City Paper Widget

Friday, March 6, 2015

"Either Stay in the Suburbs or Find Another Place to Live!"

CORRECTION (3/8/15): I listened to a recording of the meeting on ANC6E's Youtube channel after this blog post went live. The title is slightly inaccurate. The actual quote is: "Either stay in the suburbs or find another place in DC."

The owner of 440 Ridge Street NW needs zoning relief to expand her house back by 20 inches in the rear, and up in the rear by less than half a story. She eventually got Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6E/Shaw to endorse an application for zoning relief for lot occupancy at its regular monthly meeting on March 3, but first she had to endure some abuse from a neighbor.

440 Ridge Street (Google Street View)
Her architect, Catarina Ferreira of Archi-Textural, Pllc., that the plan to expand the house a been through "a few revisions" and trips to the DC bureaucracy. Substantial changes to the house have to be approved by DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), because the building is located in the Mount Vernon Square Historic District. Most recently, a plan to add a third story seven feet in height, set back 16 feet from the front of the building, was passed by the HPRB with substantial modification, meaning the proposed roof addition had to be smaller and situated further to the rear of the building.

The HPRB decision occurred on January 29, 2015. See an unfavorable review of the project from HPRB staff, written before the January 29 meeting, here.

The owner of the building explained she had owned and lived in the building, and then moved to the suburbs after she got married and started a family. She retained ownership of the house and rented it out. Now, the owner said, the suburban traffic had grown intolerable, so she and her husband had made the decision to move back into the District with two children.

However, the house, which was built sometime before 1870, is a little cramped for a modern family of four. Therefore, they are attempting to expand it. Following the suggestions by HPRB, the architect and owner agreed on a plan that expands the building further back but not as far up -- a concept more likely to get historic preservation approval.

However, the 20-inch rear expansion will put the house over limit for percent of lot occupancy, so zoning relief is necessary.

The ANC had requested letters from the directly abutting neighbors saying they had no objection to the project, and also a written guarantee that work would not start before 8 am. The applicants supplied these.

ANC6E Commissioner Rachelle Nigro (district 04), in whose district the property is located, said that several neighbors had come to the meeting and wish to speak. They were allowed to do so.

One, who said he pushed for the historic district designation in 1998, expressed outright support for the expansion. Another remarked that the personal details of the family should not influence the decision, meaning, the zoning rules should be applied uniformly whether the applicant was a family or a developer.

The person who spoke the longest was against the application. She identified herself as a 37-year resident, and was later acknowledged to be a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.

"I came to talk generally about how the neighborhood should be," she said.

The purpose of zoning, she said, was to maintain places for people to live. Ridge Street was one of the few places left in Shaw that people could afford. Now, people were coming and making the housing prohibitively expensive by building them out.

"Either stay in the suburbs or find another place to live," she said.

This remark created a commotion in the room. People shouted "Rude!" and "That's not nice!"

After the audience comments were finished, Commissioner Nigro made a motion that the ANC oppose the request for zoning relief, but it died for lack of a second.

Then Commissioner Alexander Padro (district 01) made a motion to support the request for zoning relief, which passed by a vote of 6 - 1. Nigro was the only vote against. 

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