Greater Greater Washington

Development


Panic! Your alley could have a cute, clean little brick house!

Linda Schmitt, head crusader against DC's zoning update, just sent out an email warning people about the accessory dwelling proposals:

Thought you might want to see what an ADU looks like. Photo provided by DC resident who says six of these are within shouting distance of her house. She is very upset and angry about it.
She attached this picture:

Clearly, we look at the same thing and see it differently, because this looks like a pretty charming, well-maintained little house that's doesn't mar the look of the neighborhood. Many of us would love to have six of these in the alleys, with people who have an incentive to keep them clean and more eyes on the street instead of just a garage which could attract rats.

Ultimately, most of this comes down to a simple matter of values. Would you like to have more people in your neighborhood, especially if they can fit into existing buildings? (The Office of Planning's current proposal does not allow ADUs in any accessory buildings constructed after the change goes into effect). Or do you want government rules that keep people away?

OP has shown statistics about how existing houses are holding far fewer people than they did 50 years ago. Schmitt wants a public policy that makes it impossible for these neighborhoods to accommodate the numbers of people they once did, without changing the built environment much at all.

Schmitt calls her group Neighbors for Neighborhoods, but maybe it should really be Neighbors for Empty Neighborhoods, or Neighbors Against More Neighbors.

Please try to make the zoning update meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 6:30 pm at Wilson High School, or one of the other remaining meetings in wards 5, 7, and 4.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

Add a comment »

It's amazing how fast a neighborhood can change. One day you're out front, keeping an eye out for undesirables, then OP proposes some rules and BAM, out of nowhere a hundred years ago six of these pop up.

by TM on Jan 5, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

People like this take their NIMBYism a little too seriously.

by Eli on Jan 5, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

I ONLY do my panicking at the disco.

by Bossi on Jan 5, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

I remember the "tilted villian's lair" technique from the 1960s Batman TV series.

by Feliz on Jan 5, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

I want one. Though I'd need an alley to put it in.

by Miriam on Jan 5, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

I think one of the important things to remember, the only "by right" ADU is the one that already exists (or the structure exists). Any new structure or expansion in height or square footage of an existing structure will require a variance.

At the end of the day, what the Neighbors 4 Neighborhoods is opposing is the idea that someone can be a renter in an ADU. They are ok with a household employee living in such a space, just not a renter.

It seems like a bizarre distinction to me, one that I have yet to have a rational explanation. I hope to hear some at one of the OP meetings, but am not holding my breath.

by Andrew on Jan 5, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

I'm guessing that "shouting distance" has a larger than usual radius for that particular resident.

by Frank IBC on Jan 5, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

So, if these dwelling units become matter of right and are located where garages usually are, where will new residents park their cars? More vehciles flooding onto the streets? I know a family in AU Park that has a sub rosa 2 story ADU on an alley with several adults living in it. (Looks a lot like the photo, actually). Trash flows into the alley because there's no place to put it and the number of people living there. Plus 5 or so vehicles now squeeze onto the street in front of the house from this one property. And I thought that all ADU hipsters walk, bike or use Zipcar....

by Bob on Jan 5, 2013 2:52 pm • linkreport

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Some of the alleys in Petworth are absolutely huge, and would easily fit another ADU. More residents, more tax dollars, less rats, more customers for local businesses, more eyes on the street.

I will be at the meeting at Tenleytown, and hope to speak.

by Kyle-W on Jan 5, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

Were those ADUs not there when she moved in? If they were, why on Earth is she now "very upset and angry" about them?

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 5, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Oh no! Alley houses! I can see from the picture why she would be upset *sarcasm*

My small hometown in Pennsylvania has alley houses all over the place and no one seems to have a problem with them.

by Merarch on Jan 5, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

@Bob

Well, then unless someone has an ADU now, they likely won't be getting one without neighborhood ascent under the OP proposal. So, given that, what is the problem?

I would also submit that if a property owner has an illegal ADU under current rules, then I would be more concerned about that, than the OP proposal.

by William on Jan 5, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

The building in this photo looks loads better than most of the garages on my alley, including one with peeling paint and an oil cloth drape as the door. If this one is legal, then it would have been approved under current regulations, so I'm not sure how the new regulations make things worse.

by Ellen on Jan 5, 2013 5:21 pm • linkreport

These kind of buildings add to Kentland's charm and livability, to say nothing of the land values becasue of these options being available to home owners through special zoning. They even have mews (alley dwellings) that give off a medieval picturesqueness.

by Thayer-D on Jan 5, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

@Bob - ADU hipsters? As a longtime ADU resident, I'm choosing not to be offended by that. Blowhard.

by Eli on Jan 5, 2013 5:44 pm • linkreport

How about "Neighbors for Rats"

by SJE on Jan 5, 2013 5:46 pm • linkreport

There was a lady at the end of the ZRR meeting today in Ward One who stood up at the end to pronounce a curse upon all our houses (or ADUs, as the case may be.)

by Steve S. on Jan 5, 2013 6:10 pm • linkreport

So... There's no OP proposal to actually allow the building of new ADU's by-right? WTF are the NIMBYs complaining about here? They've got their acronym literally written into law already, and it's not changing.

by ben on Jan 5, 2013 6:40 pm • linkreport

Frankly, I'm getting tired of the vilification of an update that might let people who are different get to move into Ward 3. So much of the things these folks object to has to do with keeping people out of their neighborhood, without there being a mention anywhere about actual human beings. Well, this kind of thing has a rich history in our country and City, and it is about time it stops. Let's give people who might not have had the income to do so chance to live in Ward 3, with their great schools and amenities.

If you doubt this is the true subtext of the Nimby conversation, witness the town meeting on last Thursday evening to oppose the Cafritz proposed apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue. The leader of the opponents got up in front of a homogenous group of fifty-something's and actually said that the building would bring with it new residents who would send their kids to Murch and Deal schools.

Now, it may be these are crimes of omission - that some folks just don't have a clue about the fact that other people live in this world. But no matter, the subtext resonates to those who would hear the message of maintaining exclusivity.

by FongFong on Jan 5, 2013 8:28 pm • linkreport

Has anyone articulated WHY these alley houses are unwelcome? I have no idea, but maybe she has a point that she's not actually making? It could possibly be important to understand if there is actually substance behind her objection.

by Jon on Jan 5, 2013 8:33 pm • linkreport

I think this could be my fault. When I lived in an alley apartment, I fornicated like crazy. I fornicated all the time. Morning, noon and night. I would have fornicated more if I could have. Clearly accessory dwellings are to blame. And thus, like dancing in the documentary Footloose, must be banned.

by David C on Jan 5, 2013 9:53 pm • linkreport

The city needs to be densified as naturally as possible so one would hope all existing structures could be used if they had plumbing already since the sewers are maxed out in some areas. That said, the obsession with the west third of the city has got to stop. The eastern two-thirds of DC is wildly underdeveloped so let’s encourage people to make more of the whole city finally. A hot spot like NoMa does not address the overall underdevelopment or the amazing 24-hour choke point formed by New York Avenue.

by AndrewA on Jan 6, 2013 7:27 am • linkreport

I do think this is about school in one respect. Smaller dwellings such as apartments are key to no high six figured income parents getting access to the best schools in DC. It feels like ward 3 parents sometimes resent some parents paying a lower cost of entry.

by DC parent on Jan 6, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

David C: I think you just raised the average value of ADUs by 10%

by SJE on Jan 6, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

I too disapprove of the recent intrusion of fingers into photographs.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 7, 2013 2:38 am • linkreport

Do we need a social scientist to explain why income diversity within a community is a societal good?

by Thayer-D on Jan 7, 2013 7:57 am • linkreport

Oh god, the horror!(?)

by Alan B. on Jan 7, 2013 8:27 am • linkreport

Linda Schmitt is apparently anti-people. Her concerns should be ignored in light of that.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 9:41 am • linkreport

@AndrewA--

I think the obsession with the west third of the city is that, despite all of the great development opportunities throughout DC, developers want to build where the risks are perceived to be lowerst and the returns are postentially higher. Developers would much rather add density to Woodley or Cleveland Park or Tenleytown than take more of a flyer somewhere else. And then you have folks who believe (naively perhaps) that adding more units will somehow drive down housing costs in the more desirable areas.

by Bob on Jan 7, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

"And then you have folks who believe (naively perhaps) that adding more units will somehow drive down housing costs in the more desirable areas."

Or accurately, rather than naively.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

I don't think ADUs are going to be a big target for "developers" considering all the restrictions and the fact that you're building a small unit on someone else's property.

If the concerns over ADUs are about developer takeover then these people need some sense drilled into them.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2013 10:13 am • linkreport

If people lived in my alleyway, maybe folks would take better care of it...

by andrew on Jan 7, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

There is a guy who lives in Adams Morgan who has decided to make NIMBYism his full-time job. I suggest he take his house $1 million+ house, sell it and move to an acre of land in Loudon County… all the peace and quiet he could want.

Cities evolve, cities change. Don't like it? Leave. But if you do decide to stay, don't stand in the way of others who want to live here, too.

by AdamsMorganAbout on Jan 7, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

Has anyone articulated WHY these alley houses are unwelcome?

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2506&dat=19381211&id=jTxJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=WAkNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1302,2450841

by Historian on Jan 7, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

The existing ADUs and the units allowed by the proposed zoning laws are nothing like old alley slums. They are required to have modern conveniences just like houses.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

Well, at least one of the Neighbors for Neighborhoods recently posted this to the Chevy Chase listserv, and I am not making this up:

"Unrestrained accessory dwellings are a good plan if people love models like New Delhi and the Flavas in Rio De Janaro [sic].”

At least she came out and said it.

by fongfong on Jan 7, 2013 10:52 am • linkreport

Historian: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2506&dat=19381211&id=jTxJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=WAkNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1302,2450841

They grew like mold on the dreams of L'Enfant and Lincoln! Like mold on dreams, I tell you!

by iaom on Jan 7, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

the problems with the favelas of Rio and slums of any big city are those of grinding poverty and crime. Higher density living, or a smaller house, does not equate to crime and poverty. Look at Singapore or Tokyo. Closer to home, the density in NYC is way higher than Detroit, and Manhatten is higher than Queens.

If anything, poverty and crime is more problematic in the rural areas.

by SJE on Jan 7, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

It seems a parallel can be run between the "strong fences make good neighbors" argument and the "a well-armed society is a polite society" argument. Which is to say, both reflect an unmistakable tendency toward or preference for antisocial behavior.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

No one's responded to my question on where the ADU residents are going to park, since almost by definition the ADU would be built where a garage otherwise would go. Are ADUs limited to transit oriented zones where new residents will take Metro (which strikes me as a good requirement), or can we assume that they will drive and register more motor vehicles.

by Bob on Jan 7, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

Why are you assuming that all ADU residents will have cars?

by Alex B. on Jan 7, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

@Bob: Why does it matter where they park? Either you have a driveway or a garage, so it doesn't really affect you, or you rely on street parking, in which case you've been receiving a great benefit for almost free--and you surely must have known that couldn't last forever.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 7, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

@Bob Unless we're missing something, the term ADU doesn't distinguish between carriage houses or all-residential units. Which would perhaps render your question and subsequent assumption invalid.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

@Bob Are you worried people will actually park in your backyard?

by NIMBY on Jan 7, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

Why should we care where an ADU resident parks? If instead they were moving into a formerly empty house on the block then we wouldn't care about where they park. Or rather, even if you did care there's not much you could do about it.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

Are there neighborhoods in DC that prohibit parking on public streets? If so, who is to blame? That kind of mishegas belongs on the pavement of privately-owned gated communities, not on the public streets of a world-class city.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

I think the last set of comments are an offhand attack on a reasonable question. The residents in many neighborhoods do indeed have trouble finding parking.

So let me answer it: Yes, new accessory dwellings will cause more competition for street parking: (1) by removing the existing garage parking, and (2) from the additional cars owned by the new residents that drive.

This is a disadvantage from this policy, and it should be acknowledged.

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

While it is a disadvantage, I would submit that most of the Ward 3 residents who raise this issue live in neighborhoods where, in fact, street parking is not an issue. Most of the R-1 neighborhoods where this could come into play have wide open curbs of parking both day and night.

Sure, parking is an issue close to Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park (many R-2), Van Ness and Cleveland Park as well as Wisconsin Ave in Glover Park (R-2) and parts of Tenleytown, but most of the potential for ADUs are in AU Park, Spring Valley, Palisades, Chevy Chase etc. where this is not an issue.

