Greater Greater Washington

Development


Do you have a legal right to a cliffside view?

A condo building is planned for the site of the Exxon station at the bottom of the Exorcist Steps on M Street NW in Georgetown. Residents on Prospect Street, just 75 steps above the site, fear the building will block their spectacular views of the Potomac.


A rendering of the proposed development. Photo by the author.

But can Prospect Street residents, who undoubtedly paid handsomely for their views of the Potomac, have any say in a project simply because it might obscure their backyard views?

EastBanc, the developer, argues that they have a right to build this building within the "building envelope" allowed by the zoning code. That envelope cuts off part of the breathtaking views from Prospect Street houses. Though EastBanc representatives promised to mitigate the obstruction, they noted that what they were building was permitted by law.

Moreover, they point out that most of the view will remain. Since the top of the proposed building will not be higher than any of the homes' bottom floors (with one slight exception) all that will be obscured is the view of the river itself. Views of Rosslyn, the trees, the sky, and more will remain.

The residents, not surprisingly, have a different view. They think the building should be limited to four stories, not five, in order to preserve their backyard views.

This question really goes to the heart of a lot of zoning issues: do homeowners have a right to a view that they have grown accustom to? In English law there is a concept called "ancient lights," which states that you have a right to a certain level of illumination so long as you have enjoyed that illumination for at least 20 years.

"Ancient lights" allows you to prevent your neighbor from building anything that would block this light. This concept is really designed more for extreme situations like alley dwellings, not luxurious cliffside views. Moreover, US courts have definitively rejected the very concept of ancient lights in American law.

The question gets even more complicated in this case since the laws designed to provide quasi-ancient lights, i.e. zoning laws, would in fact permit this building without question. The only reason the project is being reviewed at all is due to the additional historic preservation review provided by the Old Georgetown Board (OGB), the neighborhood's Federally-chartered historic preservation review body.

The OGB, however, is not tasked with the responsibility to protect private views. In fact, its very jurisdiction is limited to changes viewable from a public street. Nonetheless the ANC and others sometimes try to shoehorn zoning-type concerns into OGB review.

The ANC did not adopt another resolution on the matter and relied on the resolution passed in March, which criticized the project's size and design. Notwithstanding this, there was a sense among the commissioners that they could support a design like this in the near future.

Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and new daughter in Georgetown.  

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Do homeowners have a right to a view that they have grown accustom to?

No.

You can make all kinds of arguments about trying to be reasonable and working things out, but in the end, there is no such right. Living in a big city means that your surroundings can change.

Your view can not infringe on the property rights of your neighbor.

by Jasper on Apr 7, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

Interesting, I know what in California, "viewsheds" are protected to a certain degree. That protection limited the size of my friend's neighbor's house. They live in the SF bay area on steep hilside with views of the bay.

by wreckfish on Apr 7, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

classic externality case. Developer pays for damages done. Hard question is valuation.

by charlie on Apr 7, 2011 1:19 pm • linkreport

I normally agree heartily with Jasper on everything he (she?) writes, and I really apprecieate Jaspers NDL perspective. On this I'm really sympathetic to the Prospect St. residents, though the builder seems on the right side of the letter of the law.

Its balderdash to claim the view is not really changed b/c the sights of treetops and building tops in Rosslyn are still visible. Everyone knows its the river view thats valuable on so many levels and definitions, including economically. Its the view of the river that causes the property to be worth 500k more (my guess?) not the veiw of Rosslyns trees and bldgs.

Because the view (of the river) is so valued I would ideally like to see that it is protected to be made available to as many people as possible. That would mean restricting the planned bldg to 4 stories (plus a rooftop deck) and otherwise maximizing availability of the view.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

Yes, to an extent. That's what zoning is for: so a neighborhood (or whoever sets the zoning code) can protect things that individual residents cannot protect by themselves.

This is, at worst, a failure in zoning. If these people really cherished these views, they should have made sure that the views were protected in the zoning code. And they probably could have done that. But it's too late now, and they have no recourse.

