hagedorn, and Hoskins. Those opposed: Commissioner Jayaraman, Krepp, and Symolyk. Abstaining: Commissioner Chao.
The Capitol Hill Restoration Society voted to oppose the request for a variance to continue the sideyard on the west side of 1015 E Street, citing the 24 foot wall cutting off light to the 11th Street properties.
Gary Petersen, Chair of the CHRS Zoning Committee, said that he thinks that the extension of 1015 could be built as a matter of right without the variance, but “for whatever reason” the developer wants the continue the sideyard – perhaps for windows and light and to provide access to the rear of the property.