The big excitement this week (aside from all the posturing around the At-Large interim council appointment) was on the Brookland list, and started to spill over to the Ward 5 list. Two separate properties were identified by neighbors as “McMansions” (though I think that’s only a fair epithet for one of them- the other one is more “bad faux Victorian”), and a veritable tidal wave of accusations of zoning/permitting violations, damage to neighbors properties, etc. was poured out onto the list.
The faux Victorian that started the conversation, on 13th Street NE between Franklin and Girard, has a long history of complaints lodged against it with DCRA, but DCRA has not been able to substantiate many of them. The couple that lives next door, however, is exactly the wrong couple to mess with if you intend on playing fast-and-loose with zoning regulations: the wife is an architect and the husband works in construction. They wrote a detailed letter to Nicholas Majett, Director of DCRA, making very specific allegations against the owner of the lot, not only arcane things like setbacks and driveway widths (citing chapter-and-verse of the zoning regulations), but also egregious things like tearing up their (the neighbors’) driveway repeatedly and refusing to replace it, and using their outdoor electrical and water hookups without asking.
Director Majett responded personally, explaining that DCRA’s “Chief Building Inspector, Zoning Administrator, and Permits Division chief” as well as two other unspecified DC government agencies were involved in investigating the status of the project.
Since I live just a few blocks from this property, I’ll be watching for the resolution of this situation with interest.
The other house, at 22nd and Taylor NE (the “McMansion”), has mostly more mundane violations: the two lots it sits on may not have been properly converted to one lot; the setback from the street may not have been properly observed. But its primary offense seems to be that it’s ugly and out of proportion to the other houses on the street, prompting at least one neighbor to call for anti-McMansion legislation to be enacted.
And look, I practically break out in hives at the idea of neighbors having any say at all in the aesthetic choices made for other houses on the street — you say “Home Owners Association” and I hear “busybodies who want to decorate your house without paying your mortgage” — but I do tend to agree that these sort of neo-colonial architectural abominations are usually plopped down into neighborhoods by developers, rather than property owners intending to participate in the life of the community. Nonetheless, I don’t see how writing laws to ban ugly houses will fix more problems than it will create.