Further, as has been stated, unless a property owner already has a structure (presumably for a household employee), they will still need review before building anew or expanding an existing structure.

by William on Jan 7, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

I would argue that Bob's question is not above scrutiny, and Goldfish, I'm inclined to disagree with or at least qualify your argument. 1) Due to existing zoning laws, there are often no existing garage structures at all, and obtaining permission to construct one is no mean feat. 2) Absent a definition of ADU that specifically includes or excludes carriage houses, no valid argument can be made that ADU's will effectively increase or decrease use of on-street parking. 3) Residents of ADU's which are near public transit, i.e. in a city, may or may not choose to own and operate personal vehicles.

Hypothetically granting that limited access to on-street parking is indeed a problem, it is a problem can be easily controlled/limited on a per-house basis, e.g. policies that limit the total number of registered vehicles per household.

Furthermore I would argue the impact on public parking is in many ways a red herring, distracting from other more valid issues which ADU's present: increasing communities' density and income diversity.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

Does anyone else suspect goldfish is an alias Bob used to answer his own question?

by NIMBY on Jan 7, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

No one's responded to my question on where the ADU residents are going to park

Where the market will bear it. If there is cheap, available street parking - they will park there. If not, they will rent or buy a parking space. The same as everyone else.

by David C on Jan 7, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

People shouldn't be allowed to live in an existing building because the might park their car where I wanted to park it.

That is a reasonable way of looking at things?

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

Due to existing zoning laws, there are often no existing garage structures at all

That is not the DC that I know -- pretty much every alley is lined with garages or carriage houses.

Does anyone else suspect goldfish is an alias Bob used to answer his own question?

I do not know "Bob".

I am a little curious, why are people defensive about this? It is a pretty simple example of the trade-offs that arise from increasing density. To justify this policy, there should be good answers for such questions.

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

The problem results from offering a scarce (at least in some places) resource for free.

If RPP's were priced at a market clearing price, there would be no problem.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

To justify this policy, there should be good answers for such questions.

Truly, on this website we've never talked about parking. I'm sorry bob didn't get an answer in less time than he wanted but that's not an indication that the answer isn't there.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

That is not the DC that I know
Perhaps, but should public policy be constrained by the limitations of one person's perspective?

The answers I offered above weren't intended to be defensive; I cannot help it if you choose to interpret them as such or ignore them altogether.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

If RPP's were priced at a market clearing price, there would be no problem.

So is that part of the ADU proposal? If not, it is irrelevant.

by Gunga Dinge on Jan 7, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

Its not part of the zoning code, IIUC - its under the authority of a different agency, under a different law. Mentioning it clarifies the issues involved though.

The main point is that this kind of parking allocation scheme (giving it out free) introduces other "distortions" that complicate other issues - like zoning.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 7, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

While it is not part of the proposal, consider that most of the people complaining about the OP proposals live in low density neighborhoods. Their arguments generally boil down to two items:

1) Who lives here?
2) Where can I park?

There is no rational answer that will satisfy them unless they can park (for free) wherever and whenever they want, and they really don't want renters (read: people not like them) in their neighborhoods. It is sad for a city that is supposed to be progressive and liberal to fall down so miserably on these issues.

I hope OP and the Zoning Commission see this for what it is and see this through. DC should be the model for the country to follow.

by Andrew on Jan 7, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Why not tax the property based on how many families it can reasonably house - whether they are occupied or not.

When the NIMBYs have to pay property tax on an empty dwelling, they'll come begging to the zoning board to rent the place out...

by KillMoto on Jan 7, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

@KillMoto--

That's a breathtaking, frankly Soviet idea. The Bolshevik revolution was so last century.

by Bob on Jan 7, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

The question of parking is a legitimate issue to discuss given how people are used to low-cost parking on their streets.

The answer is that the many benefits of ADUs (lower-cost housing, income diversity, more people on streets, safer alleyways, population/tax base increases, density increases, etc.) outweigh the potential disbenefit to street parking.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

The Bolshevik revolution was so last century.

Oooh, red-baiting! Now we're being civil!

by NIMBY on Jan 7, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

Well, strictly speaking, it's more like a Georgist tax, and as an expert in Bolshevism like you surely knows. Marx hated Georgism. They've had one in Hong Kong since well before it became state capitalist.

Marx would, however, probably be OK with the idea that everyone is entitled to a parking space, according to their needs.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 7, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Doesn't the city already have a vacant building tax? The red menace is here.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: It is sad for a city that is supposed to be progressive and liberal to fall down so miserably on these issues.

Alley dwellings are pretty unknown to the current residents of DC. However, in the days when alley dwellings were common, they were centers of mayhem and misery. (See here for a nice article about Tiger Alley.)

I think people are right to be cautious about allowing them again. If such problems came up again, the benefits touted here will be compromised and we will be hearing "I told you so" from the so-called opponents that you think are not redeemable.

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

However, in the days when alley dwellings were common, they were centers of mayhem and misery.

I think people are right to be cautious about allowing them again.

I think the people should be more concerned with identifying confounding factors and spurious relationships in their thinking.

by Alex B. on Jan 7, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Alex B: ...and I think people should make a straightforward argument

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 2:28 pm • linkreport

So you think that its the presence of alley dwellings that led to slum conditions and crime rather than the fact that we're talking about a period of time before paved roads and indoor plumbing?

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

Again I bring up the ridiculousness of comparing a late 19th century alley dwelling to those of today. Even the article you link about Tiger Alley shows that TODAY it's a nice clean place to live!

by MLD on Jan 7, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

However, in the days when alley dwellings were common, they were centers of mayhem and misery.

There was also segregation, both de jure and de facto, public transit was nonexistent, and most houses didn't have electricities. None of these is now the case, despite the greatest efforts of those irredeemably opposed to progress.

PS - cute Aunt Sally reference, but perhaps this is more accurate.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Pretty much all of Capitol Hill has gentrified, and that wave has included Gessford Ct, which now is a nice place to live. However, slums are not limited to the 19th-century. We still have plenty of run-down houses in bad neighborhoods, and we are not immune from urban decay. I can very easily show you alleys with used condoms and discarded needles.

Congress pass a law prohibiting new construction of alley dwellings in 1892. After that the problem persisted for decades. Since then, obviously some things have changed; do you have anything that shows that such problems will not recur?

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 2:44 pm • linkreport

@MLD Or to paraphrase goldfish: Can you prove a negative?

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
We still have plenty of run-down houses in bad neighborhoods, and we are not immune from urban decay. I can very easily show you alleys with used condoms and discarded needles.

Obviously we do still have problems in places, but what does that have to do with ADUs?

Congress pass a law prohibiting new construction of alley dwellings in 1892. After that the problem persisted for decades. Since then, obviously some things have changed; do you have anything that shows that such problems will not recur?

The fact that these dwellings will be up to modern code, so there won't be sewage running through the streets, and the fact that individuals in neighborhoods will own and rent them means that they have an incentive not to rent to criminals?

I can't even envision this scenario in which ADUs in Cleveland Park (or wherever) lead to favelas or 19th-century slums. Please enlighten us with your doomsday scenario.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

So we've moved on from parking apocalypse to slums reappearing along with illegal pinball machines and player pianos.

Goldfish, you're literally saying that some alleys are nice and some are not. So then you understand that its not a housing type that leads to whatever it is one can be afraid of in their neighborhood.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

@MLD: look to the less tony neighborhoods, and consider corrupt or negligent owners. "Slumlord" has never gone out of use.

by goldfish on Jan 7, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

In other words, I'm pretty sure I can find you a crack house on a nice acre lot with plenty of parking off the street. Obviously we should take steps to prevent people from moving into empty houses.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

Slumlords exist regardless of the housing type.

by drumz on Jan 7, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

drumz - The real danger is million dollar houses in gated communities, like this or this.

by Ben Ross on Jan 7, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

The grandfather rule is unreasonable. If garages can be converted to dwelling units, it seems unfair to limit such conversions to pre-existing accessory structures. Whatever rental income potential is being offerred to those with land along an alley, should be available to all on a given block whether or not they have recently chosen to maintain an accessory building.

Perhaps if a given lbock has no accessory buildings, then the grandfather rule would be reasonable.

by JimT on Jan 7, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

1. The point of allowing ADUs should be tied to putting them where current infrastructure best accommodates them without or with less strain. I don't know AU Park that well, but it's far enough from a subway station for me to argue that wouldn't be a priority zoning area for ADUs.

To me, the obvious place to start with ADUs are in areas within a max distance of 3/4 to 1 mile from a subway station. Someone mentioned Petworth, it's an obvious place. So is my part of Takoma/Manor Park, e.g. we live 0.8 mile to the subway station.

I would map preference zones for ADUs (based on access to Metro, etc.) as part of the change and add by right aspects to the law in that manner.

2. By locating housing in this fashion you build the "architecture" of choice in a way that discourages car usage. So it is much less of an issue.

3. But obviously, parking should be priced more realistically than it is. But that's irrelevant to this particular matter.

4. The reason I became such a proponent of ADUs was because of the problems of safety on the interior of blocks in the H Street neighborhood (e.g., my house was broken into many times). Adding alley units puts eyes in the street in block interiors.

5. Plus it allows for another income stream for the property owner, allows for lower cost housing options for residents. Adds new residents who support local retail, pay income and sales taxes, ride transit (making it more successful and allowing for more frequent service), and add to the vitality and safety of neighborhoods.

6. Yes, for the most part, the problems of alley slums 8-10 decades ago are ompletely irrelevant to the issue now.

All the ward 3 people whining about ADUs... they seem to miss the obvious. Because it is people like them who are going to be building/renting out such units. The owner will be occupying the primary dwelling. They would not be motivated to create slum housing or rent to fornicators like David C. or partying college students or Ian MacKaye when he was starting out with Minor Threat (because they wouldn't want loud music) etc.

ADU providers aren't going to want to offer and manage the unit in a manner that reduces the value of their property or creates problems with their neighbors. (Unless they don't like their neighbors.) And there are various code enforcement schemes that can help nip such problems in the bud.

So too this punctures goldfish's argument about lower income areas and adus. Again, according to the proposed requirements, the primary dwelling has to be occupied by the owner in order to be able to rent out an adu. This addresses for the most part, slumlord issues.

6. If I get my s* together and organize walks for Jane's Walk the first weekend of May, my intent is to have some open houses for ADUs on H Street and Capitol Hill and in a couple places in Northwest. These are units worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars, yes, including Gessford Ct. SE. The argument against is mostly a chimera.

This is DC, 21st Century, 2013.

It's not DC, 20th Century, 1917, highly racist, where plumbing systems were just being integrated into housing that previously did not have such.

by Richard Layman on Jan 7, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

Richard, the part of AU Park I reference is very walkable to the Tenleytown metro. Agree with your other points though. really the main difference here between the current and proposed regulations pertain to who can live in these units: domestic employee versus renter. Otherwise, the new regs are MORE restrictive to property owners. I really don't get the fuss.

by Andrew on Jan 7, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

Folks -
First, let's stop vilifying Linda Schmitt - in fact, she is simply the spokesperson for MANY residents who have concerns about the wildly inappropriate proposals and process used by the Office of Planning.

Second, the picture Steve displayed is an ugly building. For him, or any others, to refer to this as "charming" requires a serious deviation from any aesthetic sense. Now he or others may choose to live here, but don't insult the rest of us with any label for this building except utilitarian. And to posit that these “alley dwellings give off a medieval picturesqueness” gives medieval a bad name. This is NOT a building that most people want in their backyard. And since planning/zoning never intended for them to be there, what does get constructed is not some quaint cottage with shutters and a heart wreath on the door, but any cheap construction that a renter will tolerate. Which brings me to. . .

Third, this house is shown on an alley. What's being proposed is a similar structure in people's BACKYARD - without an alley or even a driveway to support the new household and its people, cars, garbage, etc. And for a homeowner to create this ugly building which can be as little as 16 ft. from a neighbors house and can look right into their yard, is a serious violation of a single-family neighborhood.

Now some of you may not like that people have purchased homes in single-family neighborhoods, but that was the "contract" they had with the zoning process when they did. Rather than trying to force this building into these areas, why not take the suggestion of building these smaller homes in the under-developed parts of town? Why the insistence that they be in Ward 3?

