The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Underregulation? Overregulation?

Photo from PoPville.
Pop up and up and up: The pop-up row house at 11th and V, NW got even taller; it's now over twice as tall as, but no wider than, the adjacent 2-story rowhouses. Should laws prevent this? (PoPville)

Why the food truck rules?: The food truck association says most trucks won't be able to serve downtown under new regulations, which allow only 3 at a time in key areas. Is this regulation necessary at all? (City Paper, Slate)

No renting your house short term: Crestwood residents aren't happy with a house that rents out to visitors through vacation rental websites. The law agrees; short-term rentals require a property to be licensed as a hotel. (DCist)

Mobile Metro gets better: WMATA updated their mobile site (view it on a non-mobile system here). Dr. Gridlock reviews its features, which include service alerts. (Post)

Three more years (of Sarles): Richard Sarles will stay through at least 2016 as the WMATA board has extended his contract. (Post)

Transportation money and lockbox: A Maryland Senate committee approved the transportation funding bill and a "lockbox" that prohibits using transportation money for other purposes. (CBS) ... Ben Ross argued against the lockbox idea in 2011.

Alexandria wants to double CaBi: Alexandrians are happy with their 8 Capital Bikeshare stations, and city officials want to double that by this fall and spread to new neighborhoods. But one reader frets that the city is cutting libraries while also expanding CaBi. (Alexandria Times, jimble)

No to Pike lanes: Residents are fighting a Maryland SHA plan to widen Rockville Pike near Walter Reed; projections show that the change would only save 7.6 seconds per vehicle. (Bethesda Now, Ben Ross)

And..: Is DMPED focusing more on attracting businesses and less on real estate? (City Paper) ... JetBlue wants US Airways and American to give up slots at DCA in their merger. (WBJ) ... Besides #pedestriansafetytips, can we make streets safe to walk? (Express)

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I've been walking by that popup every day now.

While that block doesn't deserve historical preservation status, that thing is awful.

Too bad we don't have parking minimums that would have prevented this.

Is it ever going to have windows?

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 8:53 am • linkreport

While I agreed that the popup looks terrible right now, over time additional buildings will renovate and add height on this block creating a more uniform scale. Would we be having this discussion if five of these rowhouses were collectively doing the same thing? True, the building scale is a trainwreck but its designed to be built around. The lack of windows on each side is intentional. If we want to add housing and density to the city, we have to start somewhere. Granted, the short-term results may be less than perfect.

by Ryan on Mar 29, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

Not too often I'll say something NIMBYish, but that building has been an increasing eyesore for ages... I get that it complies w/ the rules & regulations, and that basically this is only the first neighbor to the punch -- the others will theoretically follow suit eventually and help balance it out.

But I can't help but wonder if we should require some degree of proportionality with new buildings to bring it at least *somewhat* closer to a more aesthetic golden ratio. This might also help push larger family-friendly units, as I suspect these units may not exactly offer the largest of accommodations.

Either that or, per one of the PoPville comments: keep building higher. The Townhouse of Babel. We can do this.

by Bossi on Mar 29, 2013 9:24 am • linkreport

@Ryan, I doubt it.

Those townhouses are small, parking is an issue, and you've got lots of density in the U st area already.

If you want density, kick out some of those churches and their empty lots.

Not to mention this is an investor buying one to turn it into a three unit building. The others looks indivudal owned I don't see them spending the 500K to build up that that height.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

Those townhouses are small,
Seems like the market is pretty capable of demonstrating whether there is demand for townhouses of this size.
parking is an issue,
An issue in that there isn't enough free parking on the street? Also seems pretty easy to solve.
and you've got lots of density in the U st area already.
The whole point is that, while this area is denser than parts of DC, there is demand for more density. So why shouldn't we be converting two story buildings to larger buildings to satisfy some of that demand?

by Gray on Mar 29, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

One person's high rise is another's pop-up.

Ultimately it's greed and some people say greed is good.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 9:33 am • linkreport

If you want density, kick out some of those churches and their empty lots.

Right, because that is a politically viable, uncontroversial plan.

Not to mention this is an investor buying one to turn it into a three unit building. The others looks individual owned I don't see them spending the 500K to build up that that height.

