'Pop-up' condo construction angers Northwest D.C. residents

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Many community members are banding together in opposition to the D.C. housing trend of buying older row houses, demolishing them and replacing them with large “pop-up” condominiums. Some say the trend is making them sick.

It’s hard to find anyone on Buchanan Street NW who likes the idea of a pop-up house; they’ve seen the one on nearby Shepherd Street, dwarfing everything else. But for 67-year-old Sandra LeSesne, who has lived in the neighborhood for 50 years, it’s the other side of her wall.

“It’s just unbelievable that someone can come in and kind of invade your turf,” she said.

LeSesne says she was shaken from her bed on Aug. 4 by bulldozers gutting the house next door. She showed ABC 7 News the fence and the 10- to 15-foot drop-off for what’s planned to be an additional storied, three-unit condo building squeezed between two row houses.

Activist Ron Moten’s grandparents live on the other side of the planned building. He’s livid, too, and is concerned about asbestos and lead abatement.

“They demolished the house,” he said. “They tore down everything. And we don’t know what the environmental impact is of what they did. We don’t know if these people that they had do it were specialists.”

Both LeSesne and Moten insist they received no notice, though the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs disputes that; the agency’s director, Rabbiah Sabbakhan, says it cannot stop projects because people don’t like them.

“The bottom line is if it’s permitted by zoning regulation, that becomes a matter of right,” Sabbakhan said. “There is no weigh-in by the residents or the [Advisory Neighborhood Commissions].”

Pop-up homes are popping up where zoning laws or historic preservation efforts don’t stop them. Some really stand out, but for residents of Buchanan Street NW, it’s a fight they’re not yet ready to give up.

“We have no rights,” LeSesne said.

“It’s like the citizens who have been here, [our] rights are being violated by people who are just here to make money,” Moten added.

LeSesne says she now has to spend thousands of dollars to meet fire codes, since the new, longer building abuts her house in places where its predecessor did not. She and other residents are holding community meeting on the issue the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 20 at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church.