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Growing Push to Increase Development in Lanier Heights Causes Neighborhood Controversy

Accompanying images can be viewed in the September 2014 issue PDF

By P.L. Wolff

Six years ago the Kalorama Citizens Association and DC Historic Preservation Office –- a unit of the Office of Planning, commissioned EHT Traceries, Inc. to prepare a report and recommendations on historic preservation for the Lanier Heights sec

Concluding this comprehensive, nearly 200-page report was a recommendation that the area be considered for designation as an historic district, noting, among other observations, that it “contains one of the finest eclectic collections of architecture in Washington, D.C. The architectural and social advancements created by the developers, builders, architects, property owners, and residents unite to illustrate the distinctive story of an early streetcar suburb of the late nineteenth century that emerged in the twentieth century as an essential component of a larger urban center.”

As we reported six years ago (see, “Plan for Lanier Heights Historic District Met With Heavy Opposition, Complaints,” InTowner, page 1, November 2008 PDF; http://tinyurl.com/nbe6oyr), during the course of the October 15, 2008 Adams Morgan ANC-sponsored community meeting attended by a fractious crowd of nearly 100 neighborhood residents, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham shared his letter of the previous month that he had sent to the then chairman of the DC Historic Preservation Board in which he expressed his opposition to the imposition of an historic district on Lanier Heights based on “the means of imposition, the current regulations, and the position of property owners as demonstrated in petitions to me as a duly elected representative [emphasis ours]. . . .”

The final result of all the opposition was that no historic district for the area was put in place, and so to this day the quiet residential streets of Lanier Heights are especially vulnerable to significantly increased development. This means that in accordance with current zoning, property owners can add another one or two floors –- creating so-called “pop-up” structures. (This is a problem we have reported on from time to time over the past decade, starting with “Belmont Road Townhouse Still Looms Over Neighbors; Roof Structure Not Set-Back is Claimed to be Illegal,” May 2004 issue PDF; http://tinyurl.com/l53q9ph.)

Alarmed by increasingly aggressive efforts by potential developers to acquire single family homes and row houses in their neighborhood to convert to three or four-unit condos and even to increase heights resulting in the hated “pop-ups,” there is a push to seek action by the Zoning Commission to either limit allowable lot coverage and heights or even establish a re-zoning for the neighborhood.

There is, however, a growing vocal opposition to this idea through a recently organized group calling itself Neighbors Against Downzoning which charges that downzoning proponents seek “to strip homeowners of their right to add another story to their homes . . . to take away the multi-family zoning right that allows apartments or condos in a row house . . . [and] to FREEZE Lanier Heights as it is today. FOREVER.”

As one neighbor supporting this effort posted on the group’s website, “Thank [G]od you guys started this petition and website [Ed. Note: see www.nadz.org/sign-the-petition]; I was wondering where all the sane people were. I strongly support this petition and all efforts to retain our current zoning designation in Lanier Heights. I want to retain the right to develop my home — whether to add to it or to redevelop it back into the 4 unit building it was when I bought it in 2003 or, for that matter, to sell it at its highest possible value — which is its value under its current R5B zoning.”