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Lanier Heights Homeowners Seeking to Thwart Overdevelopment Finally Succeed

Accompanying map showing area affected can be viewed in the September 2016 issue pdf; a photo showing how a recently constructed “pop-up” addition on the rear of a row house has substantially cut off light and air to its condominium neighbor appears below.

By P.L. Wolff

As we reported eight years ago, a proposal by Lanier Heights residents seeking to put the brakes on what they viewed as a creeping intensification of density by means of building additions to existing row houses for rental or condo units failed. However, the idea of turning the neighborhood into an historic district to accomplish that goal was not accepted by the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC-1C) in the face of heavy opposition at the time. (See, “Plan for Lanier Heights Historic District Met With Heavy Opposition, Complaints,” InTowner, November 2008 issue pdf, page 1.)

Now, eight years later, the problem that gave rise to that controversy may have been solved thanks to the decision in July by the Zoning Commission to rule in favor of a petition to downzone the neighborhood.

This action effectively limits matter-of-right development of single-family detached, semi-detached, and row house heights to a maximum of 40 feet — 10 feet lower than previously allowed — and with a rear yard requirement of 20 feet.

The Commission was cognizant of the information contained in the Office of Planning’s March 11, 2016 submitted report which, as was stated by the Commission in its order, “that the main differences between the current R-5-B zoning and proposed R-4 zoning are that the current R-5-B zoning allows multi-family buildings by-right, and allows a taller building height than the R-4 zoning requested by the Petitioners [and] that the Comprehensive Plan provides policy guidance that both supports and does not support the requested more restrictive R-4 zoning designation. The Plan’s Generalized Policy Map describes the area as a Neighborhood Conservation area, suggesting that any new development should be compatible with the neighborhood’s existing character.”

In their detailed submission outlining their case to lower the neighborhood’s zoning from R-5-B to R-4 filed two years ago with the ANC, 60 percent of the identified 165 affected property owners stated that their “intent is for “a re-zon[ing] of the row home blocks and lots [so as] to curb the re-development of these homes into condominiums.” Further, they explained their concerns as follows:

“Lanier Heights’ row houses are being threatened in the last two years, over half-a-dozen single family row houses have been purchased by developers who have built ‘pop-up’ condos, altering existing facades, expanding the higher structure to the backs of lots, and creating up to eight condominium units. This rapid development is changing the look and character of the neighborhood, reducing homes for families, invading privacy, and crowding neighboring yards and houses.

Residents in The Lambert condominium building at 1791 Lanier PL NW have lost tight, air and any views that they once had from their balconies. photo--DC Zoning Commission case file #15-09.

Residents in The Lambert condominium building at 1791 Lanier PL NW have lost tight, air and any views that they once had from their balconies. photo–DC Zoning Commission case file #15-09.

“Because of Lanier Heights’ R-5-B zoning designation, there is no designation for the maximum number of units allowed on each lot. Because of this, some row homes . . . now have eight units where there was once a single or two family home.

“Re-zoning to R-4 would impose a maximum limit of two units allowed on each lot. The intention of placing this limit is to discourage developers from purchasing single family homes at inflated prices, with the sole purpose of breaking them up purely for profit, while preventing families, with or without children, an opportunity to live there. This will enable Lanier Heights to retain its diversity of housing stock and allow the neighborhood to conserve and retain its remaining single-family homes.”

[Ed. Note: For background on what has been a long-running controversy in Lanier Heights, see “Growing Push to Increase Development in Lanier Heights Roils Neighborhood,” InTowner, September 2014 issue pdf, page 1; “Pop-Ups Along Lanier Heights Row House Streets Nixed; ANC to Seek Downzoning,” InTowner, December 2014 issue pdf, page 1.]