Yes, the construction of these buildings is “matter-of-right” when the garage structure already exists, and lots of homes have garages of some sort. But there is a big difference between a garage (even a rickety one) and this building. The idea that any of these buildings is lived by a “household employee” hasn’t been true for decades, if ever. The folks who can afford live-in help (nannies) keep them in the house these days. These ADU proposals are all about creating rental property within a single-family zone. I know that people like (would like) to live in Ward 3, but it is designated single-family. Homeowners there don’t want to keep others out, they just want the city to honor the commitment made to them about their built environment. There are plenty of opportunities for dense development without raiding the backyards of single-family homes - and those have been wildly successful (see Petworth).

Yes, this does have to do with schools because the schools in Ward 3 are already close to overflowing with current neighborhood kids; in fact, there has been recent discussion about no longer allowing out-of-boundary students to enroll in Lafayette Elementary. If the current kid population is stretching enrollment to the edge, why WOULD neighbors want to encourage others to move in; why not have those kids in schools that are looking for enrollment?

Yes, this does have to do with parking because as renters, you carry your briefcase and yoga mat to the porch or the elevator. A person in Ward 3 has a young child and a baby and giant boxes of Pampers and a stroller, etc. It is a lot more important for this person to park in front of his/her house than it is for someone without those encumbrances. Unless you want to blame them for having children. . . .

Yes, this does have to do with renters because as anyone who has ever had a rental property knows, renters do not generally behave as “homeowners.” Renters often lack the commitment to the neighborhood, do not value peace and quiet, do not take responsibility for the physical structure, etc. They just have a different value set. Sorry if this offends you, it’s been my and others’ experience. And let me assure you that if these buildings are built, beautiful or ugly, the rents are going to be formidable because that’s what the market allows. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment in Ward 3 are $1900 up, and 2-bedrooms for $3300 and up. People who have this kind of money generally want a home of their own, not a rental property.

Rather than residents in Ward 3 being clueless about the financial circumstances of others, it REALLY is clueless to think that those with lower income can afford to live there, rental or not.

by CP on Jan 7, 2013 5:43 pm • linkreport

Sounds like some of the anti-ADU partisans should move to a house that backs up to a cemetery--no worries about noisy neighbors on that side. Others seem to be like the story about Daniel Boone: Supposedly, when he could see the smoke from the chimney of the nearest house, it was time to move to a less-crowded area.

by R L Davis on Jan 7, 2013 5:53 pm • linkreport

1) The building in the picture is not ugly, especially by DC standards. Even if he were an architecture critic, Richard's opinion on this would be no more or less valid than mine. Likewise, his unscientific opinion on what most people would want in their back yard: unless and until a meaningful poll of all affected persons is conducted, such talk is worth no more than hot air.

2) Is the term "single-family neighborhood" actually codified in DC zoning code? It sounds like an ideal, perhaps, or a convention to which some have become accustomed, but not a legal term which can be violated.

3) These proposals are ostensibly just as much about creating in-law suites or office studio space as they are about creating rental property. Or does the proposal contain a secret passage on intended use, to which only opponents are privy?

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 6:01 pm • linkreport

Long comment forum. Please scratch richard in my 6:01, and insert CP. Apologies / Thanks.

by pigskins on Jan 7, 2013 6:02 pm • linkreport

CP

So you literally want a neighborhood where homeowners can't use the existing structures how they please including an opportunity to supplement their income via renting their property. Moreover you make a number of assumptions about people in your neighborhood and declare them not good enough to move into your neighborhood because they can't (or choose not to) buy a house.

Why should OP consider that reasonable?

by Drumz on Jan 7, 2013 6:36 pm • linkreport

pigskins -- fwiw, all neighborhoods are "single family." The distinction is whether or not houses are detached or attached and how big they are, and then at a different scale, if they are multiunit buildings. Another issue is whether or not buildings are single unit or broken up, e.g., rowhouses can be broken up into flats, although this doesn't happen usually with small rowhouses.

The W3 boogeypeople are worked up sure. But it seems like the areas abutting Wisconsin and Connecticut Ave. would be the most likely to accommodate adus without significant negatives. I just don't know those blocks well enough to comment with any authoritativeness.

wrt your comment about architecture, most of the adus I am familiar with were constructed in Queen Anne style, so they date from 1880s to maybe 1910.

I can't seem to find photos in my flickr stream. But areas like Gessford Ct. SE, Terrace Court NE, and Brown's Court SE (actually newer building stock) are examples.

There are plenty of other examples here and there, e.g., Dupont Circle, Georgetown, of course Shaw.

They're great buildings.

A guy who lives behind the NE Library branch bought an old auto repair place and made it over into a dwelling unit. David Bernhardt's place was featured in the Post years ago, and I've taken groups through it on H St. alley tours I've done. Same with the old Robey place on Linden Ct. NE behind the Atlas.

by Richard Layman on Jan 7, 2013 6:43 pm • linkreport

"Renters often lack the commitment to the neighborhood, do not value peace and quiet, do not take responsibility for the physical structure, etc. They just have a different value set."

There's lots of peace and quiet in the suburbs, CP. Once upon it was white male property owners who made the rules in this country. Thankfully, we've had something called "progress" in the last 200 years and this is no longer the case. Renters have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just like you these days.

by aaa on Jan 7, 2013 6:52 pm • linkreport

@CP:
Rather than trying to force this building into these areas, why not take the suggestion of building these smaller homes in the under-developed parts of town? Why the insistence that they be in Ward 3?
I guess you don't mind being called a NIMBY then.

And to echo what pigskins said above, you seem to have drawn some interesting conclusions about what past zoning decisions obligate the District to provide for you.

From what I can tell, you seem to think there was a contract that you would receive free public schools for your children that would not allow outsiders, free or nearly free street parking at your doorstep, and assurances that no renters would be allowed into the neighborhood, in perpetuity.

This may be a slight misunderstanding.

Oh, and there's this:

Rents for a one-bedroom apartment in Ward 3 are $1900 up, and 2-bedrooms for $3300 and up. People who have this kind of money generally want a home of their own, not a rental property.
First of all, it's interesting that you know the minds of "people who have this kind of money" so well.

Second: is there a requirement that renters share their homes? The above picture is of a detached unit. I believe most would say that a family living in it would have "a home of their own." But perhaps you can tell me how this would be a misconception.

And finally: which is it? Is there going to be sufficient demand to support rents at this level, or not?

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 7, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

I hope CP understands that they do not speak for any other Ward 3 residents than themselves. Neither I, nor most of the hundreds of people I know in the Ward think like, make assumptions like or agree with CP.

-A Ward 3 resident.

by Andrew on Jan 7, 2013 7:06 pm • linkreport

Richard, for the record I'm a former fornicator.

by David C on Jan 7, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

CPE, there has been extensive studies showing that renters are just as good citizens as owners. About the only difference is that owners do more yard work.

by David C on Jan 7, 2013 8:54 pm • linkreport

Wow...this has taken a serious turn into cray-cray land. And here I thought my two sets of friends who rented alley carriage houses were decent, upstanding citizens who just wanted (and were willing to pay for) a little more space than the average apartment allowed them. Heck, between the 4 of them, there's only *1* car, even! Guess I didn't realize that they were just hard-partying, illegal-immigrant, occupancy-limit-ignoring, street-parking jerks who were defiling the city's beautiful alleyways with their run-down, trash-strewn homes. I suppose that one could think that the one couple's small container garden is a massive eyesore...

by Ms. D on Jan 8, 2013 12:45 am • linkreport

(David C. send me some references please.... thx.)

WRT the point about renters vs. owners people making the statements typically have under-formed thinking on the issue.

1. What they are mostly thinking of is the time in our lives when we first start renting/not living at home, during college and immediately post-college, when people are more likely to go out during the week, stay out late, drink, be loud, etc. But it's a household/lifestyle stage "thing," not a permanent condition.

2. Although those neighborhoods that are set up for college/post college demographics may in fact stay permanently oriented to serving those demos, e.g., the neighborhoods immediately abutting Central campus in Ann Arbor, that for various locational reasons, remain permanently positioned for the young. But ward 3 isn't that kind of place.

3. People who want that lifestyle will choose to live in those neighborhoods where they can readily obtain it. That isn't ward 3. It is U St. etc. Anyway, I've written about this issue in terms of how people age out of young-oriented neighborhoods/lifestyles:

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/07/daypart-and-age-group-planning-in-mixed.html

4. I think the issue of "renters not being involved" is in part yes a matter of differing interests. At the same time, it could be more an indicator of exclusion and resistance to participation/a lack of reaching out on the part of owner groups.

It's not like owners are magically committed to their neighborhood. E.g., I am the only person on my block (24 houses on the face block) who picks up litter from the street and yards along the block. I get tired of it sure. But some of the households have been here for decades. Does that mean that they care less and I care more? I don't know. I do know that on that particular facet, I care more. Likely they care more about and get involved in different things.

Anyway, the real issue is to ensure that our community groups work to engage both renters and owners, not preference either one. Sure some renters won't get involved. But others will.

And not all renters remain renters forever. Some end up becoming house or condo owners. Perhaps you'd like them to stay in the neighborhood. They won't want to if you demonize them in their pre-owner phase.

5. In any case, renters in adus still contribute to neighborhoods in positive ways, even if they aren't involved in neighborhood groups. They increase the income of property owners. They patronize neighborhood retail. They ride local transit, ensuring that service is maintained and even increased. They pay income and sales taxes.

... speaking of the point someone made about the deal people think they get when they buy a house, both free education of school-aged children and free parking. You need renters/multiunit properties to be paying income and sales taxes and the buildings property taxes in order to be able to give the semi-free ride to house owners with children and cars--it costs minimum $15K/year to pay for schooling pre-K to 12 and a car space is worth a couple thousand per year as well. Many households come nowhere near paying $17K/year as a combination of property and income taxes.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2013 7:26 am • linkreport

@David C: Is the only difference really "yard work", or do you mean all forms of exterior home maintanance? When I was a landlord, it was hard to find tenants who would even clean gutters to avoid basement flooding of their own stuff, much less do painting or replace rotten wood.

by JimT on Jan 8, 2013 7:56 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman: Do you really mean that you need renters to pay for the "free ride" of homeowners? Don't you really mean that one needs earners with no children attending the public schools, to pay for families with children who do attend the public schools?

Not sure I follow your logic on how renters are paying for homeowers' parking spaces. Is there any data showing that homeowners park more cars on the street per dollar of taxes paid than renters? Intuitively, one might expect that many homeowners pay more taxes and/or keep more cars on private property.

by JimT on Jan 8, 2013 8:02 am • linkreport

On my face block, property taxes avg. $3000/year per house. 5 households have children. 3 go to private school. The other 5 go to public or public charter schools. (+ there are 3 babies future schoolkids). There's no way that the two households each with two kids in public schools are paying in taxes anywhere near the $30K+/year that it costs to educate their children...

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2013 8:27 am • linkreport

Is the only difference really "yard work", or do you mean all forms of exterior home maintanance? When I was a landlord, it was hard to find tenants who would even clean gutters to avoid basement flooding of their own stuff, much less do painting or replace rotten wood.

I find this an interesting position given that your renters are paying for the acquisition costs of an asset that you will later stand to make a gain on. But they owe you more than that?

by MLD on Jan 8, 2013 8:30 am • linkreport

JimT -- the basic argument is that people sending their children to public schools and people with cars are subsidized. You need people who don't have kids and don't have cars to make up the subsidy.

I take it for granted when I write about _DC_ and that's what we are talking about, that the city collects 100% of the "state" income tax. In MD, counties/cities do get part of the state income tax. In VA no such luck (although some jurisdictions have personal property taxes on cars).

So you need subsidizers, I mean other taxpayers, to pick up the slack. In DC it can be either owners or renters. In the suburbs, renters typically live in multiunit buildings, and typically multiunit buildings and the residents within pay more in taxes than they consume in services.

The parking issue is different. It depends on the neighborhood. The real issue is car owner vs. not owning a car. Car owners are subsidized whether or not they own or rent property.

As regards to parking, from the standpoint of municipal policies, more needs to be done to encourage living in the city without having a car. Generally, ADUs are a strategy-tactic to assist people in doing so.

Also see my previous paragraphs citing the financial benefits from add'l residents/ADUs. Again, I am speaking specifically about DC. The specifics in other jurisdictions differ because of how DC captures all its tax revenue streams.

