Neighbor Ken Terzian recently wrote to the DC Office of Planning to ask, how would the new zoning rules affect a longtime effort to protect Forest Hills’ trees and topography. His email, and the OP’s Arlova Jackson’s response, follows:
From: Ken Terzian
Sent: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 8:06 PM
To: Jackson, Arlova (OP)
Subject: Proposed Zoning Changes
I read in the recent Forest Hills Connection newsletter that proposed changes to side yard requirements from 8 feet to 5 feet would override the provisions of the Tree and Slope Overlay. Really?
While the Tree and Slope Overlay is not adequately enforced, I question whether the proposed change wouldn’t still be subject, on paper, to defer to the overlay requirements.
Can you please clarify this aspect of the proposed change for the record?
From: Jackson, Arlova (OP) [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 5:07 PM
To: ‘ken terzian’
Subject: RE: Proposed Zoning Changes
The Forest Hills/Tree and Slope Protection overlay (FH/TSP) currently requires that “minimum side yard requirement for all buildings, accessory buildings, or additions to buildings shall be twenty-four (24) feet in the aggregate, with no single side yard having a width of less than eight (8) feet.” (§ 1518.3)
The Office of Planning examined side yard requirements throughout the city and determined that in some cases, the requirements can be overly burdensome to homeowners. The FH/TSP is a good example of this. While the side yard requirements in that overlay have an important public policy objective—to require ample open space—they may also have unintended consequences.
As an example, the FH/TSP overlay includes many lots that are 50 feet wide. Requiring two side yards totaling 24 feet in width on such a lot effectively mandates that the house be no more than 26 feet wide. While such narrow houses are in character in other parts of the city, one might reasonably conclude that they would be out of place in Forest Hills.
So, yes, OP’s current draft does propose a rule that works differently than the current FH/TSP overlay. It actually works somewhat similarly, in that you would have requirements for each side yard as well as a requirement for total width. The difference is that it would be based on a percentage of lot width—so wider lots have to have wider side yards, and narrower lots could have narrower yards.
We have heard concerns that, by allowing a yard on one side of the property to be as narrow as five feet, this could create negative impacts and could be contrary to the overall character of neighborhoods such as Forest Hills. While this may be a valid point, we have studied these neighborhoods and can point to existing houses in Forest Hills that have side yards narrower than five feet.
Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between existing and new construction. The current regulations already provide some flexibility for side yards on existing houses (e.g., to allow a modest rear addition), and we do expect to retain those provisions. Most of the concerns raised have been about new construction (the “teardown”). Therefore, in light of the community feedback we’ve received, we are revisiting our side yard proposal as it relates to new construction. Our hope is that we can put forward a revised set of side yard regulations that work for both Forest Hills and for other neighborhoods with similar zoning.
Let me know if you have any additional questions,
Arlova Y. Jackson, AICP
DC Office of Planning
Read George Clark’s response in part 2 of this series.