Woodley Park Community Issues: 2910 Garfield Street

The house at the corner of Garfield Street and 29th Place, 2910 Garfield Street, was sold in early 2010. The buyer was ZP 29th Place LLC, a developer which has built other houses in Woodley Park in recent years. The developer planned to tear down the house and replace it with two much larger homes.

This is what the corner looked like a few months ago.

This is roughly what it looks like after the new development.

The Appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustment

DC zoning regulations prescribe minimum sizes for lots. In this zoning classification, the minimum is 5000 square feet. The lot of 2910 Garfield Street is 9946 square feet, so it would appear to be too small to accommodate two houses. However, the Zoning Administrator, who works for DCRA, has the authority to approve a "minor deviation" from this requirement. The Zoning Administrator granted such a deviation for this property in November 2009. No notice of the request to subdivide the lot or for a "minor deviation" was given to the neighbors or to ANC3C, nor were they notified the requests had been granted.

The Zoning Administrator is allowed to grant only those minor deviations that do not "impair the purpose of the otherwise applicable regulations." His letter granting this deviation contains no discussion of how this request met this standard.

A number of the residents of Garfield Street, 29th Place and Garfield Terrace do not like what this development will do to their corner of Woodley Park and are fighting the Zoning Administrator's decision. WPCA and ANC3C worked with these neighbors, and both agreed to appeal the Zoning Administrator's decision to the Board of Zoning Adjustment. That appeal was filed on June 3.

On June 7th, Councilmember Mary Cheh, Council Chair Vincent Gray and all four councilmembers-at-large (Mendelson, Catania, K. Brown and M. Brown) wrote to Mayor Fenty asking that all permits for this property be suspended while the BZA appeal was pending. On the same day, Linda Argo wrote residents, agreeing to a suspension, but only until zoning issues related to the building permits were resolved, not pending a decision in the BZA appeal.

The BZA held a hearing on the appeal on October 5th. A video of the hearing in on the DC Office of Zoning website. On October 26th, the BZA rejected the neighbors' appeal; an order to that effect was issued the following July.

The Superior Court Action

On July 8th, some of the neighbors filed a complaint against the City in Superior Court about the subdivision of this property. The claims are that DCRA violated the subdivision rules in Chapter 27 of Title 10 of the DCMR and failed to give the ANC the required notice. Plaintiffs also asked for a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo during the litigation, and a hearing on that motion is scheduled for September 17th.

At a status conference on July 23rd, the Judge entered an order which prohibited ZP from taking down the trees or razing the existing house until 15 business days after DCRA had issued permits to build the new houses. She also required DCRA to give plaintiffs and the Court written notice of the issuance of such permits.

DCRA issued the permits to build the two houses on August 12th. A few days later, however, counsel for DCRA advised that the permits had been issued in error, due to a "computer glitch". Although he indicated that the Agency would take steps to rescind the permits, it did not do so.

Whether issued correctly or by computer gremlins, the permits prompted Judge Zeldon to hold a hearing on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Because there were no facts in dispute -- just questions of law -- she combined that hearing with one on the merits of plaintiffs' claims. She was unpersuaded by plaintiffs' cause, and after the hearing issued an order denying the injunction and dismissing the case.

The Public Space Applications

In order to build houses to the scale he wants, the developer needs permission from the DC Public Space Committee to construct retaining walls and stairs and stoops for the houses in public space. If the Committee denies the applications, the developer will have to scale-back his plans. ANC 3C unanimously passed a resolution "strongly opposing" these applications. At the hearing on October 28th, the Committee expressed concerns about the proposed use of public space and asked the developer to address them.

The developer submitted revised plans on November 19th which addressed some of the Committee's (and neighbors') concerns. On January 6th, the Committee required further changes to the retaining walls of one of the houses and otherwise granted the developer's applications.

This issue has generated some press coverage, such as reports on Channel 7, Channel 4 and WUSA, the Northwest Current articles on May 19 and May 26 and June 2 editorial, a piece in The Examiner and a post in The City Paper.
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