Of course, I think a lot of zoning is bullshit and basically a way to institute a homeowners association on a neighborhood. This might sound horrible, but I don't think residents of a neighborhood should have the ultimate say in what can and can't be built there. I think basic rights should be protected, yes, but zoning should err extremely on the side of being permissive.

by Tim on Apr 7, 2011 1:27 pm • linkreport

If the current residents want to keep the status quo, they can always pay for it. Classic Coasian bargaining. It will likely cost them some formulation of whatever rents the developer will lose by not adding the obstructing floor, minus costs saved by not adding the floor in the first place. Of course, they don't want to pay for it, because that's more costly than trying to prevent the thing from being built in the first place.

You don't have a right to things remaining unchanged forever. You may be disappointed that the expectations you bought with aren't fulfilled, but there isn't a right to having those expectations, as such, protected from all new-comers.

by MattR on Apr 7, 2011 1:42 pm • linkreport

Of course, for the right price, the residents could also chip in to form a corporation or trust, and purchase the site.

They could even continue to operate it as a gas station, or other low-height business, and collect revenue off of it.

Being Georgetown, I imagine that this might even be a practical option.

(If the residents somehow win out or collect money, I hope that the Korean meat warehouses in the Florida Market sue every developer in NoMA for destroying their grand viewshed of the Capitol Dome (which is actually quite nice and one of the best in the city). A victory in this case would be setting up a ridiculous precedent, even though this particular instance seems somewhat more clean-cut.)

by andrew on Apr 7, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

this is going beyond the control of a neighborhood they dont want the building to be built 5 story's so they can keep views, people need to realize this is a urban setting and change will come, if you dont like or want change move to the outter burbs and you can be alone and have all the views you think your entitle to

by Jerome on Apr 7, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

I think basic rights should be protected, yes, but zoning should err extremely on the side of being permissive. I don't disagree with this. I just define "permissive" from a different perspective - the perspective that the view as more akin to a natural resource that should be protected for everyone, or at the very least (permissively), as many as possible.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

This is a tough call, I do agree that in a city things change. However the residents do have something to argue about here. The value of their properity will without a doubt decrease if they lose their view.

In the end I am not sure their is any legal basis for the residents claims, but if they could always sue and let the courts decide.

by Matt R on Apr 7, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

Matt R and MattR are two diff. people?

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

@ Tina - Yes we are. I was as surprised as you were when I re-checked the comments.

by MattR on Apr 7, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Look, it's simple. The reason why the current property owners want to keep the (not their) view is to protect the value of their property. However, the (legitimate) desire to keep their property value up, limits the value of the property of the gas station. Since all citizens are equal, there is no reason why the existing property owners should be protected more against a decline in the value than the "new" property owner. As long as the "new" property owner follows existing regulations, (s)he can build whatever pleases them. Just like, as long as they follow existing regulations, the existing property owners are free to build an extra floor on their property.

by Jasper on Apr 7, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

^ this is where I seem to be diverging regards the view; which I see more akin to a natural resource whose commercialization should be limited in order to protect the availability of the resource for as many people as possible. Like in Spain how no one can own private beach property. Its for all.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

I think these residents want to be given something they didn't pay for. Since the Exxon station property has, by right, the option of building a building this high, the homeowners at risk should have been aware of this when they bought their home - and they should have discounted the price they paid accordingly. If they value the view at $100,000 and believed there was a 5% chance this would happen, they should have offered $5,000 less. And the market probably represents that. If not, buyer beware.

They bought a house with a view and a real risk that the view would be impinged, and now they want the city to make it more valuable by removing that risk. No one is taking anything away, it's just the probability of the risk has gone way up. Sorry. But that's how it goes when you gamble.

by David C on Apr 7, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

I had a view of the Cathedral from my backyard until a neighbor built a matter-of-right completely legit back addition. Now it's not lowering my property value as much as a lost Potomac view would. But there is no denying that the Cathedral view wow factor influenced my and others decision to buy. Every realtor in DC is sure to include a picture when there is a Cathedral view for the very reason that it DOES add value. So I have to agree with Andrew that this would set an insane precedent. Hundreds of cases a year would spring up for lost monument and park views. But thats the risk you take when paying a premium for a view that could change. That's all there is to it. In New York these neighbors would be laughed at. People actually inquire about air rights there and do their due diligence if the view is important to them. I can't for the life of me understand how it never occurred to these people that the exxon might be developed at some point. But then the city will likely give into demands to remove the whitehurst freeway at great taxpayer expense just so some millionaires can up their property values... So I guess when you are rich and connected you just make a go of it.

by Johnny T on Apr 7, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Tina

The difference is that this case isn't about preserving a public view, it's about preserving a private view.

