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D.C. residents hold rally to protest 'pop-up' houses

D.C. residents protest pop-up homes, Tuesday, May 26, 2015. (WJLA Photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Some D.C. residents held a rally Tuesday, demanding that Mayor Muriel Bowser stop what they call "the proliferation of ‘pop-ups’ destroying Petworth.”

District regulators are set to finalize new restrictions on the height of renovated row houses, but the protesting residents said the rules were not strict enough, nor would they be implemented soon enough.

They said condo conversions disrupt D.C. neighborhoods, multiplying the number of residents in a given building, reducing street parking and driving away families.

“When you change a single-family home to a multi-level condo, you lose families,” said rally organizer Rachael Franklin.

For neighbors of these pop-ups, it is also about quality of life.

Short term, they must deal with construction noise and – they claim – code violations.

Long term, they complain the taller buildings block sunlight to their backyards, their gardens, even their solar panels.

Ultimately, most opponents of pop-ups complain that they're just ugly.

“Being older, we just kind of prefer [the row houses] like they were,” said longtime D.C. resident Gladys Dickerson.

This spring, the D.C. Zoning Commission gave preliminary approval to new regulations, reducing the maximum height of pop-ups from 40 feet to 35 feet. But developers can still divide buildings into as many as four units.

“The rules now are very much tilted toward developers,” said resident Tracy Hart.

Hart and her neighbors want stricter regulations. They also want a moratorium on new building permits until the new rules go into effect.

That seems unlikely. On Tuesday morning, Mayor Bowser said she supported the proposed rules, which are open for public comment through the end of the month and could get final approval as early as next month.

“I think the zoning commission is moving in the right direction and I think those regulations are imminent. And I think that's the way to go,” Bowser said.

Meanwhile, Bowser's Ward 4 successor, Council member Brandon Todd, said he was not outright opposed to pop-ups but that he wanted to find a balance between new housing units and neighbors’ concerns.

“[We should] really take our time and come up with a comprehensive strategy to approach how we regulate pop-ups,” he said.

He added, while the pop-up regulations are finalized, he’d work case-by-case with residents having problems.

But rally organizers said the pop-up problem in Petworth and adjacent neighborhoods is urgent, requiring an immediate moratorium. They also warned residents in other parts of D.C. that the problem is spreading.

“Just because it's happening to us, doesn't mean it's not going to happen where you are,” said Franklin.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the proposed rules are developed and approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission, which is an autonomous body, independent of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). Once the commission’s rules are finalized, they are enforced by DCRA.

As stated on the D.C. Government website, "[The Zoning Commission] is a five-member quasi-judicial body charged with preparing, adopting, and subsequently amending the Zoning Regulations and the Zoning Map… Three members of the ZC are residents of the District of Columbia appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council; the fourth member is the Architect of the Capitol (or his/her representative); and the fifth member is the Director of the National Park Service (or his/her representative)."]

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