True, but this seems to make it likely that the next homes on the market on this street will also be attractive to investors.

I agree its ugly, but just outside the cutoff of that picture is a 6-story apartment building. If even one of the neighboring rowhouses is similarly converted, the additional mass will make it seem less strange.

by JW on Mar 29, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

And two Formstone houses in that block. I think of that as Baltimore affliction, and was surprised to see that here.

by Frank IBC on Mar 29, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

@Gray, again, no. Once you factor in the stairs, usable space inside each unit is going to be very bad. Then throw in the lack of windows.

I know this is hard for GGW to believe, but developers are greedy and will do dumb s**t to turn a quick buck. This isn't any different than saying 5 years ago, but we need 300 more cul de sacs in PW county. Turns out that wasn't a hot idea either...

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

WRT the vacation rental issue, it seems like there's plenty of room to regulate this without requiring that these places be licensed as hotels. Montreal, for example, actually licenses a large number of non-hotel short-term rentals and provides a centralized directory of them. Or used to, at least. I'm not finding it in a quick google search, but that's most likely because Quebec governmental web sites can be hard for google to penetrate.

But why would it have to be full hotel license or nothing? There's clearly demand for this sort of accomodation.

by Gray on Mar 29, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

@charlie: I'm not sure what you're saying no to. Are you saying that nobody will want to buy or rent these units?

by Gray on Mar 29, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

Echoing what @JW said, it's ugly and an eyesore but that picture is purposefully deceptive. There's a 6 or 7 story condo building just to the left of the edge of the photo. There's a 3 story building to the right of this row. Walk through that neighborhood and what stands out isn't the pop-up, it's how small and underutilized the other seven houses are.

by Corey H. on Mar 29, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

@Gray, with today's low rates, you can sell anything. That doesn't make it a good idea.

Most of the other buildings on that block are townhouses as well, Yes, there is a (ugly) 5 story coming next door, but the entire area is pretty low key.

I suspect there will be a move to move this zoning in this area from 5 stories down. What is shame it will try to kill corner stores, which you can put in there. I'd rather have small retail than a 5 story ugly-fest.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

That pop-up is greed because it's 3 units. 3 incredibly large wasteful luxury units. 3 smaller more environmentally efficient units could have been put in the original height.

AirBnb has caught on big in DC. I think there are 1000 area listings and many of them are former rental apartments.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

but just outside the cutoff of that picture is a 6-story apartment building. If even one of the neighboring rowhouses is similarly converted, the additional mass will make it seem less strange.

Exactly. From the photo above, if you just pivoted to the photographer's left, you see this.

by Alex B. on Mar 29, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

The PopUp townhouse does look strange - I think the owner would be wise to feature some kind of large mural/art installation on the sides. Then it would change from a strange oddity to a thing of beauty (like the Marilyn Monroe mural at Woodley Park or all the murals in the Alleys on U Street and Florida Avenues). It would most definitely eliminate the eye-sore aspect of the structure.

by Adam on Mar 29, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

popup: that thing looks like it will blow over in a big wind

by Tina on Mar 29, 2013 9:49 am • linkreport

At what point, can we consider that pop-up to be a spite house?

by andrew on Mar 29, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

On a non-popup note, when are the promised bikeshare stations coming to the District? I heard there was a production delay, but how long is that going to be?

by Ben on Mar 29, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

@Tina: "that thing looks like it will blow over in a big wind"

Exactly that happened to the third story of a building under construction on H near 4th NE. I think it was built from the ground up, so not actually a popup, but the story that literally got blown away projected above its 2-story neighbors as popups do.

by A Streeter on Mar 29, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

I agree about the short term rental thing. Other businesses have to be licensed, it seems like people must know they are skirting the law here.

Re: food trucks I'm not sure it's that bad. We have other zoning for brick and mortaar. I love food trucks but it's a bit of a free for all right now and the restrictions don't seem that onerous.

by Alan B. on Mar 29, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

@AlexB; I think that is a 5 story building, not six. Pretty sure it it zoned to 5.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

Ben: I just heard back from Mayor Gray's spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro yesterday that the CaBi stations are delayed because of delays getting them from the supplier (we think, but there isn't confirmation, that it's because NYC and Chicago are taxing their capacity plus NYC lost a lot of its equipment in Hurricane Sandy), but DDOT thinks in the next 6 weeks they will have all the stations in.

by David Alpert on Mar 29, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

I think that is a 5 story building, not six. Pretty sure it it zoned to 5.