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2013 8:36 am • linkreport

+ JimT -- for gutters, etc., you need to train the people if you want them to know how/use the stuff. And provide the right tools (e.g., lawn mower, ladder, etc.) We all can cut grass. I am the first to admit that I don't know how to replace "rotten wood." (I do know how to call a carpenter.)

Some people have the affinity to be great at fixing things, I am not one of those people.

Then the issue becomes finding the right fix it people. E.g., the first plumber we used was a disaster.

Although I can and do clean gutters (although I should have done it sooner).

by Richard Layman on Jan 8, 2013 8:38 am • linkreport

@ CP

We need not vilify Linda Schmidt and the surprisingly small cadre of recipients of the Neighbors for Neighborhoods emails. She does it herself with posts like this (Sept. 21, 2012 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ChevyChaseCommunityListserv/message/128843) to the Chevy Chase listserv:

"Neighborhood advocates encouraged Council Chair Phil Mendelson to hold a Council Roundtable, Oct. 5th, 1:00 at the Wilson Bldg. With a couple exceptions, councilmembers have avoided the Zoning Rewrite topic. Muriel Bowser and Michael Brown are in the listening mode; Mary Cheh supports "smart growth," meaning higher density and fewer cars. At this Roundtable, we can tell them what matters to us. Consider doing this: it's not a foregone conclusion and our
voices will make a difference.

"We want to maintain our low profile neighborhoods, we support energy-saving car use, we support neighborhoods where families can thrive, where children can run and bike safely. We don't support "ADUs," separate apartments shoehorned into back yards. We don't support social engineering that forces people to walk a half mile to a Metro stop because there is no place to put their car. We don't support letting developers build apartment buildings with no parking, sloughing occupants onto an already labored subway system and filling adjacent streets with their cars. Why give away a community quality like air, space and peace to a handful of developers so they can make more profit?

"We have a beautiful city with great neighborhoods: let's not hand it over to the "squeeze 'em into a box" mentality. We don't support the "manhattanization" of neighborhoods, we don't support high, tight development around Metro stations outside the center core, we don't support the effort to make car use nearly impossible. Let's let downtown be downtown, and quieter neighborhoods remain so. We choose where to live; our city should continue to provide those choices, not mix them up so the essential characters of each are lost.

"We don't support high-handed decisions by city officials who seek developer input, then decide what they think is best for us. Who make every effort to play "hide the ball," deflecting questions, maligning civic advice and avoiding stating their intentions. Their plan is short-sighted, erasing decades of careful progress with a fundamental shift to top-down decrees. Phil Mendelson responded to our combined efforts to make this zoning rewrite business public. This Roundtable is that forum."

by fongfong on Jan 8, 2013 9:02 am • linkreport

Those are not the words of a mere spokesperson; with their invective and demagoguery, those are the words of an activist, an organizer, a propagandist- and since it's now become a dirty word, a lobbyist.

by Pigskins on Jan 8, 2013 9:16 am • linkreport

We do our gutters.

I bought my own lawn mower for yard work. I probably do less yard work than I would if I owned - on the other hand, if I owned I would pull out a lot of lawn and replace it with either vegetables, berry bushes, or native plants - landlord said he wants it to remain a lawn.

I do not think I am authorized to replace wood, or to repaint on my own.

I do not attend meetings of the HOA, as I do not know that I would be welcome, and don't want to call attention to my status as a renter.

I live in the suburbs, where there is no ANC equivalent to get involved in.

I do vote regularly.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 9:24 am • linkreport

@MLD: But they owe you more than that?

I don't believe stated a position regarding what renters should or should not do, but rather indicated that the difference between renters and owners seemed greater than simply a matter of yardwork.

But I'll briefly respond to your question. I think that in the tenant/landlord relationship, as with most relationships, one can strike the balance wherever the parties choose. That being the case, one finds a wide variety of arrangements, ranging from many apartments where even a clogged sink is handled by the landlord, to the classic rural tenancy arrangement where the landlord was responsible for virtually nothing. Parties may well agree that whoever can do it most easily--or prevent the need for it being done most easily--is the one who should do it. So tenants are often responsible for clogged drains.

To some extent, these matters are left outside of the contract, and there is a question about whether things even get done at all. If such things matter to neither the landlord nor the tenant, perhaps they won't get done. A tenant who wants a fresh coat of paint will go ahead and paint, but if neither tenant nor landlord care, the paint will get old. Perhaps the neighbors are more annoyed by the peeling paint than either the tenant or the landlord. The same might apply to taller grass.

It is in that context that I wonder whether the only difference between owners and rental property is yardwork. While you jumped on whether the L or the T should do the work, the social question is whether more of this work gets done at all when there is owner-occupied property. The allocation of work is up to the parties except to the extent that regulations pre-empt the market, which is the case to a large extent regarding indoor conditins but not so much with outdoor aesthetics.

by JimT on Jan 8, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

"A tenant who wants a fresh coat of paint will go ahead and paint, but if neither tenant nor landlord care, the paint will get old."

but its just as possible that an owner occupant will care less about the paint than the neighbors do.

Why would the owner occupant care more than the sum of an L and T? If its a question of property value, a landlord would care. If current liveability, than a tenant would.

If its just that the main beneficiaries are the neighbors, an OO might not care. Unless you think an OO is more tied in to the community than a renter - but that has a lot to do with the attitudes of communities to renters, I think.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

Also, in the case of ADUs, we are talking about a landlord who lives adjacent, NOT an absentee landlord.

So the community pressure should matter to them, as it does not to an absentee LL. If it does not matter to them when they have a tenant, why would it matter to them when they keep a vehicle in the same building?

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

Fact sheet on ADUs from OP:
https://www.communicationsmgr.com/projects/1355/docs/ZRR%20-%20Accessory%20Dwelling%20Units%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

There is a lot of misinfomation being thrown around by ADU opponents.

Property owners must live on the property to have an ADU.
Total number of people living on the property cannot be more than 6.
ADUs must have street access via an alley, yard, or easement.

Again we're talking 6 total people. So you can't have one big family crammed in with another.

by MLD on Jan 8, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

Maybe I missed it, but does anyone know the potential number of ADU's that would be made legal under these proposed changes? If we're talking about doubling density in certain neighborhoods (which I doubt is likely), people there certainly have a legitimate complaint. If we're talking about a 5-10% potential increase in living units and/or population, this whole issue may be a tempest in a teapot.

by Potowmack on Jan 8, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

Re requirement that owner must live on property and total number of people living on property cannot exceed 6.

The ADU issue is not just a zoning one, but also an enforcement one. I have lived for 40 plus years in an area of NW DC alledged to be zoned for single family dwellings (one kitchen per home). As housing prices have increased, multiple finished basements have appeared with kitchens and are rented out to aid with mortgage costs. Zoning is not/not enforced. Inspectors appear between 9 and 5 when no one is home and there is no follow up. Home inspections for tax purposes do not include inside inspections. How will the zoning board enforce this new reg? Is the city council ready to devise a way to enforce the zoning laws at long last? Will there be some link between building permits, on site inspections, DC income tax addresses to find out how many folks are living on a property. (Will these properties have separate addresses?) DC has no way of knowing now how many live at any address, how will they know after rezoning? Or are they to rely on neighbors spying on neighbors.....

by 75 and counting on Jan 8, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

@Houserenter: I agree with much of what you say and commend you for closely working with your landlord to do optimal care. I agree with you and @MLD that the ADU arrangement probably is less vulnerable to the deterioration sometimes associated with rental property, while also recognizing that you do not necessarily concede that rental properties are less cared for than owner-occupied property.

My impression is that there are cases in which rental homes are better cared for than owner-occupied, especially if the tenant really cares--maybe because there are two different people with different perspectives each trying to maintain and increase its value. That may be the case with you. Conceivably that is more likely with the ADU's if some sort of symbiosis occurs in which--for example--some teamwork arises. Conversely, it is also possible that homes with absentee landlords deteriorate more, especially if the renter feels as if her limited tenure leads her to benefit relatively little from upkeep though she is there, while the landlord's absence also leads her to feel less benefit.

My only serious problem with the proposal as I understand it, is with the rule that only allows pre-existing structures to become ADU's. I would also suggest that it might be better to do this on a block-by-block basis as with the parking permits, with some sort of majority rule.

by JimT on Jan 8, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

JimT, the study I recall seeing suggested that we could get rid of the mortgage interest tax deduction, and give people a tax credit for yard work/plnating flowers and come out way ahead. Other studies, most notably Glaeser, show a modest increase in citizenship for owners - in the form of social involvement, volunteering and church going. But it's hard to say what is causal. Does owning a home make you go to church, or does being a church-goer make you buy a home? Here's a good rebuttal of the owner/citizenship link claim.

by David C on Jan 8, 2013 11:42 am • linkreport

@JimT
That is precisely what the opponents are asking for. The want to be able to object, to any new building or building expansion in the City, ever. By definition, a zoning exception is a process whereby stakeholders can object to the expanded ADU. The hearing requirement is being removed for existing structures. If this was not the proposal, we'd not be having this discussion.

by fongfong on Jan 8, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

jimT

We do our gutters in large part cause we fear flooding would harm OUR possesions. I do yardwork both because its in my lease, and to avoid pissing off our neighbors.

As for civic involvement, we are members of a house of worship, my wife is involved in local politics.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 11:58 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman: Did not know about the owner-occupied part.

However, I must agree with "@75 and counting" who points out that enforcement is going to be a problem: who is going to make sure that the owner actually lives in the primary residence? Lets say, for example, that an owner living in a primary residence converts her garage to an ADU and rents it out, then moves out and rents the primary residence, and then the whole place goes to hell. Nothing I see in this proposal will stop this.

The real issue is the affect this will have on *neighboring* property values. Imagine that your neighbor rents out the back of his property to a group of college students; clearly this will affect the value of your property. This is not a Ward 3 issue, this affects the entire city. There are tens of thousands of garages and carriage houses that could be converted -- this is a BIG issue.

My point that DC should go slow with this until we all have a better idea of what will happen.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

"Lets say, for example, that an owner living in a primary residence converts her garage to an ADU and rents it out, then moves out and rents the primary residence, and then the whole place goes to hell. "

I wouldn't want to be that owner trying to enforce that lease in court.

"My tenant did not pay his rent, I want to evict him"

"but here it says that when you applied for an ADU, you certified that YOU lived in the house"

"er..."

"Case dismissed"

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 1:07 pm • linkreport

I'd rather live next to college students than next to a curmudgeon whose sole concern is his or her property value, or someone who actually considers spying part of his or her rights as a neighbor. There's a place where such people belong: suburbia.

by Ughgolfish on Jan 8, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

@House Renter: I wouldn't want to be that owner trying to enforce that lease in court. "My tenant did not pay his rent, I want to evict him"

Tenants that do not pay rent get evicted, period. But you make a good point that there will be confounding legal issues that will fester, meanwhile the neighborhood suffers. Sounds to me like a good reason to be cautious with this proposal.

@Ughgolfish: Soud to me like you do not have half a million dollars, your retirement income, and the best part of the pay from the 40 years of your working life, tied up in where you live. Things would appear differently to you if you did.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

IIUC the land lord needs a court order for an eviction. I think it would be very hard to get such a court order if one has certified the main unit is owner occupied.

Ergo, I do not think owners will dishonestly so certify.

Ergo, there will NOT be a problem.

And since the zoning code cannot be revisted that frequently it seems like making this modest change now makes sense.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

"Soud to me like you do not have half a million dollars, your retirement income, and the best part of the pay from the 40 years of your working life, tied up in where you live. Things would appear differently to you if you did.

Things would also appear differently if I were a curmudgeon motivated by fear of change. Thank heavens this isn't the case.

by Ughgolfish on Jan 8, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

as for ughs personal finances, consider it possible he is TRYING to buy a house, and that saving for a down payment would be easier for him if rents were not as high as they are.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

The simple answer to a lot of the questions and doubts is property values. I'm glad goldfish finally said it. It surprises me in these discussions that property values are overlooked so mush when that is the principle fear.

by selxic on Jan 8, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

@selxic:
It surprises me in these discussions that property values are overlooked so mush when that is the principle fear.
I don't think it's actually the underlying fear, though. Many opponents of this change and any other are just afraid of all change. They seem (often irrationally) to believe that just about anything new will hurt property values, but I don't think that you could win them over by demonstrating examples of how these changes have actually increased property values.

