City Paper Widget

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

1727 Massachusetts Avenue: Janitor's Apartment to Lawyer's Office?

"They thought it was legally permitted to be office space," the owners representative told a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle July 7.

But it wasn't.

Winthrop House, with orange zoning placard in front window
The owners of 817 square feet in the basement of The Winthrop House condominium (1727 Massachusetts Avenue NW) will have purchased themselves an expensive storage area unless they can convince DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to grant them a special exception. The owners' representative was at the most recent meeting of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee to ask for an endorsement of their request.

According to information presented at the meeting, the space was originally meant as a basement apartment for a janitor or maintenance man. It has its own toilet and a window well. Now, he said, it was not considered a legally habitable space. The new owners wanted to convert it into office space for a lawyer, architect, or accountant. They need zoning permission to change its purpose.

The representative of the owner told the committee "two individuals" bought the property, and the individuals were under the impression that office use was permitted when they bought it.

Who are the owners?

A publicly-available BZA document indicates the property is owned by Lettermen Associates LLC. The address of Lettermen Associates is 14705 Dunleith Street, North Potomac, Maryland. Online information indicates that 14705 Dunleith Street is owned by Arnold K. Litman and F. J. Litman.

Another BZA document gives the name of one of the owners as Arnie Litman. Yet another is signed "Arnie Litman, Letterman Associates".

Arnie Litman is described on one web site as
a licensed real estate broker who serves as a contractor and property management consultant with more than 25 years of experience in successfully developing affordable housing projects in the Washington, DC area. Mr. Litman has negociated [sic] over 3,000 commercial and retails leases. Currently he is the broker of record for Tysons II Mall and two premier office buildings in Washington, DC.
Litman Development has successfully managed thousands of apartments units in some of the toughest neighborhoods...
A Linked-In profile describes Arnold (Arnie) Litman as "an independent real estate broker" of 38 years experience. From 2011 - 2013, Litman worked at Zalco Realty of Silver Spring.

A 1989 document (also available online) from the Office of Administrative Law Judges of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development indicates that Arnold K. Litman was debarred from participation in federal contracts for three years. This, the documents say, was after Litman pleaded guilty and was convicted in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on February 15, 1989, of false statements on six separate occasions in 1983 and 1984. Litman was "committed to the custody of the Attorney General for nine months for each of the counts, which were to run concurrently". He also received a $5,000 fine.

What steps have they taken so far?

The representative began his presentation by apologizing. He had left most of the relevant documents, which he was supposed to share with the committee, back at his office.

"Have you reached out to the building?" asked ZDP Committee Chair Leo Dwyer (commissioner for district 07). Winthrop House is in Dwyer's ANC District.

The representatives said that he, personally, had not, but the owners had. He had no details.

Was such a conversion possible under the bylaws of the Winthrop House condominium?

They would have to check the condo bylaws, the representative said.

"The bylaws will say what is allowed and what is not allowed," said Tom Bauer of the Dupont Circle Conservancy.

There would be no separate entrance to the proposed office. It would only be accessible by going through the lobby. Did the building have a concierge?

"They don't have a 24-hour concierge now, but they're heading towards one," the representative said.

The representative wanted the full ANC to consider the matter at its next full meeting, scheduled for tonight, July 9, at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue). He said he would try to get condo board support, check the bylaws, and get back to Dwyer before the Wednesday meeting, two days hence.

"Also reach out to the residents of the building," Dwyer told him.

Commissioner Stephanie Maltz (district 06) suggested someone from the condominium board should come to the ANC meeting.

Dwyer said the resolution at the meeting would recommend more communication with the condo board, and the establishment of a 24-hour concierge on the front door. Dwyer also said he might ask the BZA to delay their hearing on the matter, which is currently scheduled for July 27.

"It seems a little too much of a reach for a special exception," Dwyer said.

The BZA documents about this case are available for public inspection by going to the Interactive Zoning Information System and putting case number 18802 into the search bar.

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