The one on the right (NW corner) has six floors plus a penthouse, but one of the residential floors is primarily below grade.

No point in arguing over the number of stories, it's all C-2-B zoning. The height of this building is hardly dissimilar from what is around it on neighboring blocks.

by Alex B. on Mar 29, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

@Charlie, not the street view buildings @AlexB linked to, but the Lima Condos is the brand new building that's six stories. You can actually see a sliver of it in the upper left portion of the embedded picture above. Its eastern most wall is no more than 50 feet from the pop-up and across an empty lot from the westernmost rowhouse. It's not visible in the street view.

Regarding the bikeshare stations, what is it with DDOT, Alta, or Bixi that drives them to keep over-promising and under-delivering? Every single expansion in DC has gone through this cycle.

by Corey H. on Mar 29, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

I'm not a "food truck" guy. Just the thought of eating from one makes me queasy. But they have to give more specific on the spaces. I can't imagine having to gamble for an unknown location but if I the goal is to spread the love, then ok. Still, the trucks also have to make money since that is the goal of any business. Makes TOTAL sense opening up spaces around the mall though but not sure they're worth $450. Could be though. And Sorry, but boo hoo for Curbside Cupcake's song of woe...that mall tourists aren't her choice demographic. Tough luck.

I'm sure I wouldn't want to live next to a vacation rental but even if I did (like in Turks & Caicos) I believe the property should be properly licensed as a hotel. I'm sure this has to do w/the amount of money the city gets out of it.

The new mobile site is better and operates like...a mobile site.

Understanding how crucial libraries are, I can understand the writers frustration w/the focus on bike lanes.

by HogWash on Mar 29, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

This building is just shocking because of the disparity of the surrounding buildings. I don't see a reason to limit the height at 2-3 stories, but you could make it so that two properties next to each other have to do it together or something. If it was double the width it would not look so weird.

This location is literally a block and a half from a metro stop, it needs density.

by MLD on Mar 29, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

@AlexB, ok, I though that corner was r5 but looking at the map that part of th block in c2b.

Most of V st is actualy very similar 2 story townhouses.

Again, if you want density there are a lot of underused churches and also a soon to be closed school.

by charlie on Mar 29, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

The acceptable standard for living spaces has grown over the past several decades. Houses of 800-1000 sq.ft. may have been considered acceptable when this block was first built, but now people want more space. I wouldn't hold it against anyone on the block if they added a level or two to their houses.

by JustMe on Mar 29, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

Accepting the suburban standard of multiples of 1000 sq.ft. per unit is not urbanism, is not increasing density, and in fact is suburbanizing the city.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport


1000 sq. ft. seems fine, even large for a childless couple. But it seems small once you include two children into the mix. What do you think is a comfortable size for a 4 person family unit?

by sk on Mar 29, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

I can't think of many serious, likely-to-be-enacted policies in the last few years that would do more to make a "Lesser, Lesser Washington" than a constraint on food truck offerings downtown. A city taken back four years to where the overwhelming majority of lunch choices are overpriced mini-chain delis, "by the pound" hot bars, national fast-food and sandwich chains, and half-smoke vendors is one that will be a lot less vibrant and appealing as a place to live and work.

by Bitter Brew on Mar 29, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

Depends if we are talking about footprint or floor area. The whole point of building up is that you can get more living space with a smaller footprint. I think limiting city housing stock to 2 stories or less does much more damage re: suburbanization. By all means if someone wants a one or two story house downtown that is their prerogative but it's not ok to keep everyone else to that standard.

I mean it is a bit of an eyesore, but if its structurally sound and within zoning... that's life.

by Alan B. on Mar 29, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

I can understand the writers frustration w/the focus on bike lanes.