Take my current neighbors, who are pants-wettingly frightened by the prospect of dense development that's coming to this side of downtown SS, within about a half mile. I could provide all sorts of reasons why this development is going to improve property values, increase street traffic (which could also decrease crime), and so on . . . And they will be very happy when this new development increases their property values, as it surely will.

But their central fear is not of decreasing property values, but that somehow any change will disrupt their way of life. They can feel it. And arguing against that irrational fear is a lot more difficult than making the case that new development or zoning changes won't hurt their property values.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 8, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

@HouseRenter: And since the zoning code cannot be revisted that frequently it seems like making this modest change now makes sense.

This is a radical, not modest, change. Take a walk down any alley in an older neighborhood (zoned R1, R2, or R4): pretty much every house has a garage or carriage house, nearly all of which are not rented, but under this proposal could be. In every single block in these areas there could be 20-30 new residences. I suspect that most do not appreciate how sweeping and far-reaching this change is, if even a small fraction of these are converted.

I appreciate the rational by the OP to allow residents to age in place, and actually I am in favor of making a small number of conversions. But this proposal goes far beyond that.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 1:54 pm • linkreport

Re: property values

Well if you're trying to flip a house then it may have an effect (probably not, and you're still dealing with bad neighbors rather than any systemic issue wrt to the type of house).

Otherwise, if you're trying to sell your house after living in it for a number of years then yes you want to make money but the housing bubble probably has a bigger effect than any neighbor troubles. And in DC where housing is already expensive then you're probably good on that front.

If you aren't planning on moving then why is the marginal effect on property values such a concern?

tl;dr There are about 1000 things that will meaningfully affect the sale price of your home before your imaginary ADU neighbors.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

do all those fit the other limitations on ADU's ? IIUC there are limits based on physical access, location on the lot, and the already mentioned limit to owner occupied main units.

And of course the folks in the oldest neighborhoods have the least to worry about in terms of having 40 years of live savings invested, as those are precisely the neighborhoods that have appreciated the most in the last couple of decades.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

@HouseRenter: And of course the folks in the oldest neighborhoods have the least to worry about in terms of having 40 years of live savings invested, as those are precisely the neighborhoods that have appreciated the most in the last couple of decades.

Nice of you to squander other peoples' money!

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

So there may be 60 new people on a block. That sounds like a lot until you consider that a new condo or apartment building could also hold that easily. And even then we're only talking about one block that exists as part of a network across an entire neighborhood and eventually the entire city. I think the blocks closest to Tenleytown/Woodley Park/or whereever probably handle 60 people.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

Wouldn't having an ADU increase property values by having a source of income to defray the expense of a 6 or 7 figure property?

Also to goldfish, those carriage houses and garages in the alley you mention - they can house tenants today, if they are nannies, au pairs, gardeners, butlers etc. The only difference between today and what is proposed is the nature of the relationship between the tenant and the property owner.

If one wants to take any of those existing structures and convert it to an ADU, they would still need a review if the site were to be expanded in footprint or height. So is the objection to the nature to the relationship between the property owner and tenant? Or is there something else?

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: the problem is the effect an ADU will have on *neighboring* properties, and on the character of the entire area. It is a second-order effect, but like a gas station moving next to a house, an important one.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

But people can already (and some do) have them with little to no impact. Do you see hordes of people going out and converting their garages into living units at the passage of this rule? I don't. I think a lot of people like having the potential for car storage or storage in general. However, if Aunt Tilly suddenly needs a place to live in her old age, or nephew Arthur Fonzerelli needs a place to land, then what is the problem?

What are the impacts on neighboring properties? The structure already exists and may house a nanny today, but a renter tomorrow. Is the problem having a renter? Many people just call the tenant a "nanny" today eventhough their kid graduated from college 6 years ago. Are you equating a renter with a gas station?

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

The ability to put an ADU on the property will increase the property's value.

Any evidence that ADUs lower adjacent property values?

by MLD on Jan 8, 2013 2:17 pm • linkreport

This is a radical, not modest, change.

Seems like an exceedingly modest change to me.

Take a walk down any alley in an older neighborhood (zoned R1, R2, or R4): pretty much every house has a garage or carriage house, nearly all of which are not rented, but under this proposal could be. In every single block in these areas there could be 20-30 new residences.

20-30 new residences without changing the physical environment of the city at all - that sounds incredibly modest. So modest that the built environment of those structures isn't changing at all.

Which is more modest: 20-30 alley dwellings adapted from existing garages and carriage houses, or a single 20-30 unit apartment building built on the same block as all of those single family detached homes?

Personally, I don't think either of those outcomes are raical at all.

by Alex B. on Jan 8, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

"Nice of you to squander other peoples' money!"

I am not squandering anything. I am contemplating a change in zoning that has many good reasons behind it. You stated that someone did not care about people's life savings being at risk. It seems fair to point out that the people who are exposed to loss of value (though as others point out, there is no evidence of any such loss being likely) have in fact gained much value from the recent appreciation, and they generally are in a position, where even IF their property loses some value, they will still have very large equity (especially if they have been there for a lifetime).

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Since there are very few ADU built in DC, I do not think it is possible to determine how much building one will, on average, affect the value of neighboring property. Anecdotally, however, I think you can see what will most likely happen. Say you are buying a house. Compare how desirable a house is that is located next to an small apartment building, to an identical house that is next to other similar houses: the former is worth less (at least in my mind).

Of course the owner of such a neighboring property could "catch up" the value of her property by also putting in an ADU. This puts more pressure on everybody else to do so. This proposal will change the incentives operating on the property owners -- more than anything, that is why this is a radical change.

@Alex B. Your opinions of density are well known; only you could opine that such a huge change is "modest" and then say that it is nothing compared to a large apartment building, as if that were an alternative (it is not). I want Lance back to remind us all that not everybody that moved here wants to live in a place that is built up like NYC.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, the question is, does the existing garage store stuff or a person/people? If the structure isn't there today, it won't be there tomorrow without review.

If the problem is storing people, consider that it could store people today, as long as they are household employees.

In reality, the only difference between today and the potential tomorrow is the relationship between the property owner and the tenant. Do you have a problem with someone paying the property owner money rather than labor? What is the difference in your mind?

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

a neighborhood with ADUs is no more built up than one with garages.

by HouseRenter on Jan 8, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Why, when purchasing a home are you worried about the relative property values unless you're trying to flip the home? Most people who buy a house will be looking at a house that fits their needs and is in their budget while analyzing the the housing typology on the block and how that could affect future property values is probably low on the priority list.

And if policies that make it easier for people to live in existing structures in DC is trying to turn the city into NYC then I guess I'm pro NYCization (ignoring the fact that most people in NY live in small apartment buildings or SFHs).

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

BTW: please don't interpret my comment as "people don't consider resale value when purchasing a home". But in a world where the type of counter top can add value or not the presence of someone living in an ADU on the same block will probably be a marginal effect at best

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
Compare how desirable a house is that is located next to an small apartment building, to an identical house that is next to other similar houses: the former is worth less (at least in my mind).

Not sure how this assertion jives with the other constant assertion that single-family housing in the 'burbs is cheaper than housing in the big city. Which is it? Single-family housing near other SF housing is cheaper, or SF housing near dense housing is cheaper?

Of course the owner of such a neighboring property could "catch up" the value of her property by also putting in an ADU.

Actually, my point is that the mere ability to put an ADU on your property makes it worth more when you sell it specifically because people who want to build those structures will pay a premium for property where they can do so.

by MLD on Jan 8, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

@MLD the other constant assertion that single-family housing in the 'burbs is cheaper than housing in the big city.

Uh, there are many things that affect how much a certain property sells for. One is the inverse relation its value has with its distance from the central business district: therefore the 'burbs are cheaper. Another is neighborhood, such as whether it is surrounded by similar houses, or is next to apartment buildings, or a gas station, or a trash transfer station, listed in order of declining value.

(I get the sense that you are feigning ignorance here merely yank my chain. I won't indulge this any further.)

Actually, my point is that the mere ability to put an ADU on your property makes it worth more when you sell it

As this is bestowed on tens of thousands of properties at once, it will have a negligible effect. On the other hand, when one property owner cashes in on this, this will cause the neighboring properties to become worth less. Hmm, question is is the gain in the former make up for the loss in the latter? I'll bet it will be close to a wash, but none of us here have any way of knowing for sure.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

"As this is bestowed on tens of thousands of properties at once"

does anyone have actual data on how many new legal ADUs this would enable?

by Housingrenter on Jan 8, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

A. Will "tens of thousands" of properties change all at once? Not likely.

B. So a house's value rises relative to yours. That's not the same as the value of your house decreasing.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, since you have clearly seen it, I would appreciate an response to my questions.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 4:03 pm • linkreport

@drumz: Thank you for acknowledging that this rule will cause many changes in the neighborhoods and in the property values.

Seems like a a good reason to go slow, no?

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Yes, advocating for a change is advocating for a change.

You can quibble about slow or fast but I think a rule that doesn't actually allow new structures and still has a hard cap on total occupants is plenty slow enough. I'd like to see it go faster.

How would you advocate it go slower?

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

Besides, my main point is that talking about the changes to property values is way overblown to the actual effect. So I don't know what you're trying to get me to admit.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

Seems like a good reason to go slow, no?

Quite the opposite; drumz acknowledges that any potential changes will be minor. But no matter. It appears dear old goldfish will misinterpret anything to fit his pavlovian "go slow" response, just as surely as House Republicans' default reaction is "cut spending."

by Ughgolfish on Jan 8, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

How would you advocate it go slower?

Implement it regionally, say by distance from the Metro.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Implement it regionally, say by distance from the Metro.
i.e. Not In My BackYard?

by Ughgolfish on Jan 8, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

Goldfish,

That's reasonable (Richard Layman reccommended the same thing) but I'd also argue moot in a lot of cases because in neighborhoods farther from the metro its also typically easier to park a car (meanwhile you can be car free while living outside of walking distance to the metro). Meanwhile eventually you would expand beyond those zones anyway.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

I mean, the farthest point (the circle at Mass Ave. and Dalecarlia) in AU park is only a mile from the tenleytown metro. And there is bus service on Mass. That seems like its the perfect place to put in denser housing.

by drumz on Jan 8, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

@Ughgoldfish: i.e. Not In My BackYard?

Actually I live very close to the Metro -- this is not my back yard, but my front yard. And I am surrounded by houses that due to the small lot size, have no opportunity to implement this.

But most especially I am grateful for anonymity on this blog, as I have felt the heat rising here.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

But most especially I am grateful for anonymity on this blog, as I have felt the heat rising here.

That's fair; I can imagine that standing alone in the way of progress would allow one to mistake dissent for persecution or even hostility.

by Ughgolfish on Jan 8, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

I will take it by @goldfish non response that they agree that this is about who can live in an ADU.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 6:04 pm • linkreport

@AAndrew, I am confused what you are asking. But if I may point out, I do not think any really cares what I think, including you.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 6:15 pm • linkreport

The question again, what is the difference between a landlord who charges money versus a landlord who charges hours of service for tenancy. Because as it is, that is the only change in the ADU regulations as proposed by OP.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 9:18 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: you made it plain: money. There is an important distinction between having someone do some yard work for a room (like a house guest), worth at most a few hundred dollars and limited to the skills of the boarder, and getting something that can be deposited in one's bank account, which is worth much more because it can be traded for anything.

There are very few people that still do live-in domestic service. The exception that proves the rule is au pairs, as outside child care for more than one child costs about twice what one of these kids makes. Throw in a that spare, not-often-used room, and that makes a good deal for a kid wanting to see the US and make a few bucks while doing it.

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 10:04 pm • linkreport

Ok so

indentured servant = good,
cash money = bad.

Got it.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 10:08 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: cute attempt at distorting what I wrote. I never gave any value judgement as to how one makes a living, or if living in someone's house and doing chores for them for rent is acceptable or not. My only purpose was to point out how rare the former arrangement is.

Of course there are also homeowners that rent out rooms for cash illegally. I suppose you think that is good?

by goldfish on Jan 8, 2013 10:18 pm • linkreport

Right, but the practical reality is the difference between current regulations and the proposed. The only real difference is the nature of the relationship between the property owner and the tenant. Currently, one must be a household employee. Under the proposed rules, one may be a renter.