There are indeed places where public views have been preserved - and they have been codified in terms of legal easements and/or changes to the zoning code.

That does not appear to be the case here, in either regard. The views that would be impacted are private, not public. The project that would impact them is a by-right project within the existing zoning.

by Alex B. on Apr 7, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

aren't stone steps public?

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

Tina, I'm not sure that reducing the building height would, in fact, increase the number of people to whom the view is available. Rather, it would transfer the view amenity from the people who enjoy it now to the people in the new building, including that 5th floor. I'd be in favor of preserving important viewsheds that are publicly accessible (like from a park), but I don't think the government should get overly involved in the zero-sum game over whether residents in one building or the next one over get the view.

Still, for the sake of argument, if you think we should zone so that as many people have a view as possible, then I'd think we should allow lots of really tall buildings. I bet there are more people in Manhattan with a view of the Hudson than there are people in DC with a view of the Potomac.

by RichardatCourthouse on Apr 7, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

It is interesting to see the responses. If memory serves there was a similar discussion as to the "view rights" of some dupont circle B&B or resturant who had an outdoor patio, and everyone was all amuck that the building next door was proposing to get taller which would supposedly affect its view or light and that it shouldn't be allowed.

Anyway, of course these views aren't protected.

by freely on Apr 7, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

are the stone steps (and the veiw from them) public?

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

The steps are publicly accessible, yes.

The steps don't really have a view, however. The view they do have is down the steps, and that view wouldn't be impacted by this development.

I'm not sure how that even matters, the residents of Prospect Street aren't concerned about the view from the steps.

by Alex B. on Apr 7, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

Are you certain there's no nice view from the steps? I haven't been there for years but iirc there is a view of the river over the top of the gas station.

I'm not sure how that even matters, the residents of Prospect Street aren't concerned about the view from the steps. Yes. I'm conceding the private vs. private view argument and now thinking about the public view from the steps.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

Tina- You are really grasping. Do you have a vested interest in this? You seem like a plant. As I understood it this building wasn't in front of the exorcist steps. Seems to me for anyone living in DC who ISN'T one of these river view neighbors the answer should be obvious. Denying the developers their rightful zoning ends up generating less tax revenue for our city and will set a slippery precedent that will delay many developments to come. I'm thinking of South West/Navy Yard for starters. People are probably losing their views left and right over there as some buildings are occupied and others have yet to break ground.

by Johnny T on Apr 7, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

http://www.flickr.com/photos/voteprime/2446759438/

That's not much of a river view to me.

Here's a better shot:
http://home.uchicago.edu/~lenka/images/exosteps3.jpg

I'm quite certain that nothing you see here would be obstructed by the proposed construction.

by Alex B. on Apr 7, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

@Johnny T -geez. No reason to get hostile. I'm mulling ideas with other people. I said I conceded the argument re: the private view.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Alex B, thanks for links. Hey, any river view is better than no river view.

by Tina on Apr 7, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

Unless you have a covenant to protect a view, then that view does not belong to you.

by TGEoA on Apr 7, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

My condo building wraps around another smaller building. Condo units in our building that abut and have windows overlooking the smaller building were described in the condo documents as having "windows at risk". Meaning that should the owner of the smaller building ever extend upward those windows could be covered up.

The developer of our building entered into negotiations with the owner of the smaller building to purchase the "air rights" above the smaller building. That deal was concluded successfully and now our condo association owns just the air above the other building.