Since the writer never mentions bike lanes, that is very empathetic of you.

by Vinh An Nguyen on Mar 29, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

I feel like people are making this whole food truck thing a bit apocalyptic. I mean honestly this doesn't seem that bad:

"The proposed regulations call for 23 mobile vending zones throughout the city where limited numbers of food trucks would be allowed to sell food. Each zone would have a minimum of three parking spots; the cap is still unknown. A monthly lottery system would determine who got the spots for each weekday, and those who don't win zoned locations would have to park at least 500 feet away from the zones. In the central business district, mobile vendors would also be limited to metered parking spots with less than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk."

by Alan B. on Mar 29, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Since the writer never mentions bike lanes, that is very empathetic of you.

Happy Friday to you as well.

I feel like people are making this whole food truck thing a bit apocalyptic

Yes but they do need to provide some clarity and not have a wait and see approachg.

by HogWash on Mar 29, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

I guess I don't see what the reason is to regulate where the food trucks can go in the first place. This seems like a solution looking for a problem.

I rarely patronize the food trucks in Farragut square but the definitely make the square a more activated and lively place!

@Alan B.
Really the sticker is the 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk, which exists in only a few places.

by MLD on Mar 29, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

The traffic on the Pike around NIH is definitely awful around rush hour since Walter Reed moved in. I guess the proposed expansion would help, although I can certainly understand that residents nearby would not want the Pike moved closer to their front doors. Another thing would be to make it easier and quicker for cars to enter the NIH campus so they don't tie up a lane on the Pike.

Regarding the popup, unfortunately there's an idiot like this on most blocks. Bad taste is never in short supply.

by Chris S. on Mar 29, 2013 11:59 am • linkreport

@sk- Like most people my age I grew up in a middle-class family house of under 1000sq.ft. with my parents and my grandfather. I can't attribute any undesirable traits to growing up in such a dense place. In fact, since it was the norm, it seemed spacious. The typical American house in the late 50's was under 1000sqft.

I know from living in Europe that a typical housing unit there is about 500sqft.

We got this idea that units should be at least 2000sqft from the suburban McMansions starting in the 80's. It's environmentally destructive and we should be highly discouraging it everywhere. But especially we should not be introducing this waste into the city.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

In america today most people expect a seperate BR for each child - even if they do not, they feel a need for that when two children are of opposite gender. Plus at least 2 bathrooms, and a living room and dining room. Generally middle class americans with a family of four will want at least about 1300-1500 sq ft I guess (not 2000 sq ft). It may well be environmentally desirable to persuade people to live in less - but not providing it in DC will not cause such persuasion - it will only result in more such families locating in (relatively) energy inefficient suburbs.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 29, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

@Bitter Brew: amen! Food trucks are a huge positive for the city and they're clearly appreciated by lots of DC residents. They're only causing harm to existing restaurants offering bland, over-priced downtown food. Food trucks also alleviate many of the lunch-option deserts that exist in the downtown core dominated by monuments and large federal buildings. This is a case of "fixing" something that isn't broken.

by Billy Mack on Mar 29, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

t may well be environmentally desirable to persuade people to live in less - but not providing it in DC will not cause such persuasion - it will only result in more such families locating in (relatively) energy inefficient suburbs.


by HogWash on Mar 29, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

I can understand the writers frustration w/the focus on bike lanes.
Since the writer never mentions bike lanes, that is very empathetic of you.

I think you mean telepathic.

by dcd on Mar 29, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

@ Walker & HogWash- In DC we're typically talking about large sq footage units for single people or couples. And by your logic we should also not discourage them from bringing their SUV's or else they will go to the suburbs.

Changing an urban environment into a suburbanite values one isn't urbanism.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

@ Tom Coumaris

I am not addressing whether this particular popup should be legal (though IIUC its as of right) - but merely pointing out that for families, 1000 sq ft is not a reasonable limit today.

