Marjorie Rachlin has done a lot of sleuthing on behalf of Forest Hills Connection into the current effort to rewrite decades-old zoning regulations. Here’s her take on how this will affect neighborhood homeowners.
by Marjorie Rachlin
DC Office of Planning (OP) is in the midst of a major rewrite of the zoning regulations, and some of the changes will affect homeowners in Forest Hills. The zoning regs were originally written in l958 and do need some updating. The question for our homeowners is whether such updating will change the character of our neighborhood for good or bad.
Almost all homeowners who live in a detached house in Forest Hills are in zones R-1-A or R-1-B. This outline deals with proposed changes that would affect such homeowners, not apartment dwellers or condo owners.
These proposals are not set in stone yet. Some seem unclear. OP says they will roll them out to the public in the fall, when they are finalized, but it may be easier to influence them now.
To learn more, homeowners should check out the OP website, DCZoningUpdate.org.
Proposals of the Office of Planning1. OP proposes to cut side yard requirements on detached houses to as little as five feet. Currently, a residence in R-1-A or R-1-B must have 8-foot side yards on each side (which means 16 feet between the houses).
A new formula for side yards would require 10% of the lot width as a minimum and 30% of the lot width for both side yards.
This means that on a lot 50 feet wide, 15 feet (30%) must be in side yards, but one side yard could be only 10%, or 5 feet. A 60 foot lot would need a total of 18 feet devoted to side yards, but one side could be six feet. (This regulation would override the provisions of the Forest Hills Tree and Slope Overlay).
My opinion: Eight-foot side yards give light, air and privacy, with 16 feet between the houses. Five or 6 feet from the lot line is too close.
2. The new regulations would allow small rental apartments in a house or in a backyard building, if the owner lived in the house. Previously, residents could have “two boarders” in the house, or a small building in the backyard for “domestic servants.”
A rental structure in the back yard could be 22 feet high, and as big as 25% of the square footage of the house (maximum 900 sq. feet or 30’ by 30’.) A total of 6 people could live on the property.
The new regs make such apartments a matter of right, with no variance or exception required.
My opinion: Such apartments should be subject to a special exception or variance, so neighbors can have a say. A rental apartment in the backyard next door might be noisy or unpleasant, depending on the tenants, and I do not want a 22-foot structure looking over into my yard.
3. A residence would not have to have a parking space on the property. In real life this means that the resident will park on the street or have no car.
My opinion: We have enough parking on the street already. Why encourage it?
4. Expand the allowed home occupations and businesses. Right now we have psychiatrists, dentists, artist studios, and maybe others in our area , but this proposal changes the list of home-based businesses. They are a matter of right.
An owner/resident could have a small tailoring business, legal office, travel agency, real estate office, recording studio, shoe or appliance repair, or daycare facility in their home, for example.
This is restricted to small, resident-run businesses with only two employees, no more than two vehicles for the business, no more than 8 customers an hour, and a small sign.
My opinion: I do not want to have a business with two vehicles and two employees next door to me. OP needs to clarify what has been allowed and what is new, so it can be discussed.
OP is proposing a number of other changes that will affect our lives. Stay tuned with your listserv, the Forest Hills Connection, the Current, and local meetings.