I suppose if the residents of Prospect St had had the foresight they could have attempted to do likewise.

by JeffB on Apr 7, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

I hate to refer to the recent movie Burlesque for the definitive answer to this question but... (I saw the movie because it was all that was showing a few weekends ago at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond). The burlesque house Cher was gonna lose because of debts. If it were redeveloped to its maximum envelope, it would have blocked the views of a really expensive condo. Fortunately for Cher, Xtina figured this out based on a conversation with her at the time rich love interest, who bought the air rights for a shopping center to protect the views from his house high in the hills of Los Angeles. So she and Cher went over to the developers of the condo building, sold the air rights, and saved the club! Yay!

If the residents want to come together and pay many millions to the owners of the land and to Eastbanc for their loss of income opportunity, so be it. They probably don't have the money as it would be many millions.

A downzoning would be a taking. And a protection of this particular viewshed wouldn't be as much for the public interest as for this private interest and could very easily be challenged legally.

I do think by the way that viewsheds, depending on what they are, can and should be protected. We (when I was on the ANC6C zoning committee) probably screwed up with regard to viewsheds of the Capitol building from points in NE vis-a-vis the Senate Square buildings, which ended up impinging on this particular viewshed, such as from 6th, 5th and 4th Streets in the Florida Market area.

by Richard Layman on Apr 7, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

@ Tina: Like in Spain how no one can own private beach property.

And in Hawaii, the USVIs and Aruba, for instance. The VIs is a funny case, because you can buy entire islands there (Hello Mr Branson). But even then, the beaches are public.

That's a different case than here though. A beach is a tangible piece of land, and the government can decide to sell it or not. Governments that are interested in developing tourism often find more value in leaving the beaches public rather than selling them.

For DC, is does not matter who has the view. Either people on Prospect will, or on M/Canal. The view is not a tangible property that is taxed, of value or disappearing. Therefore, there is no reason why the government would benefit one citizen over another. Hence, rules should be applied as they stand and the new property can be built as planned.

by Jasper on Apr 7, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

The property value argument cuts both ways: A four-story building will be less valuable than a five-story one. This is why rules matter. Without rules (i.e., zoning laws), every decision becomes a battle of competing interests. If the rules laws in place allow five stories, then capping the building at four stories takes money out of the pocket of one party and puts it into the pocket of another.

by c5karl on Apr 7, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

@Jasper and c5karl - yes, exactly. The current owners are simply trying to use government processes to appropriate value from the new buyers without paying for it.

by ah on Apr 7, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

I was at the ANC hearing and saw the drawings. It seems like there might be an option to allow the developer to maximize their FAR while not destroying ALL of each house's views of the river and canal by creating slots of space through the new building. These slots can be used as courtyards/roof gardens. Its probably more expensive to build this way... but lawsuits are costly too.

by make things better on Apr 7, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

Yup, another case of property owners (Prospect Street) trying to misuse government to give themselves ownership over something they have no leagl right to.

by aaa on Apr 7, 2011 6:12 pm • linkreport

All good arguments here if this were a zoning case, but its not. It's a historic preservation case and will come down to whether this 5 story building is a more historic view of these ramparts, or whether the existing village view of the houses clinging to the hillside are. My bet is on the latter.

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

@aaa, And who says the developer has any rights to building a 5 story building there ? As the saying goes, in a historic district nothing is 'of right'. Incidentally Topher erred in saying that something must be viewable from the street to come under historic district laws. HPRB usually only enforces if disable from the street but District law clearly says 'exterior'. Now this is Georgetown and subject to federal laws and not district laws in regard to this matter , but I'd be surprised if federal law were less strict than DC law which was modeled on it.

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 6:51 pm • linkreport

Lance- aren't those houses 80's townhomes? How is that a historic view by gtown standards? In fact when they were built they probably blocked the view of older homes..

by Johnny T on Apr 7, 2011 7:04 pm • linkreport

Johnny T, it is about the view of the rocky cliffs, not the houses.