You and a couple of others seem to have a problem with this one minor change, and I am trying to understand it.

by Andrew on Jan 8, 2013 10:51 pm • linkreport

The difference is more distinct than that. As I understand it from hearing the explanation at the meeting last night there are two important proposed changes:
1)Currently the ADU is a "domestic dwelling" but there is no definition for "domestic". E.g., someone can live there primarily as a renter with the responsibility for cutting the grass 2x a month, or whatever. So this back-and-forth about who is allowed to live there now isn't totally relevant to the current code and the proposed change in code.

The proposed change in code would take away the current ambiguity and allow the renter w/o the language of "domestic" muddying up the definition.
2) Other major change in ADU is that, in current code anyone can turn their existing separate structure (eg carriage house) into an apartment by right, including renting it out with the caveat the renter shovel the snow 1x a year b/c of the lack of a definition of "domestic".

Current code requires getting a variance with a public hearing to make a part of your house into an apartment, like making a basement apartment.

The changed code would reverse this. To make a structure like a carriage house into an apt. you would have to get a variance but you would be allowed to make a basement apt. by right. Also to make any new additions, like adding a 2nd story to the existing garage, in new code you would need a variance for that. I don't recall what the current code says about adding on like that. I do recall that under current code you are allowed 3 units on your property;the main house and two others both of which can be rented out by right with the unclear/non-existent definition of "domestic".

by Tina on Jan 9, 2013 5:08 pm • linkreport

goldfish/@75 -- it's true that DC doesn't have a very rigorous code enforcement set up. In some cities towns, like Hyattsville or Royal Oak Michigan, they have hard core code enforcement, with regular inspection (every 2 or 3 years?) for rental property.

We don't do that in DC. You could with ADUs.

2. But @75 makes an important point, but one that actually elucidates something else entirely. The cost of housing is rising in DC and will price out everybody but the richest.

Only by adding units within houses will more people be able to afford to buy houses. You see this in Canada's major cities, because unlike in the US, they don't have a mortgage interest tax deduction, so they need more real money to pay the mortgage.

Of course in R1 and R2 neighborhoods where the houses are bigger, you're going to see this. Also because households are shrinking and the houses are very big for household needs. (At least for typical city residents not seeking a McMansion equivalent.)

3. Yes, I am against provisions restricting new construction in places where there aren't prexisting garages.

4. As far as value of property goes, besides MLD's very good point about the ability to do ADUs raising value for those who want to do it (just as C2 commercial property is valued more highly because of the ability to add housing bonuses), I just don't see a problem with it, compared to comparable cities, e.g. Louisville, where I paid attention to this on a visit before.

I don't think there would be housing value reduction, in large part.

5. There is the potential for thousands of units in the city, depending on the length of the lot, alley access (if the city is willing to change current requirements, which is that the alley must be a minimum of 30 feet wide for housing).

6. But I have a killer system idea on how to build, finance, and manage these units at scale. Otherwise, as MLD (I think) pointed out, the pace of addition of these kinds of units will be pretty desultory.

by Richard Layman on Jan 9, 2013 7:25 pm • linkreport

@Tina, I understand the broader points you make and thank you for sharing the information imparted at the meeting last night. However it doesn't change the core question, which is why some people have a problem with "renters" as opposed to "domestics" living in their ADU.

The implications seem trivial to me, but for some at the meeting (and as characterized is blogs) this appears to be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.

by Andrew on Jan 9, 2013 8:16 pm • linkreport

@Andrew. I think that you have had difficulty getting a direct answer to your question to goldfish et al., because the premise of your question is wrong, i.e., they don't "have a problem with 'renters' as opposed to "domestics" living in their ADU."

I am not sure where you got the idea that goldfish prefers domestics to renters.

Best I can tell, goldfish simply does not favor a largescale conversion to ADU's, and thinks that such a largescale converstion is unlikely as long as ADU use is limited to relatives and domestics, but expects it to become likely if renters are allowed as well.

by JimT on Jan 10, 2013 9:28 am • linkreport

Except that many property owners who have ADUs today skirt the law by suggesting their renter shovel the front walk of snow or cut the grass once or twice per year. It is a silly requirement, and those, such as goldfish who make this suggestion are simply throwing up whatever excuse they think will be effective to make their argument.

See the quote in the other thread about how renters are a threat to the safety of children. This is the rhetoric those opposed to ADUs are using to advance their cause. There is obviously no relationship between renters and child molesters, yet this is where we are now.

I am trying to understand it. It is a fairly simple question, in my opinion.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

@JimT -under current code it is easy to convert a carriage house to an ADU - it can be done "by right" i.e. you don't need special permission, and b/c there is no definition for "domestic", there is, in effect, no restriction on who can live there. The proposed change seeks to require special permission to convert a structure to an ADU, and gets rid of the unclear language with the word "domestic" in it. So people like @goldfish fearful of ADU's should be in favor of the proposed change since the change makes ADUs more difficult. If I understood correctly - and I think I did since 5000 people asked this same question at the meeting and I heard the answer 5000 times.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

@Tina: As I understand it, the conversion to a rental can currently be done by right in R4 neighborhoods, but not in R1 and R2 zoned areas. The proposal makes such conversion by right in the R1 and R2 areas.

I think the domestic thing is a distraction. The real changes are in the lower density R1 and R2 neighborhoods, where homeowners normally do not rent out a portion of their home (except domestics, which are rare). This will change that -- now anybody in these areas can convert and rent out their garage, no zoning hearing required.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

Goldfish,

Why do you think there still needs to be a hearing?

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

@drumz: Wrong question.

Currently, ADU conversions are NOT allowed for R1 and R2 areas (again, this is based only on my limited understanding of this issue). If a property owner wants to convert her garage to rent it out, she would have to justify this exception at a zoning hearing, which would have to be pretty compelling and unusual in order for the variance to be granted. Thus, nobody does this, because nearly almost all attempts will not succeed.

The proposed change will make this by right.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

@goldfish, property owners in R1 and R2 zones can create ADUs currently by right if it is inhabited by a domestic employee.

As Tina correctly notes, the proposed rules clarify the situation and actually tighten restrictions (mandating owner occupation and limiting ADUs to either basement OR garage, but not both).

Really, the distinction here is WHO is living in the ADU which is why I have harped on the question directed at you.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

@Andrew: from the OP ADU fact sheet:
Currently, the zoning regulations allow accessory apartments in R‐1 through R‐3 zones, but only under very limited circumstances. An accessory apartment may be allowed in an accessory building (i.e., a detached garage) in the R‐1 (detached house) zones, but only if it serves as “sleeping or living quarters of domestic employees of the family occupying the main building.” Otherwise an accessory apartment must be within the main building, adhere to a variety of restrictions, and be approved via a special exception process by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
So presently is no very easy to get this permission. Some homeowners lie, saying that the apartment is for their au pair or something, and get away with this conversion. But they are taking a big risk.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

So you just want to keep ADUs illegal. Which is fine I guess but this seems like a very low impact fix to the affordability issues that DC faces.

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

@drumz: no -- see my post here.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

@goldfish-at the meeting Tuesday this was discussed over and over. The current lack of definition for "domestic" in effect allows the ADU to be occupied by anyone and which, in current code, can be made by right. Current code requires a special permission for an apartment to be created in part of the main structure, e.g. a basement apt.

New code proposed would reverse this: Require special permission to create an ADU whereas currently your neighbor can do it by right. Currently if , eg,you want your elderly aunt to come live with you in an apartment in your house you have to have a public hearing to create the apartment. In proposed code you can make the needed changes by right.

Proposed change would make ADUs harder but apartments in the house easier. The 'domestic' use thing for ADUs is not enforced currently b/c its not enforceable since there;s no definition of "domestic". Also currently people illegally make basement apartments b/c its pretty easy to do; under new code these units would be in the open and thus have to meet building codes and inspection.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

And here, it shows that its not radical at all.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/17261/panic-your-alley-could-have-a-cute-clean-little-brick-house/#comment-165567

Oh no, DC may have couple extra thousand residents across the city.

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

@Tina

I haven't seen any documents that say that separate accessory dwellings would require permission under the new code.

The fact sheet put out by OP that I linked to before says:
OP has proposed that ADUs should be allowed by right, either inside the primary building or in an
accessory building, in the current R‐1 and R‐2 zones.

Now, what I don't know and what this fact sheet doesn't mention is the requirements for constructing a new accessory building. It could be that elsewhere in the code it says that to build a new accessory building (whether or not it contains a dwelling unit) you have to get special permission.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Tina or @Andrew: Are you saying that someone who pays rent can also be labeled a "domestic"? I would have thought that a domestic is someone who either is being paid or being provided a residence rent-free, and that the term "domestic" does not apply to someone who is providing cashflow to the owner.

by JimT on Jan 10, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

Addendum to my comment:

So yes, compared to doing nothing I guess this is sort of radical but if you consider other trade-offs like replacing sfh and rowhouse neighborhoods with condos and apartment buildings or recognizing that doing nothing will just lead to higher and higher prices all around this proposal which would have a somewhat stabilizing effect on housing prices while not really changing the built environment seems to be the least radical.

by drumz on Jan 10, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

Tina I appreciate the distinction, but I must point out, how many homeowners actually bother with a hearing when their aunt moves in with them? The letter of the law is lagging the present practice, but nevertheless because people know that R1 and R2 zoning basically does not allow rentals for cash, nobody tries to do this.

Also consider the neighbors. I have several that have long term houseguests and I would never think that is illegal or improper, even though it may be. OTOH, converting a garage into a rental is eyebrow raising, and neighbors are inclined to object.

I agree that law should be fixed, but I am still opposed to making it possible and socially acceptable (in a neighborly sense) for large numbers of garage conversions.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

To clarify the point from Tina and others discussing: converting an existing carriage house, garage, or other external building to an ADU would NOT require a special exception except in Georgetown under the proposal (I don't agree with the exception for Georgetown).

However, OP has said that expanding the external building will require a special exception, or constructing a new one as an ADU, or converting one that's constructed after the new zoning goes into effect into an ADU.

I think Jennifer Steingasser's explanations of the issue sort of clouded the matter. She seemed to be trying to emphasize how this is not a liberalization from the existing rules, just changing them around. But it is a liberalization in practice, and rightly so, and we should be proud of that because it's important for expanding the housing supply.

by David Alpert on Jan 10, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert, thanks for the clarification.

@goldfish-but I must point out, how many homeowners actually bother with a hearing when their aunt moves in with them? Exactly. yes, I agree and so does OP apparently, that currently people are illegally creating apartments. Allowing these units to be created w/o a public hearing would also allow them to come out into the open, b/c there will be no reason to hide them since they can be done by right, and then they will be inspected and have to meet certain codes. i think that would be an improvement for many reasons.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

@Jimt @Tina or @Andrew: Are you saying that someone who pays rent can also be labeled a "domestic"? Yes b/c "domestic" is not defined. At least thats what i understood, but I got the ADU thing partly wrong...

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

then they will be inspected and have to meet certain codes.

That part I do not think will occur. Homeowners have always, and will always, casually rent out rooms extra-legally, and this will not change with this new zoning proposal. Particularly for those under financial pressure, they have not in the past, nor will they in the future regardless of how liberal the zoning laws are, go through the motions of inspections and hearings etc. to justify roommates.

So in fact the under-the-table rentals will continue as before unabated. What this law will do make available garage conversions that normally would never have been permitted.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

not rooms-apartments with kitchen and full bath.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Tina, no big deal. you could install a kitchen and bath in a basement using undocumented labor for like $3k, in a couple of days. Since the workers are illegal, they won't turn you in for not getting the permits. Then you rent it out cheap because there is no certificate of occupancy, but still clear $5k/year, easy -- great help with the mortgage if you are stressed.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Then you rent it out cheap because there is no certificate of occupancy, but still clear $5k/year, easy

LOL. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that the majority of basement apartments in rowhouse neighborhoods in DC are illegal and without certificate of occupancy. They definitely are because they don't meet the code. And they aren't cheap.

DCRA looks the other way on this stuff because it's housing a huge number of people in the District.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, yes what you describe is what occurs now in part b/c the process to doing it legally is too difficult. The code change making creation of a unit like this "by right" will certainly bring some of these illegal units into the light.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

plus it will make it easier for the risk averse who do not want to do it illegally but can't muster the energy to face the current bureaucracy. Thus we will have more units and more legal ones proportionally.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Today, you can create a legal ADU in an external structure as long as the person/people living in it are domestic employees. This can be done by right. So, you already have a some ADUs where people are living as "employees". I asked the question earlier whether this made sense that we limit the inhabitants to this relationship -whether it is real or a charade, rather than just make it legal across the board.