Yes, while I do not think DC should go out of its way to accommodate cars, I think it would be a mistake to ban SUV's, to ban parking, etc. SUVs in cities will be run fewer miles (in general) and so are better in the city than the burbs. The griping about yuppies with SUVs in the city is thus misplaced - it might be better if they had smaller cars, or better were car free, but is also better they have an SUV in a place where they use it less and their trips are shorter.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 29, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

"Changing an urban environment into a suburbanite values one isn't urbanism."

if you think a family of four living in a 1400 Sq ft in an attached house on dense block, and keeping ONE large vehicle, is suburbanite values, I must suggest you are not familiar with suburbanite values today. Such a lifestyle is one that in FFX county is considered a dangerous imposition by urbanists, one that will endanger our freedom to live large.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 29, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Walker- DC isn't Fairfax.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 29, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I know - you were speaking of suburbanite values. Suburbanite values dictate, for a family of four, something more like 2000 Sq ft or MORE, and at LEAST one vehicle per licensed driver. So its really not fair to say that 1300 sq ft for a family of four, and one SUV as the only vehicle, represents suburbanite values - or anything close to it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 29, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

The big building on 4th & H was also being built by a staggeringly incompetent contractor. The building was literally being held up by the two buildings adjacent to it (the developer illegally laid support beams on their roofs).

When a big storm came, the building on the corner couldn't take the weight of the taller building that was leaning on it, and collapsed first. It's still got a gaping hole in the roof.

by andrew on Mar 29, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

The DC Building Code says that buildings less than 16 feet wide can't have projections into public space. This building is 14 feet wide but they're building a projection. This building has a serious violation, but it's not the height.

by crin on Mar 29, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

I think it interesting that I read a lot about increasing density in DC then one house pushes the legal limits from zoning and it's a problem. There is no doubt the rest of the block will grow similarly.

by Matthew on Mar 29, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

In past week or two, I read Metro relaunch an app called iCommuter DC. I have not able to find it on both my Android smartphone or iPAD. Am I missing something here?

I tried every possible search -- such as WMATA, to name a few. No luck.

Hope someone could set the record straight.


by Dave on Mar 29, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

Corey H, thats how Alta operates.

Boston? 1 year delay. Boston expansion? 6 month delay.
NYC? 1 year delay
Chicago? 1 year delay (and counting)
Portland? 1 year delay
DC? Constant expansion delays.

And yet the cities dont learn, they keep signing the contract and acting surprised when Alta pulls the same game again and again.

Its easy to be the winning bid when your numbers are fantasy.

by Bike share on Mar 29, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

Bike share: My understanding is this is not Alta. Alta operates the system. Montreal's Bixi is building the equipment. It's getting the equipment that is the delay, which is on Bixi, not Alta.

by David Alpert on Mar 29, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

@Dave, it's not a Metro product, but NextBus did relaunch its earlier app under the name iCommute DC. If you had the earlier NextBus app, it should upgrade to iCommute; otherwise, you can get it in either a paid or advertising-supported version for iPad or iPhone in the iTunes store. iHave no idea whether there's an Android version, but i'D guess so. Sorry, once iGet started iT's hard to stop. ;)

by cminus on Mar 29, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

Also, I should have drawn attention to this: that's iCommute, not iCommuter. No "r" at the end. That's probably why you didn't find it.

by cminus on Mar 29, 2013 5:19 pm • linkreport

How does limiting the number of food trucks help the consumer?

If it doesn't help the consumer then it's likely a bad regulation

by Drumz on Mar 29, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

David Alpert, Alta has one supplier. Why do they keep agreeing to new contracts and expansions if they know their one supplier cannot supply the amount theyre agreeing to?

If I tell you I can sell you a concorde, and you sign a contract with me, wont you be upset if I turn around and tell you I do not in fact have a concorde available and there will be a delay in procuring it?

by Bike share on Mar 30, 2013 1:51 am • linkreport

cminus -- yes, my bad typo -- I did search on iCommute -- nada on both Android and iOS. I can't even find NextBus (I recalled there was NextBus App but it's gone -- do you know the name of the author or company who wrote the NextBus?

I have looked up all Apps available under WMATA, icommute, and nextbus. There are some numbers of them -- I haven't find any app that was updated last one month -- most are from 2012. I just found Metro App late updated on Feb. 20, 2013 -- it's still bad written (and I think there's bug). But it's not as user friendly (I'm using another app that I think it's good but honestly, I'm concern Metro is providing bad data to the app I like).

However, when I read this article yesterday, I think I may have misunderstood -- I'm to use and setup a direct link using my smartphone browser.

Thanks for your help.

by Dave on Mar 31, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

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