On a more serious note, this case would be before the Old Georgetown Board, not HPRB, if I am not mistaken.

by William on Apr 7, 2011 7:41 pm • linkreport

@William, correct it's a matter of a view of the ramparts/palisades/cliffs. What better defines Georgetown as you are approaching it via the Key Bridge? ... Homes clinging to the hillside ... Or a massive building 'paving' over the hillside? That's a no brainer in my view. And even if the homes weren't there, a case could possibly be made for stopping the height ... and especially, the massing, this building from encroaching on the overall 19th century 'village' view of what IS Georgetown's defining skyline. And yes, I know there's a tall building next door ... which used to very visibly mar the skyline definition but which sometime in the 80s someone (the OGB?) fixed somewhat by approving some embelshment (and rooftop additions) which served to soften the massing of what was a very 50s warehouse looking building before its transformation. Besides, one existing bad building isn't a justification for permitting an additional bad building to mar the skyline view. The more I think about it, they may have a hard time keeping 4 stories if a green gap isn't left between the new building and the existing hilltop houses. Whoever is buying this really should have checked into all this before purchasing ... (which is probably the case ... i.e., sale is contigent on approval ... And why not go for the gusto while you have a chance ... The worst that can happen is that the OGB says 'no' and you end up with free architectural advice on how to rectify the situation. It's a win-win from the viewpoint of the entity considering buying the parcel.

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 7:56 pm • linkreport

@ah, '@Jasper and c5karl - yes, exactly. The current owners are simply trying to use government processes to appropriate value from the new buyers without paying for it. '

How is that? Do you see a 5 story massive building in that spot now? When you buy in a historic district you know that any change from 'what is' needs approval. You have the situation reversed. They're trying to expropriate the homeowners on the cliff who bought these homes with the knowledge that they would get a legal say in whether they could lose that view. What you're saying would make sense if these homes didn't have historic preservation protection. There's a reason property values usually increase when an area gets historic designation ... i.e. There's a legal basis for predictablity, stability, 'things staying as they are OR getting better, and most importantly, that you get a say as an 'affected neighbor' and as a historic district resident. It's the law.

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 8:05 pm • linkreport

and just to clarify this sentence "They're trying to expropriate the homeowners on the cliff who bought these homes with the knowledge that they would get a legal say in whether they could lose that view." I don't mean they have a right to have a view per se. What I mean is that they had a legal right to assume that a 5 story massive modern building would never be allowed to be built on that hillside because of the havoc it will wreak on Georgetown's iconic skyline ... and subsequently buy with the surety that they will get to keep their views as a 'collateral benefit' ...

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 8:09 pm • linkreport

@Lance

What about a building of the exact same size and height, but built with appropriate historicist architecture?

You're arguing against a strawman that Topher never presented in his original argument. Topher asked if those residents on Prospect street have a right to their view they currently enjoy - you're asking an entirely different question.

by Alex B. on Apr 7, 2011 8:45 pm • linkreport

Lance you are a hoot. To hear you describe it the view from key bridge being blocked by the "massive (5 story) building" is akin to that seen driving the PCH. Here is the view from KEY bridge. It's a far cry from Bixby Bridge.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=georgetown+washington+dc&aq=&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=49.844639,114.169922&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Georgetown,+Washington+D.C.,+District+of+Columbia&ll=38.904826,-77.070271&spn=0.000758,0.001742&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=38.904906,-77.070337&panoid=HYxhb1dbPd50nd1BeR0y5g&cbp=12,355.57,,0,-0.96

In fact you can't even see a "Cliff". You can see a Gas Station, some trees behind it, the retaining wall by the exorcist stairs and the backs of non historic homes on the street above. But I give you props for conjuring up the imagery of Historic homes clinging cliffside. Furthermore reducing the height of the building 1 story wont change the view from the street much at all. The "cliff" would still be blocked as would the view of the houses that "cling" to it. The only thing that would change is the view from the first story of the homes to the water. Which is another point. Don't they still have water views on the upper floors of their homes? If I'm not mistaken they are only having the view cut off on the first floor. We are debating intervening here because 5 home owners will have altered 1st floor views...

by Johnny T on Apr 7, 2011 9:51 pm • linkreport

Since it's "of right" there are no zoning issues. And the residents were naive to have not gotten some zoning limitation there or gotten a private air-rights contract.

But this is a historic district and I assume that HPRB will go with the developer with minor modification. Then the residents will file a notice of appeal of that decision to the DC Court of Appeals and obtain further concessions to drop the appeal.