There are other changes, but ultimately, this is the only one where I have yet to hear a reason as to why this is a problem. David's post this afternoon about the ZRR meeting on Tuesday helps illustrate my point.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

b/c the process to doing it legally is too difficult.

...and it will always be more difficult and expensive than doing it under-the-table. Above board with permits comes licensed contractors, plans, inspections, and added expenses to meet code that a broke or negligent landlord must or would rather avoid -- my $3k scenario becomes $20k. Inspections and hassle will be a little easier than it is now, but not enough to make much difference.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

--ok, but do you disagree that currently the bureaucracy and law are both deterrents to doing it legally to someone who would RATHER do it legally than illegally?

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 3:57 pm • linkreport

Tina, the point I made about it being done illegally is that such an effort would be hidden from the neighbors, and more easily reversed if found out. Making it legal means that there is no reason to hide it, the neighbors can do nothing about it, and it becomes permanent.

The former attempts to maintain a reversible deception while that later really does change things, and will btw change how the property is valued. This is an a significant change to the land use, going into uncharted territory. It is nice, as a renter, to expect that this will cause a facile reduction in housing cost, but there much more to consider. There will be unforeseen effects on the neighborhood, neighboring property values, demographics, parking, schools, etc. Be careful what you wish for, as the wish may be granted.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

I am curious to understand said impacts on the neighborhood, property values and demographics. Please expand on this.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

@goldfish-you seem to be making the point that people don't jump through the legal hoops when they create space in their home for an elderly family member to join them, but if they get caught doing it illegally aunt Tilly gets thrown out and thats the law that protects neighbors and its good.

I disagree. I thinks its good to lower the barrier to making "granny apartments" in ones house, and I think it will free up law-abiders to do it, whereas now there are barriers to doing it legally.

You've made the point that there are crooks doing it illegally now and that there will remain crooked slumlords doing it illegally after the code change. I can't argue with that.

But what you seem to object to is making it easier for creating space for other people be they vulnerable family members or someone else. We disagree. I'm firmly on the side of making doing it legally easier for many reasons, including its humane for those who need to house a vulnerable family member.

by Tina on Jan 10, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: I am hesitant to answer your question, given that you distort my points with the aim of making me look stupid.

See here, here, and here.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

So to understand, you believe that opening up ADUs to renters will have a negative impact on demographics and property values, and thus the neighborhoods.

I just want to make sure we are clear. If you choose not to elucidate, that is your right, certainly.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

@Tina: there is the law, and there is life the way it is actually lived. We strive to make these coincide, but do not be surprised that there are important differences that will probably never be resolved. Fortunately I am not a lawyer, but to quote one from one of my favorite movies, "we honor the law, and sometimes we obey the law; but this is not one of those times." (Intolerable cruelty)

I don't think anybody is going to narc on a neighbor that has an elderly aunt living with them, so long as than aunt is a nice lady and makes little trouble. OTOH if she where a heroin dealer, well...

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: you never fail to distort! Unfortunately you just confirmed my prediction.

I will not answer any more of your questions.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

I guess if using your words is a distortion then cheers.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

Yeah goldfish, I'm not sure what conclusion people could come to from what you've said other than "ADUs will have undesirables living in them and that will lower property values, also parking will be harder because more people means more cars. That's why we shouldn't have them."

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: I thought that goldfish was merely predicting that opening up ADU's to renters will lead to there being alot more ADU's, the supply of housing will increase, the value of housing will decrease--and that is the basis of his objection.

You and possibly Tina seem to think that this will not occur, because almost every ADU that would be rented under the new regime already has a "domestic" (legitimate or otherwise) in it.

I have no idea what the effect will be. The thinking in DC is light years ahead of PG Co, where a 5-acre lot entitles one to make an ADU for domestics and family members, but a 1-acre lot on half-acre zoning apparently does not.

by JimT on Jan 10, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

Yes people legally permitted to create an ADU are the same people who would allow drug dealers to live in that space.

And it's been demonstrated over and over that ADUs don't harm property values and instead raise them. HGTV has a show dedicated to people renovating their house to add a separate apartment and each time it has value. You must be ignoring the evidence in order to maintain some illusion about undesirables thing neighborhoods across the city.

It's not like DC is the first city to allow houses to be subdivided where is the evidence that this is harmful? Note: change of the status quo =\= harm.

by Drumz on Jan 10, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

@Drumz: In all fairness, the fact that adding a unit increases the value of the property where the unit was added, does not necessarily imply that adding many units increases the aggregate property value by more than the investment.

The economics literature is full of examples where increasing supply causes a reduction in profits, and restricting supply increases profits. A further complication is that, even if in the long run, highest density causes an aggregate increase in property values, there can be serious transition costs in the short run.

So I doubt that the question can be generalized. On some blocks, almost everyone would be better off. On some blocks, they would not.

by JimT on Jan 10, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

@MLD: "ADUs will have undesirables living in them and that will lower property values, also parking will be harder because more people means more cars. That's why we shouldn't have them."

I did not write this.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

@Drumz: It's not like DC is the first city to allow houses to be subdivided where is the evidence that this is harmful? Note: change of the status quo =\= harm.

The zoning code has been developed slowly, painfully, and over many dead bodies over the past 150 years, and it has not changed substantially since the 50s. It is partly the reason why this city is so desirable.

For that reason any widespread, significant changes should be cautious and incremental.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 5:50 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, you wrote:


There will be unforeseen effects on the neighborhood, neighboring property values, demographics, parking, schools, etc. Be careful what you wish for, as the wish may be granted.

You still don't want to clarify this?

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 5:57 pm • linkreport

The zoning code has been developed slowly, painfully, and over many dead bodies over the past 150 years, and it has not changed substantially since the 50s. It is partly the reason why this city is so desirable.
Zoning laws that have not changed substantially since before the civil rights movement make this city desirable? To whom, exactly? The landed gentry?

by Ughgolfish on Jan 10, 2013 5:59 pm • linkreport

@Ughgolfish: your question is flippant and disrespectful.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 6:01 pm • linkreport

@Goldfish: Your responses, in the rare cases they are offered, are dismissive and condescending.

by Ughgolfish on Jan 10, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

@Ughgolfish: no. I have striven in every response to be straightforward, making every point honestly and with humility based on my limited knowledge of this issue. My opinions are based on my respect for the property owners and long term residents of this city, the people that have truly invested in making this city beautiful, and out of consideration of the history of how the law and landscape here has evolved. You make think of that as condescension, but to characterize that as such, without providing the corresponding facts and analysis to prove me wrong, is just not correct.

by goldfish on Jan 10, 2013 6:12 pm • linkreport

Well
A: the parts of the city most desirable are the places that were grandfathered from the zoning code or allowed significant exceptions and
B: still trying to see how this is a radical change. This does little to change the built environment and we've all acknowledged that its been going on unofficially for quite some time. To me this is an incredibly low-impact change, the only reason it's garnered the controversy it has is because out right deceptions by a select few people whose only intention seems to be preventing anyone from living in their neighborhood without their permission.

JimT,
I'll give you that. But if people can't make the economics of their house/ADU work then they won't do it. That may be increasingly the case in the future but that's no reason to ban it now.

by Drumz on Jan 10, 2013 6:16 pm • linkreport

I'd like to ask everyone to tone down the complaining about each other's tone and so on.

We are trying to make this a place to talk about ideas. That means that everyone is welcome to express their ideas and should be able to do that free of having others harass them for doing so.

Comments that just complain about someone else's tone or make generalizations about the way other commenters behave is counterproductive because it drags the conversation into a meta-one about the way other people said it instead of the ideas themselves.

@Ughgolfish, I would also like to ask you to please change your handle. Calling yourself 'ughgolfish,' which looks to me like it's objecting to goldfish, is inherently hostile toward another commenter. You can disagree with goldfish, but I'd like you to do it in a less personal way and use a handle that is relevant to yourself rather than a negative reference to someone else.

by David Alpert on Jan 10, 2013 6:21 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
@MLD: "ADUs will have undesirables living in them and that will lower property values, also parking will be harder because more people means more cars. That's why we shouldn't have them."
-----
I did not write this.

Not your exact words, but I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to get out of this:
There will be unforeseen effects on the neighborhood, neighboring property values, demographics, parking, schools, etc. Be careful what you wish for, as the wish may be granted.

Exactly what is it about ADUs that will lead to decreased property values?

by MLD on Jan 11, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

@MLD: in my quote, I wrote nothing about decreased property values.

However, I did write elsewhere that there would be certain properties that abut ADUs that would realize a decline in value, due to the presence of the ADU. If you really care, which I doubt, I invite you to review the many comments I provided in this thread for further information about how this works and thus, why some people oppose making these structures available by right.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 9:42 am • linkreport

@ goldfish

What about "demographics"?

by Andrew on Jan 11, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

So how will the values of adjacent properties fall? Is it something more than just who might move in?

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

@drumz (or is that @Drumz?): it depends on whether the neighbors hunt deer.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

That specific quote doesn't mention decreased property values, but you mention them elsewhere so it seemed implied. It seems like you think they will lead to decreased property values when I read everything you write in total, so do you have a response to my question since it's relevant?

Looking through the comments, I found a few common threads you mentioned that might lead to decreased property values:

1. comparison to alley slums of the late 19th century
2. renting to undesirable groups (you specifically mention college students and later generally mention "effects on demographics")
3. comparison to living next to a gas station - I assume this means undesirable effects caused by the people living in these dwellings

#1 is ridiculous because the conditions that created those slums won't be present in these new ADUs, those being a)people in abject poverty and b)lack of sanitation. Do you think your Ward 3 neighbors are going to rent to people in rags, or that the rent those people could afford would cover what it costs to live in one of these places?

#2 is a valid concert but mitigated by the fact that only 6 people can live on the property AND the owner must live on the property so there is a large incentive to rent to non-disruptive people.

#3 is similar to #2, the owner of the property has to live there and deal with undesirable effects too so there is an incentive to avoid those.

by MLD on Jan 11, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

@MLD: you assume all property owners will follow the letter of the law. I think otherwise.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 10:09 am • linkreport

I'm the same drumz (I think my phone capitalizes my name).

My point there and here is that you can't help who your neighbors are and its a bad for the city to have the government try and regulate that.

And if your neighbor is breaking a law, then call the police.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

@drumz: its a bad for the city to have the government try and regulate that.

The fact is they do. Basically that is what zoning is for.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

Which is unfortunate because zoning should be concerned about the form of the city (how its built) while the city uses other better tools (Police, Parks and Rec., etc.) to work on people's behavior.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

zoning is to regulate the built environment, total density, etc.

It has been used at many times and places to influence area demographics, but many people think thats an abuse.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 11, 2013 10:28 am • linkreport

@goldfish
you assume all property owners will follow the letter of the law. I think otherwise.
and
Basically that is what zoning is for.

No, zoning is not for enforcement. Zoning cannot enforce as you have pointed out; some people may not follow the law. "People will break the zoning code" isn't an argument against the new zoning code, since they could be breaking it right now anyway. Any written down law is pointless without enforcement.

OP has specifically included provisions to mitigate undesirable effects. If they are not followed you are free to call the police or other regulators and have them enforced in order to remove the undesirable effects. Just as is the case already.

by MLD on Jan 11, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

@MLD: it was pointed out that enforcement is the weak link here, and I do not see how that is going to change. Further, what concerns me is not so much the letter of the code, but what will actually happen once it is implemented. The code says one thing, people perceive something else. The intent is to enable homeowners to age in place, what happens is that opportunistic property owners trying to maximize their revenue, legally or not -- not that that is bad thing!

Since there is no enforcement, it is guaranteed that the intend and the reality will be different.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

Enforcement is only the weak link when you ask the zoning code to regulate things that it should not regulate.

Zoning is a blunt tool, and a limited tool. It works best at shaping the physical environment and at broadly shaping use.

When you focus zoning on the built environment, enforcement is relatively easy - through building permits and other standard reviews.

So, for all the quibbles and FUD that goldfish is raising, I'm still not seeing a valid reason to avoid changing this public policy.

by Alex B. on Jan 11, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

Um, the intent is to allow property owners a legal avenue to rent out part of their house or property to tenants. Sometimes that allows the property owner or a family member to age in place but that's not the main intent. And like you say, that will allow owners to increase their revenue. The city should definitely support that rather than seek to inhibit because of objections over who the property chooses to allow to rent.

