City Paper Widget

Monday, December 16, 2013

1618 Q Street: Neighbors Turn Out Against

Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle once again debated the contentious renovation of 1618 Q Street NW at its regular monthly meeting on December 4. Unhappy neighbors aired their views, and there was disagreement over whether the renovation as it stands is permitted under D.C. zoning regulations.

Sold for $1.14 million on 11/18/13
1618 Q Street is 132-year-old row house, built for one family. Workshop T10 is trying to develop it into a seven-unit apartment building. Their project would include excavating the basement and adding a one-story pop-up on top of the building, which is currently two floors. This project has had an unfavorable reception from various organizations it has presented to, including the Dupont Circle Conservancy, ANC2B, and D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

Details were reported previously in SALM blog posts for December 6, November 13, and October 15.

Is this project really "by right"?

Workshop T10 previously declared this renovation was entirely "by right" with reference to zoning, meaning, no waivers or variances were required from the D.C. government. Instead, Workshop T10 contents, it only needs the blessing of the HPRB. It is not clear if Workshop T10 has an official confirmation of this opinion.

ANC2B Commissioner Abigail Nichols (district 05) presented a conflicting view. In a resolution condemning the renovation, Nichols quoted extensively from Title 11, Section 1501 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations. This concerns the Dupont Circle Overlay District, created by D.C.'s Office of Zoning to guide development in the Dupont area.

One of the purposes of the Overlay District, it says, is "[e]nhance the residential character of the area by maintaining existing residential uses and controlling the scale, location, and density of commercial and residential development".

It is difficult to evaluate whether Nichols' interpretation of D.C. Municipal Regulations would limit or even forbid the type of renovation Workshop T10 wants.

In any case, the point became (for the time being) moot, because ANC2B decided to send the whole project back to its Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee for reconsideration. The vote was 7-1, with Nichols the sole opposing vote.

The ZPD Committee is next scheduled to meet on January 3, 2014, at 7pm, at the Resource Center (9 Dupont Circle).

Neighbors speak

Neighbors of 1618 Q Street had shown up at the previous two ANC meetings but were not given a chance to speak because of time constraints. December 11's ANC2B meeting was less full. ANC Chair Will Stephens (Commissioner for district 08) apologized for the previous inability to let neighbors have their say on the project, and vowed to allow enough time for public comment at this meeting.

An abutting neighbor told the ANC he was an architect and "very pro-business", but he was worried about two aspects of the project. First, he felt the basement excavation could endanger the foundation of his own property.

His second: "The roof deck will destroy my peace in my bedroom."

People on the roof deck would be able to look directly into his bedroom, he said.

In reply, Desiree Hollar of Workshop T10 denied that the structural integrity of the neighbor's house would in any way be endangered by the renovation, and the work around the foundation would proceed according to "a process mandated by D.C."

At another point in the meeting, Hollar agreed that the roof deck would look directly into the neighbor's bedroom.

Another neighbor, who lives on the 1600 block of Q Street, said she had not heard anything about the project until a notice was left in the door of her home just a week previously. In October, ANC2B asked Workshop T10 to reach out to the neighborhood about the renovation.

The same neighbor also disputed a claim by Workshop T10 that the house had previously been inhabited by "7 to 9 people". This neighbor, a 20-year resident of Dupont Circle, said the house had been a single-family home for 20 years until 2012. At that time, it was rented out to multiple tenants.

Finally, another group of neighbors from the 1300 block of 21st Street came armed with an eight-page handout, which they called a "case study". The case study referred to another renovation, at 1321 21st Street. This document contended that their experience with the project was relevant to 1618 Q Street and showed development "may well be worse than proposed due to lax oversight and enforcement."

The debate among Commissioners and testimony from the community took over an hour, and threatened to consume the whole meeting. Eventually, it was agreed to defer a decision, especially as Workshop T10 had submitted a new set of drawings to ANC on Monday for a meeting on Wednesday. Commissioners had not had a chance to thoroughly examine how the project had changed, accoding to Commissioner Leo Dwyer (district 07).

"I see that the project has improved," Dwyer said. "I'm not saying it's great."

Dwyer is the chair of ANC2B's ZPD Committee.

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