Routine DC Kabuki theater.

by Tom Coumaris on Apr 7, 2011 10:25 pm • linkreport

@Alex B. 'What about a building of the exact same size and height, but built with appropriate historicist architecture?

I doubt that would cut it with the OGB because the main problem with the proposal is the fact that the building changes the character of the skyline view of Georgetown as seen when approaching from the Key Bridge. This is a signature view ... one of a village built on a hill. Making the building more architectural interesting won't do anything to address the fact that the character of this signature viewshed is being radically changed ... nor the fact that you might not even see the hill once this is built ... and what you'll have in its place (as seen when approaching via the bridge) is a continuous span of 'building' from the base of the 5 story building to the tops of the houses on the hill. You'll be seeing 'big urban city' vs. 'quaint urban village' ... and that is 180 degrees counter to what the Old Georgetown Act is meant to preserver and protect.

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 10:43 pm • linkreport

@Tom, This is the OGB, they're tougher than HPRB ...

by Lance on Apr 7, 2011 10:50 pm • linkreport

After Georgetown opposes everything from social services to an apple store, you are surprised because a smal group of wealthy people don't want to replace an ugly gas station with a new building that will add density and benefit the rest of the community? These people are greedy. They want to own something that doesn't belong to them. It screams entitlement and a world view that their needs are more important because they have a big checkbook.

Maybe if they agreed to housing some if the social services in this city, I'd be more sympathetic to their anti-everything approach. Some of these residents are still living in the decade their houses were built.

by Not surprised on Apr 8, 2011 7:08 am • linkreport

As a non-Georgetown resident DC resident, I hope the new building blends into the neighborhood instead of sticking out like a glass and steel eyesore. As for the possible loss of river views, if you paid a premium for the view but neglected to pay to preserve it, your loss.

by snowpeas on Apr 8, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

I feel for the residents that will lose their view, not if but when a new condo bldg is completed. I too, have a beautiful view from SW DC looking due west toward Rossyln and the sunset. However, I know at some point in the near future a new condo will be blocking my view because of the SW waterfront develpment that will be taking place. This issue has already raised it's head along the SW DC Waterfront neighborhoods, more to come on that.

I am familiar with the intersection in question and always wondered why a gas station occupied that site? As for the residents with the million dollar views looking south and west, they should have know that it wasn't going to be forever. They live in an urban setting views change all the time. Unfortunately, when they built or bought, their purchase didn't include what an owner could do with the adjacent parcels of land now occupied by a gas station. What will be even more interesting is the cost of the views for the new condos that will alter the view of the existing neighbors on the hill.

I'm also wondering what one will see at the bottom of the long stairs. Is there a name for those stairs other than the exorcist stairs?

by dcdotcom on Apr 8, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

Here's a Google view of that cliff. One quick look at it and it's obvious why the OGB will never allow a 5 story building in that spot. Look at the massing of the building to the right (east/south) of the site. Now imagine what simialar massing in the middle of the picture would do to what is a defining viewshed of Georgetown ... Not only will the cliff be removed entirely from the viewshed, but the spires of Georgetown University will barely peak over the new building ... just about completely obliterating this postcard view of Georgetown and its two most famous towers.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Key+Bridge,+Arlington,+VA&aq=0&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=27.699934,67.5&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Key+Bridge,+Arlington,+Virginia&ll=38.903691,-77.069403&spn=0,0.00412&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=38.90402,-77.06925&panoid=blRxKAvMmijrznFjPAqCUw&cbp=12,325.55,,1,-4.08

by Lance on Apr 8, 2011 7:44 pm • linkreport


View Larger Map

by Lance on Apr 8, 2011 7:45 pm • linkreport

The building to the left in that view gives you a better sense of relative scale. That building is 6 stories. The new building is proposed to be right next to it but lower- 5 stories. Anyone know who the architect is?

by mtb on Apr 8, 2011 9:08 pm • linkreport

Yeah, and now we have an image, let's not forget that there is nothing pretty about the houses that loose their sight. every morning, I wonder who allowed that mishmash hodge podge up there. Ugly does not even start to describe it. The gas station is an iconic example of olifactory design compared to that row of architectural vomit.