And obviously since enforcement is weak the answer is not to fix the enforcement but prevent things from being enforced in the first place.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

The city should definitely support that rather than seek to inhibit because of objections over who the property chooses to allow to rent.

...so long as the value of the neighboring property is unaffected by such changes. Not so? well then what?

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

Well again I think you'd have to put the burden of proof on the neighbor that it's the actual structure of the house (rather than the behavior of the tenants/owner or other mitigating factor like housing bubble collapse) that is decreasing the value of the house they are trying to sell (because if you're planning on staying put then why bother?) Otherwise you couldn't do anything at all ever because of fear of the unknown. Which I know is the approach to development in many neighborhoods but it doesn't mean it should be taken seriously all the time.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

clarification: illegal behavior by tenant or owner.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

The purpose of zoning is to protect the property values of nearby property owners - the effects on the economic health of the city, on overall tax revenue, on the well being of would be renters, are morally of a lower order than the contract that zoning establishes with the existing property owners - which is that they purchased property in an area in exchange for the local govt commitment to make no changes, whether to zoning, parking regs, or infrastructure, that they disapprove of. They have a veto as a group, And if they are divided between a group that supports change, and one that opposes it, the opinion of the opponents trumps - because of the contract.

They may have many reasons for opposing change - fear of impact of more residents, fear of a change in the type of residents, or concern about competition with units they already have for rent. All of those are legitimate concerns - since the contract represents an absolute property right, they can give up only voluntarily. Its the burden of advocates for change to convince them - and if they insist on a 100% certainty that their property values will not decline, thats perfectly fine.

I believe the above is a perfectly internally consistent position.

by ZonerOfDoom on Jan 11, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

drumz: the city's interest, I suppose from a cynical point of view, is to maximize its revenues while minimizing its costs, within the bounds of set by the residents that vote for the members of the city council. So that means that they should maximized the total value of the real estate for its property taxes. Question is, on balance will this change cause a net increase (i.e., will the winners outnumber the losers)? I think probably yes.

The other side of the coin is will it increase costs. If there a many disputes involving the police and the court system is tied up in lawsuits over the changes in value to the property due to new ADUs, then there is a problem. Also this is an end-run around the exclusivity of the high-performing DCPS schools, adding significant costs there without corresponding increases in revenues. Some may see this as a good thing, but there are physical limits as to how many students these schools can handle, as well as their consequent decrease in performance. Personally I think all of these issues are very distasteful, but just because I do not like them does not mean that they will go away.

Zoning is, in fact, the greatest tool to enforce the exclusivity of the "nice" neighborhoods, and it is why those places are so desirable. The quickest way to make housing cheaper is to build a trash transfer station, or invite the unemployed and addicted to live nearby in a shelter. I do think that is what people here are asking for, but regardless we must bear in mind that decreasing housing costs may not be the best thing for this city.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

Well good thing that this is about the most low-impact thing one can do to strike a balance between preserving the desireable qualities of neighborhoods while adding residents and adding to the tax base.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

The purpose of zoning is to protect the property values of nearby property owners
Or, its to define the form of the various parts of the city.

And just because one believes a position is internally consistent means its the best approach that should be adopted by the city. It's not that I don't understand many people's opposition, it's that I believe they're wrong about either the cause or effects of proposed changes.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

'And just because one believes a position is internally consistent means its the best approach that should be adopted by the city'

I did not say it was. I am trying to come up with a logical position that supports some of the views stated above. I beleive once one accepts the view of zoning I have put forward, much of the rest follows from that quite naturally.

by ZonerOfDoom on Jan 11, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

"So that means that they should maximized the total value of the real estate for its property taxes"

no, because while there are offsetting costs, as you point out, there are also revenues other than property taxes. In particular there are income taxes and sales taxes.

by ZonerOfDoom on Jan 11, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

"Also this is an end-run around the exclusivity of the high-performing DCPS schools, adding significant costs there without corresponding increases in revenues. "

The classic way for local govts to game that is to encourage housing that will generate lots of taxes of all kinds, and few children in the public school system. Given the rapid increase in DC population, relative to the enrollment in public (and charter) schools, it seems that the district is doing an excellent job of that.

Its not clear to me that ADUs would have lots of school age children. If they do, they may not be best for the District from the net revenue POV. another way to limit the number of children in DC, would be to keep rents for properties suitable for young single people high, and to encourage the conversion of single family homes into group homes instead. That would reduce the demand for spots in DCPS, I think.

by ZonerOfDoom on Jan 11, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

Its not clear to me that ADUs would have lots of school age children.

Considering that parents living EotR all try to get their kids in a ward 3 school, and that such schools have been closed off to out-of-boundary students, this issue is huge. I have known parents to start 2 years early, 3rd grade, getting their kid in a feeder for Deal, just to get to Deal. I have hear rumors of parents renting rooms in Georgetown just to get the in-boundary mailing address.

In the real estate, the proximity to good schools it the most important consideration as to how much a given property is worth.

An education in a good ward 3 school is probably well worth the $20k/year/kid that is spent on it by DCPS and its local PTA. For a bad school, the education provided there is worthless. $20k/year is significant money, particularly after taxes, and will cause many parents with more than one child to do unusual things.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

So the prospects of people potentially committing fraud so their kid can got to a Ward 3 school is a reason to oppose ADU's?

by Andrew on Jan 11, 2013 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: you are learning. Keep up the good work.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

But, if someone is going to commit fraud, there are all sorts of places they can already rent to do it. The inclusion of renters to ADUs doesn't change anything.

by Andrew on Jan 11, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Someone might do something bad. That automatically means the any good that could come of the change is moot.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

Andrew,
Nothing said it had to be a good reason.

by drumz on Jan 11, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

The inclusion of renters to ADUs doesn't change anything.

Basically this is a fight about the schools and how that affects the property values.

The inclusion of renters changes everything. Ward 3 has been an exclusive neighborhood of homeowners, and many people have attributed the performance of the schools there to the well-to-do demographics. This proposal will enable lower paid renters to send their kids to school there. This has the potential of adding thousands of new kids to schools that are not prepared to handle them.

If the schools decline, so will the property values.

Opportunistic property owners that need the money and do not have any investment in the local schools will quickly make the conversions. There goes the schools.

As I wrote, I do not like to consider these things, but that does not mean that they will go away. And I have overstated the problems somewhat -- down the road if the schools decline, clearly the motivation for renters to move to ADUs in ward 3 goes away. But that is much later, after many people have lost a lot of money.

All good reasons to go slow, to gain experience with these sorts of unanticipated affects.

by goldfish on Jan 11, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

I thought someone said above this wasnt mostly about ward 3, since there arent that many qualifying units there?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 11, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

First, Ward 3 is not "an exclusive neighborhood of homeowners". Yes, there are many single family dwelling neighborhoods, but there are also extensive condo and apartment complexes, particularly along the major corridors.

Ward 3 students come from many of those buildings, particularly at Stoddert, Eaton, Murch, Deal, Wilson and Janney.

Second, as it is, one can have an ADU by right. What prevents my Nanny's kid from attending one of these schools? Nothing. Again, the inclusion of ADU's doesn't impact your concern.

I am more concerned about the continued influx of single occupancy automobiles and the resulting pollution than I am on the outside possibility that a handful of kids might be in boundary because of legally rentable ADU's.

By the way, do you want to clarify the concern over demographics, or are you going to continue to let that one hang out there? Or, should readers assume they are related to who is living in these ADUs or gasp, going to our schools?

by Andrew on Jan 11, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

I am more concerned about the continued influx of single occupancy automobiles and the resulting pollution than I am on the outside possibility that a handful of kids might be in boundary because of legally rentable ADU's.

Clearly you have not been through the lottery, and moreover, I do not think you give reasonable estimates as to how many domestics avail themselves of the prime ward 3 schools. And automobiles (hah!) -- that is first time this has been mentioned in this very lengthy thread. Let me assure you that the conflict behind this issue are far, far more important than minor considerations of air pollution, congestion, and a minor contribution to global warming: children, education, and the lifetime home investment of tens of thousands of residents.

For parents that live on the wrong side of the tracks in DC that want a good education for their kids, there are two ways of getting it: get a slot in a good charter by the lottery, or get a slot in a ward 3 DCPS school.

Consider what the lottery is like: you sign up for as many schools as you think are viable in the spring. You get your position on the wait list, something like #134 out of 650 draws for a school with 23 slots (i.e., hopeless) for all of the schools. The alternative is your in-boundary underwhelming DCPS school. You wait for the your chances as the other parents higher on the list gradually commit to the schools. August comes and you still do not have a good place for your kid(s), meanwhile you go on vacation and hope. School starts and you accept a 2nd or 3rd tier choice, and start the school. Labor day passes and you get a call from one of your first choices, three weeks after you have started the school year.

A very uncertain, anxious process to get into a good charter school over a not-so-good DCPS school. The anxiety is multiplied if there are more than one child in the family.

The alternative is that somehow you land a slot at a good ward 3 DCPS school. Once obtained, you are golden: no lottery anxieties, no checking your messages while on vacation for that "must respond within one day" call from your first choice charter school.

If you lived in ward 3 and you had a live-in nanny with kids, she could take advantage of the live-in domestic ADU and send her kids to the good school nearby. But that never happens because live-in nannies -- basically, only au pairs -- never have their own kids, plus the most nannies with families don't live with the families they work for, plus nearly all nannies I have met (a goodly number btw, as I am a parent) either (1) have not yet had kids or (2) their kids are grown. These days nannying is a short-term gig and most do not stay long enough to enroll their kids in the school where their employer lives. Yes I suppose it happens rarely, but it is not a trend that accounts for many students.

This proposal will liberalize these restrictions. The ward 3 schools have been limited to in-bound students only just this past year, making it that much more difficult for parents to find slots in good schools. Most will stay within the legal bounds, but those that cannot find slots will use every means they can to get into a good school.

Consider the opportunity: a homeowner can convert her garage, no zoning justification required, and make a few bucks by renting to an enterprising parent who gets choice slots for 3 kids in a good school. That is worth $60k/year for the price of about $6k, while avoiding all the lottery uncertainties, for the kids' entire school life. Everybody wins!

We all want the best for our kids, and I am the last person to deny that to a struggling parent. Maybe this is a good thing, as it would tear down the west-of-the-park good school wall that has been erected. Is that what you want?

But in the end, I don't think it will work, because: (1) where the rich and poor kids mix, DCPS has shown that it cannot handle it, and the school performance suffers; (2) this whole scenario is premised on rich=good student, poor=bad student performance expectations that I reject out of principle -- but nevertheless only the charter schools have managed to get a good test results from kids from poor families while DCPS just can't get the poor kids to learn. I think DCPS has turned the corner in that it is trying hard to improve, and has indeed improved, but they still have a long way to go.

I am pretty sure this proposal will drag down the good DCPS schools in ward 3. (W3 has no charters, btw.) If you lived in W3 that is a very good reason to oppose this. I expect that some people are in favor out of spite, to drag down a part of town that continues to receive the best resources in DC. I do not live there, but I am still not inclined to want the nice part of town dragged down out of spite.

By the way, do you want to clarify the concern over demographics, or are you going to continue to let that one hang out there? Or, should readers assume they are related to who is living in these ADUs or gasp, going to our schools?

I get the sense that you are trying to imply that I am a closet racist.

by goldfish on Jan 12, 2013 1:20 am • linkreport

1) NO, but I am trying to understand what your concern about the potential for changing demographics might be;

2) I have been through the DCPS lottery with my kids;

3) Many Nannies I know do have school age kids;

4) ADUs are legal for Nanies now. I don't see a huge rush for people to convert their garages nor do I see very many enterprising people trying to take advantage of this.

Overall, I don't think your fears are well-founded, but we can agree to disagree.

Still want to clarify the demographics statement?

by Andrew on Jan 12, 2013 7:30 am • linkreport

"homeowner can convert her garage, no zoning justification required, and make a few bucks by renting to an enterprising parent who gets choice slots for 3 kids in a good school."

maximum of 6 residents for a legal ADU,including principle residence. if the adu has 4 (nominal) residents, that means only two in the principle residence?

Is that common in SFHs in ward 3?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 12, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

@AWalkerinTheCity

Exactly. Maybe for empty-nesters, but the double-income-no-kids is much less common in Ward 3.

by Andrew on Jan 12, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

I have never heard of a case when these limits were enforced.

by goldfish on Jan 12, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us

How can our region be greater?

DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC