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Huge W Street Pop-Up Could be the Last; Zoning Commission Sets New Restrictions

Accompanying images can be viewed in the June 2015 issue PDF

By P.L. Wolff

Bloomingdale residents gathered on Sunday afternoon, May 31st outside 42 W Street, NW during Bradford Real Estate’s initial open house for the nearly completed massive pop-up/pop-back addition now dominating this unbroken line of modest, World War I-era row houses. The five prospective buyers were continually greeted by rotating groups of quietly assembled neighbors who were protesting this structural intrusion into their block of nicely tended homes.

Some of the protest was seemingly directed at Mayor Bowser even though the mayor has no authority over the actions of the Zoning Commission; it is a totally independent body. The best that a mayor can do is to fill vacancies with her or his appointees; similarly, the City Council cannot overrule Commission rulings.

Fortunately, however, at its Monday, June 8, 2015 meeting the Commission voted, 3-2, to severely limit pop-ups in R-4 zones in neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and others across the city so as to limit to 35 feet the total height of a reconstructed row house.

In addition, the Commission voted to restrict matter-of-right conversions of these R-4 single family houses to only two units, down from the four that had previously been approved; to go beyond two units will now require a separate, special exception proceeding before the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BA).

Finally, to the surprise of the real estate and developer community –- and to the delight of residents living in R-4 zones, the Commission voted that this new restriction be retroactive to last July, but that developers who had been granted their permits as of this past February 1st can proceed with their projects.

Editor’s Note: The controversy over pop-ups was reported by us six months ago in connection with a raging debate in Adams Morgan. See, “Pop-Ups Along Lanier Heights Row House Streets Nixed; ANC to Seek Downzoning,” InTowner, December 2014 issue pdf, page 1. Here will also be found some startling photos of other pop-ups as well as a sidebar reprinting our report of a decade earlier, “Belmont Road Townhouse Still Looms Over Neighbors; Roof Structure Not Set-Back is Claimed to be Illegal”; this was the first local newspaper article to deal with the issue.