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3577 Warder gets free curb cut despite policy, bad acts

There are days when I'm reminded that I live in the Wild, Wild West. Wednesday was one of those days as I received a phone call alerting me that 3577 Warder Street was getting a curb cut.

Yes, they had permits, and plans, and everything appears to be on the up-and-up. The existence of such documents in this case makes me scratch my head and wonder why developers are afforded permissions that the average resident is not.

The issue of a curb cut at this property was first brought before ANC 1A in September, 2009. At that time, their request was denied due to there being no room for a driveway on the property, the close proximity of a street light, and the loss of two public street parking spaces in the community.


Newly poured curb cut at 3577 Warder.

After waiting a few months, the builder next proceeded to raze the home that was originally on the site. Being a singe family wood-frame home, it was one of the earliest homes in Park View.


DDOT Public Space/Parking Permit

The destruction of the property was done without a raze permit, the subsequent work was halted due to lack of permits and inspections, and the announcement of the building clearly stated that parking would be available. Though the City was alerted, clearly no one cared. The voice of concerned neighbors and the ruling of the ANC 1A commissioners certainly don't seem to have been considered.

So now, after the developer has been denied his curb cut, inappropriately razed a building, and is in process of building new condos without community input, he's able to go to the city and claim economic hardship because his project lacks parking and this will make his property less valuable... and he get a permit.

What's worse, the permit clearly shows that the developer didn't have to pay a "public inconvenience fee" and DDOT waived the $11,122.21 deposit.

All I can say is WOW. I hope DDOT will waive the deposit of each and every Park View resident that needs to repair a stone wall or get any other type of permit from DDOT. Allowing this project to get a curb cut is a travesty and only encourages other developers to flout the law and build whatever they want.

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He lives in the Park View neighborhood, and is the force behind the blog Washington Kaleidoscope

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One word (rather phone call) from the Grahamstander make these things happen....

by Contrarian on Aug 6, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

Wow--that is crazy. Unfortunately, it seems that the favoring of developers over private residents is epidemic, whether in DC, Arlington, or elsewhere. I guess money talks loudest. If justice were served, someone in DDOT would be fired and possibly indicted.

BTW, I believe the house that was illegally razed is still on Google Streetview. Is it the lime-green one or the gray one?

by JB on Aug 6, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

Well this sets a fine precedent for developers from here on out doesn't it???

by Anon on Aug 6, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

What was "inappropriate" about razing the existing home? The claimed absence of a permit (which really is just another way to raise money for the city)? Or that a non-owner of the property wanted to control the owner's right to do what he wishes with the property?

by ah on Aug 6, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

As for the curb cut, the application wasn't denied according to the link. Rather, the ANC voted to recommend against it because there was not sufficient information and there were concerns. DDOT has to give that vote "great weight" but doesn't have to follow it.

As for the merits of the curb cut--if it's a multi-unit building isn't removing up to 5 cars from the street (assuming 1/unit) with a single curb cut that perhaps reduces parking by 2 spaces, and maybe only 1? If parking is tight, then this should be a benefit to area. If parking is not tight, what does it matter if one space is removed? I understand the arguments against curb cuts, but they seem to apply a lot more strongly where there is (a) limited parking and (b) a limited number of off-street spaces to which access is provided.

by ah on Aug 6, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

@ah

While this is DCRA's problem, I'm more concerned that the razed an existing building sans permit. But having said that, I cannot figure out why DDOT would roll over so easily. I mean, if the economic hardship reasoning is enough to whatever you want in public space, then hell, I have a lot of permits I need to file. The funny thing is that the ad not only advertises parking but also advertises the fact that it's 2 blocks from Metro.

