City Paper Widget

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

1801 4th Street: "We're Mimicking the Town House That Was There"

A committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street gave conditional endorsement to zoning variances that will allow construction of a two-family row house on an empty lot at 1801 4th Street NW in LeDroit Park. The endorsement came at a meeting of ANC1B's Design Review Committee on June 16.

1801 4th Street (vacant lot center)
This is one of several recent cases where design modifications by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) to planned renovation or construction have triggered the need for zoning variances -- see SALM blog posts for June 12 and May 30, 2014.

The lot in question was formerly the parking lot of Frazier's Funeral Home, which was located in an abutting property to the south. Frazier's Funeral Home closed in 2008. Developer Thomas Swarm bought the property. He developed the Funeral Home building (the brick building on the left in the photo) first -- it is now a residential building.

Both this project and the previous renovation had to get HPRB endorsement because the properties are located in the LeDroit Park Historic District.

Historic Preservation calls the shots

Before the lot was parking, a row house was there. HPRB has said the new construction had to be as close as possible to the long-gone building.

"This is their design," Swarm said at the meeting. "This is their direction."

HPRB required that the new row house be set back ten feet from the front property line, just like its neighbors.

"We're mimicking the town house that was there," Swarm said.

Since the entire living space of the building will be pushed back, the rear yard will be much smaller (4 feet 10 inches) than required by zoning (20 feet). In addition, the lot coverage (61.9%) will be slightly bigger than allowed by zoning (60%). The width of side yard of the building will not meet zoning requirement (3 feet vs. 10 feet).

In addition to the need for zoning variances, HPRB-led design has also created another small problem. The planned front staircase for the building will protrude slightly into public space, i.e., the front sidewalk. If this design is implemented as written, Swarm would also have to go to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and seek a permit to use public space.

Tempers flare

The request seemed to be fairly routine. However, the discussion got a little heated during a digression about Swarm's trip through the DC property development maze. Committee member Tony Norman asked if Swarm had been to ANC1B before his HPRB approval. Swarm said he had been to the ANC last year. Norman said he didn't remember Swarm's visit.

Norman could have stimulated his memory by reading the SALM blog post of November 4, 2013, which was about the previous appearance of Swarm before Norman and the committee. At that time, Norman was chair of the committee, as well as chair of ANC1B as a whole. (He has since lost his position as chair and resigned from his commissionership.)

Norman said Swarm should have appeared before the committee before seeking HPRB approval. There was further discussion of whether Swarm had navigated the DC various government bodies in the correct order.

"I'm doing everything by the book," Swarm said.

He got a little angry.

"This is so dysfunctional," he said. "This is just like DC."

At this point, Swarm's attorney, Leila Batties of Holland & Knight, stepped in and gently redirected the conversation back to the immediate problem.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full ANC that the zoning variances be endorsed as presented, with the caveat that the front stairs should not protrude into public space "if at all possible". 

The matter will probably be considered at the next meeting of the full ANC, scheduled to take place on July 10, 2014, at the Reeves Center (14th and U Streets). ANC1B usually holds their monthly meetings on the first Thursday of the month, but is postponing July's meeting due to the Independence Day holiday.

The application is scheduled for consideration by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) on July 15. Documents in the case can be seen at the BZA's Interactive Zoning Information System by entering case number 18796 into the search bar.

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