This letter is in response to new proposed rules developed by the Office of Planning that will impact microhousing options and appears to target Boneyard Studios and other alley owners. If you are a DC RESIDENT please consider SUBMITTING TESTIMONY to let these good folks know how you feel. (it’s easy!)
DC Zoning Commission: Anthony J. Hood, Chairman; Marcie Cohen, Vice-Chairman; Robert Miller, District Resident; Michael G. Turnbull, Architect of the Capitol Designee; Peter G. May, National Park Service Designee.
DC Office of Planning: Ms. McCarthy, Director.
Ms. McCarthy and the DC Zoning Commission,
I would like to thank Ms. McCarthy for her recent comments praising Boneyard’s “high-quality” construction and “environmental stewardship.” We have been working tirelessly, with our own savings, for over two years to make Boneyard Studios a beautiful showcase of micro housing, building a wide community of tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters in DC and across America, and developing one AIA award winning design. We also recently hosted 17 representatives from multiple DC agencies to discuss how microhousing can play a role in expanding affordable housing options in the city, and potentially be applied to assist the homeless population.
I would also like to sincerely thank OP and the Zoning Commission for your tireless work on the DC zoning rewrite. This is a critical and often thankless job that could help make our city more sustainable and affordable. I and many Boneyard Studios supporters contributed specific comments on making ADU’s more accessible, and appreciate that OP’s recent revisions took into account many of the recommendations on easing regulations on minimum lot sizes and house areas. However we strongly wish that the ADU rules kept 1602.2, and would allow accessory apartments without going through a costly and time intensive special exemption process. We feel expanding ADU’s is essential to increasing DC’s housing supply, expanding affordable housing, and allowing aging in place for DC residents.
I also write today to clarify a few issues that have arisen out of the recent discussion of micro houses, alleys and the latest zoning language, particularly the ‘Camping in Alleys’ (CIA) language under 1609.2/1005/2 which was just recently proposed:
No camp or any temporary place of abode in any tent, wagon, van, automobile, truck, or trailer of any description shall be permitted on an alley lot unless approved as a special exception subject to the following conditions:
(1) The use shall be located so that it is not likely to become objectionable to adjoining and nearby property because of noise, traffic, parking, lighting, sanitation, or otherwise objectionable conditions.
(2) Open fires shall not be permitted.
(3) The use shall not be approved for more than two consecutive weeks and no more than one month per calendar year.
- Transparency: In the 1100+ comments recently submitted to the Office of Planning regarding the zoning rewrite, we couldn’t find a single one that pertained to residential structures, tiny houses, wagons, trailers, tents or otherwise in alleys. Yet on June 16 OP just added the new proposed text above explicitly prohibiting “alley camping” to the latest round of recommended zoning language. It is unclear where the demand for such language is coming from, but it does not appear to be from the DC public commenting on the zoning rules. Thus it is unclear who we should engage further on this issue, and would be obliged if you could inform us.
- Justification: Ms. McCarthy recently stated that “we need some level of controls so people aren’t setting up squatter camps in alleys”. We are great fans of DC’s alleys, and are unaware of any squatting activity in any alley in DC, but would be interested to learn more about the cases you have found. I would note that squatting is typically defined as “to settle on our occupy property, especially otherwise unoccupied property, without any title, right or payment of rent”. I would like to clarify that I own my private property at Boneyard Studios outright, have full and clear title to it, pay all required property taxes to the District, and permit friends and the community to make use of it on a case by case basis. We support controls on squatting in alleys, if there is justification for it. But we find justification lacking, and the current language imprecise and overexpansive.
- Fairness: We quite enjoy having an overnight campout with friends on my private property once in a while (some pictures attached), and personally don’t see any need to apply for a special exception permit from DCRA for this. However, if OP can make a compelling case to prohibit alley camping on private property, then we recommend that OP explicitly extend the proposed zoning rules fairly, to limit camping to all privately owned DC land — alleys as well as the countless empty DC lots with street frontage, residential front yards and back yards and side yards, rooftops and porches. However, like us, I would expect that many DC residents may take umbrage at having to get a ‘special exception’ DCRA permit to pitch a tent, or have their kids take part in the annual Great American Backyard Campout sponsored by National Wildlife Foundation. Such a permit could take weeks, at considerable expense.
- Consistency: Under DC code 604.1, open fires are already prohibited in DC, but under 604.2 are allowed for “Recreational purposes, including the cooking of food for human consumption on other than commercial premises”. This would remain the case on alley lots, unless (under the draft regs proposed by OP) the lot was temporarily approved ‘by special exception’ for camping, in which case open fires are then prohibited. This does not seem consistent with existing rules under 604.
Folks at Boneyard Studios look forward to using the lot daily as we have been for the past two years: hosting hundreds of enthusiastic visitors each month at our micro house showcase events, growing a showcase garden and orchard, undertaking projects in the wood/metal workshop, holding community events, and working on other art/music/work in the micro houses during the day. In the interest of expanding affordable housing in DC, we strongly encourage OP to support micro housing units of all forms, be it multifamily apartments, connected or detached ADU’s, or trailer based micro homes.
Brian Levy and the Boneyard Studios community