"Gabe-y, you got a lot of explain' to do!"

by Adam L on Aug 6, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

ah- the owner had the legal right to raze it but did not follow legal protocol. Sure that is standard practice around here. But to then be granted special permission for a curb cut after thumbing their nose at city guidelines? The city should have charged them half the market value of the offstreet parking and put it to use in Park View. But instead they just cave. Granting them the curb cut and waiving the fee to boot. Even someone hard up for property rights like yourself can see this is an unfair exchange. The community loses two parking spaces. The developers line their pockets with off street parking at NO cost. And in your defense of the offstreet parking. You presume that if this building didn't have offstreet parking that everyone buying units there would be a car owner and park on the street. Which is not likely to be the case.

by Anon on Aug 6, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

According to DCRA's site, the job was issued a permit on 12/28/2009, before the demo began. You can search this site for Application ID B0909594.

Other than the waiving of the public inconvenience fee (is this unusual? how much is the standard fee?), I don't see how the developer did anything wrong here.

by jcm on Aug 6, 2010 11:47 am • linkreport

"Or that a non-owner of the property wanted to control the owner's right to do what he wishes with the property?"

There seems to be a continuing misconception among some readers of this blog that being a property owner in this country grants you the "right" to do "whatever you wish" with your property.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the opposite, owning property contractually obligates you to a large number of responsibilities as set out by local and national law. You should begin by familiarizing yourself first with this concept, and more specifically, with the zoning and other laws that regulate what someone can and must do as a property owner.

To use the language that such right-wingers love to use, "if you don't agree to the terms, then why did you buy the property in the first place?"

There's nowhere in the constitution or anywhere else that grants you the "right" to do "whatever you wish" with your property. Feel free to not buy property in DC if you don't agree with the laws that will govern your use of property here.

by Jamie on Aug 6, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@jcm

I'm not sure how up-to-date that all is. If all of those permits were all in order, a stop-work order would not have been issued.

It's also possible that the developer altered the plans without resubmitting to DCRA. The DCRA notes say that the plans were approved after they were resubmitted, but it does not say what those plans were. I wouldn't put it past a developer to submit one set of plans in order to get regulatory approval, begin work with the original plans, and then just pay a fine.

by Adam L on Aug 6, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

@Adam L It's hard to read, but the stop work order appears to say the permit wasn't on site. Since they didn't file any additional permits in 2010, my best guess is that the work was permitted, and either the permit wasn't on site, or the inspector couldn't find it.

I don't have any knowledge of this particular case outside of what's on DCRA's site, so I'm not saying the developer didn't decide it's easier to apologize than get permission, but when the headline says "bad acts", the story ought to back that up with some facts.

by jcm on Aug 6, 2010 1:03 pm • linkreport

@anon--If they didn't follow legal process, fair enough, but my broader point is that other than in an historic district property owners have the right to raze a house and rebuild--the raze permit process is designed to ensure 2 basic things: (1) adequate know-how, so they don't destroy someone else's property and (2) adequate insurance in case they do. The city charges a fee to confirm this. Fair enough--the city may have fallen asleep or is failing to impose proper penalties. But dog bites man.

@ Jamie - I understand that, but I also understand that this was not designated as a house worthy of historic preservation through whatever processes are in place to do create such protections. So the complaint boils down to "I liked the old house more than the new apartments." This is not a question of having the right to raze, it's a question of whether they paid the fee and got the right rubber stamps. There are others (maybe you as well) who are in favor of higher-density housing. This accomplishes that potentially. So while the old house may have had aesthetic appeal, the new building provides other benefits.

On the curb-cut point, I wasn't aware of a fee for imposing one. If there is one, they should pay it. Fair enough (even though a "fee" seems like an exaction). But the theory that they're getting "spaces for free" suggests that those spaces have significant value in this location--i.e., there's scarcity. If that's the case, then the curb cut expands the supply of parking. The government gives people plenty of things "for free", including the many other curb cuts in the city, streets, sidewalks, parks, bike lanes. We can certainly commodify every one of those through various user fees but we don't. Why single out curb cuts for such treatment?

by ah on Aug 6, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

@Kent, Carefull ... people are going to start accusing you of NIMBYism and be a 'nay sayer'.