by Jasper on Apr 8, 2011 10:01 pm • linkreport

Lance. Thank you for proving that Georgetown University is the iconic heart of Georgetown! I agree, we should let them build what they want where they want in order to preserve the image of the neighborhood. Where can I get you to sign the petition?

by Neil Flanagan on Apr 8, 2011 10:16 pm • linkreport

Would they rather have fumes and noise form a gas station? Unless they have some sort of easement, I doubt that they have a leg to stand on. It sounds like the loss of view really only affects a minority and the value that comes from not having a gas station (or other purely commercial neighbors) probably mitigates any loss of value.

by Rich on Apr 8, 2011 10:59 pm • linkreport

if i built something so gorgeous that everyone's view of it increased their property values and realtors used a picture of my building in ad's, should those owners have to pay me?

by opp on Apr 8, 2011 11:56 pm • linkreport

Do you have a legal right to a cliffside view?

In this case no!

There doesn't appear to be any controlling statute or regulation that would support a right of cliffside view.

It is quite interesting to see arguments based on concepts from other jurisdictions as well as proposed compromises. My hope is that the condo is built as planned and there is no of right compromise. Why? Because I believe that the law and rules are necessary and should be followed. Litigation against the developer would only give more legitimacy to the idea that you can extort or bully away the rights of others if you have a lawyer.

Laws should be laws.

by CitizenZ on Apr 9, 2011 3:35 am • linkreport

@CitizenZ 'Why? Because I believe that the law and rules are necessary and should be followed'

Most definitely. What you're not following is that the laws and rules in place here will most likely prevent a 5 story building from being built here.

I think the misconnect for most of you is the false question posed in the headline of this article. This case isn't about whether the people in these homes have a right to a river view. Of course they don't. But that said, because putting a 5 story building there would change the nature of the historic Georgetown skyline, the homeowners who bought there have a reasonable expectation - under the law - that a 5 story building will never be built there. The fact that it also saves their view is inconsequential to ensuring that that rules and the law is followed.

by Lance on Apr 9, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

Lance, the question asked in the headline is not a false one. It is, indeed, the very line of questioning brought up before the ANC, which is why this article was written in the first place.

Why do you insist on moving the goalposts?

by Alex B. on Apr 9, 2011 11:53 am • linkreport

Alex, are you sure that was the line of questioning or could it be what you took away from it. I wasn't there so I can't say. But I can say repeatedly I've been told that in many instanced, including particularly zoning issues, GGW folk have not grasped what the subject matter and arguments pro and con were really about. As it was conveyed to me, the GGW folk were so intent on seeing their desired outcome, that they really didn't want to know the facts. I know I see this repeatedly in Lydia's poorly researched articles where her inability to be unbiased leads to misleading reporting.

by Lance on Apr 9, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

@Lance

Actually the size and shape (including the height and number of floors) is clearly spelled out and not in question.

The "nature of the historic Georgetown skyline" stuff would only apply to the look of the project at the of right size and shape. I'm minimizing here but essentially architecturally detailing. The reason the Apple store had to look more like a store in Georgetown than a "normal" apple store.

by CitizenZ on Apr 9, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

@CitizenZ Actually the size and shape (including the height and number of floors) is clearly spelled out and not in question.

I don't think you understand how the historic preservation laws work. Just because the zoning code says you can build sometime of that size and shape doesn't mean you can if the property is located in a historic district.

When a property is located in a historic district, an applicant may have to go through 2 processes depending on what they are doing with the property. In this case, if the applicant wanted to get an exemption to the size or shape restrictions, they'd need to go before the zoning board to get a zoning exemption. But they're not proposing to build outside the zoning code's building envelope for that piece of property. So, barring any other 'not by right' things they're doing there that we don't know about, they don't have to go before the zoning board. However, they still need to get a signoff from the historic preservation review board simply because they are building within a historic district. I.e., they are making a change within the historic district in Georgetown. And in Georgetown this historic preservation review board is actually federal in nature (by special congressional legislation called the Shipstead-Luce Act) needs to go before the Old Georgetown Board.

by Lance on Apr 9, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

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