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Washington, D.C. Residents Object to Pop-Up Rowhouses

Updated on December 7, 2014

Pop-Ups Pit Cheap Space Against Ugliness

Residents of Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood are leading an effort against the pop-up homes they believe are creating an eyesore.

As a development boom swallows up empty land at high prices, some D.C. residents are trying to make the most of rowhouses they already own by building additional floors on top.

Yes, they get more space, but they also anger their neighbors who say building on top of buildings makes the enlarged rowhouses tower grotesquely over adjacent homes.

One of the prime examples is the home at 1013 V Street NW that neighbors call “The Monster.” Its thin profile sticks up more than five stories adjacent to two-story houses on both sides of it.

Adams Morgan residents met recently to plan a political strategy to limit the height of the rowhouses to no more than 40 feet, compared with the current 50-foot cap.

They are pressuring their Advisory Neighborhood Commission to sponsor a zoning restriction on the heights of the homes.

They also want restrictions on owners’ rights to convert them to condos and apartments. The profit incentive from condo and apartment conversions is driving some of the owners to build the pop-ups.

The advisory neighborhood commissions in the Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Park View neighborhoods have taken the movements against pop-ups even further. They have filed resolutions with the city administration asking for height restrictions of no more than 35 feet on rowhouses.

Newly-elected Mayor Muriel Bowser is showing sympathy for their concerns. She called pop-ups ugly during her election campaign.

Earlier this year, Bowser wrote a letter to the head of the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affair asking for a freeze on pop-up building permits. She said pop-ups could have adverse, long-term effects on neighboring properties.

The zoning restrictions would require further approval from the D.C. Planning Commission. The five-member Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for Jan. 15.

Some rowhouse owners say the proposed zoning restriction is a terrible idea. It would limit downtown housing at a time of a housing shortage and gives local government too much authority over their private property, according to the proposal’s critics.

The pop-up owners so far have won support from at least two planning commission members.
Commissioner Robert Miller said the height restrictions might limit the District’s development.


Should pop-Up row houses be banned by city ordinances?

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