In all seriousness, I think you're learning why there's a tendency to just say 'no' to change in this city. It would be nice if neighbors could say 'Okay, but ... " However, being able to put a condition on something assumes you can enforce it. And that is not always the case in DC. Unfortunately, this non-enforcement issue can drive otherwise sane and nice people to become naysayers and oppose any and all changes ...

by Lance on Aug 6, 2010 2:30 pm • linkreport

"Unfortunately, this non-enforcement issue can drive otherwise sane and nice people to become naysayers and oppose any and all changes"

Likewise, the red tape, lack of consistent application of the law, and knowledge that it's better to ask forgiveness that to ask permission when most likely you won't get caught, drives otherwise nice people to circumvent the process. Even when they don't want to do anything illegal.

by Jamie on Aug 6, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ah, to get a raze permit, for any strucuture in DC you need to get sign off from HPO. HPO has 30 days to sign the raze letter. HPO uses that time to publish the application to ANCs so that if the community wants to save the building and protect it, the ANC can file a landmark application.

Raze permits also require that the owner get letters from all the utilities that services have been shut off. DCRA requires these letters to make sure open gas lines don't get severed and cause a big explosion. Workers' lives and neighbors' property are at stake, so that's not a little thing. These utility shut off letters take about 4-6 weeks.

by crin on Aug 6, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport

@jcm, in looking at your link and application ID, I see that on 12/15/2009 the notations states: "Zoning Review Approved . App for demo and addition for conversion to 5-unit apt blg. Minimum of 3 parking spaces provided." So there was an application for demolition. On 3/8/2010 (E1003613), the action listed was "Change of use from existing 2 story + bsmt SFD-Single Family Dwelling to 3 story + bsmt 5 unit condo building as per plans. The project consists of partial demo to wide side yard (plus addition of a driveway), the addition/alteration of an existing 2+B single family dwelling into a 3+B five (5) unit dwelling (R2)."

So, if I have my timeline correct. The application was filed on 12/15/09 and a permit was issued on 3/8/10. The actual demo occurred at the end of January 2010. It is typical to demo a building before the permit is issued? Additionally, in reality this structure was razed. Calling what took place a "partial demolition" is hardly accurate.

by Kent on Aug 6, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

So being a cynical one, let me ask the group a few questions please. Who is the developer behind this deal, listed as an LLC & more to the point, is he a regular contributor to the campaign war chests of the mayor or others?

Is is unusual as some say or normal for DC to waive that inconvenience fee? I never had a nickel waived for me!

And to the person who said it was okay to raze the building before the permit issued, you miss the point; he had not permit and razed it. There was a clear violation and the developer should be made to pay for that 'sin', otherwise, why seek a raze permit at all in the future?

Bonnie

by bonnie on Aug 6, 2010 6:04 pm • linkreport

Sorry to be an ignorant "curb cut - who cares" person, but the issue with curb cuts seems to be such a nit picky thing. Where were all the folks fighting tooth and nail over 'curb cuts' when DC's beautiful and old historical mansions and other historical buildings were razed to make ugly strip malls and boxy office buildings over the last 50 years? I think a nice development in an area that needs one should be welcomed with open arms and not whined about insistently. Glad they are coming to the neighborhood - curb cut and all.

by Ace in DC on Aug 6, 2010 9:15 pm • linkreport

Note:
Demolition is not the same as a raze. Interior walls can be demolished. Removing an entire building is called a raze, and there does not seem to be a permit for that on this property.
To see a summary go to: http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/
and enter the address.

by Anon on Aug 9, 2010 1:00 am • linkreport

...So this scofflaw was ultimately granted retroactive OK by DDOT to raze and replace an entire building, even though he repeatedly acted without the necessary permits... while DDOT called out the entire regulatory cavalry against Council Chair Gray over a disputed-height fence? Doesn't look TOO much like politics, does it?

by 1intheKnow on Aug 9, 2010 7:26 pm • linkreport

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