Guest Post: Development at the Old Doctor's House (1328 Montello)
The Doctor's House (1328 Montello) in 2005
The following is a guest post. It was written by a concerned & active member of our community who wishes to encourage others to become more involved:
There has recently been a lot of discussion around one zoning variance case in Trinidad but almost no attention paid to another one which has potentially greater impacts on neighborhood character and zoning issues. Many of us knew the former doctor’s office at 1328 Montello Ave NE. This detached colonial style house, built in 1928, sold in September 2013 for $625,000. It has since been razed, removing a familiar and unique landmark from the community. There are both permit issues from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and a variance request in to the Bureau of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) around this property that should be of concern to residents of Trinidad. For those of you here at the time, this project also mirrors aspects of what happened at 1233 Morse St NE when that development was converted from an apartment building to a boarding house to skirt regulations just days before they developers were stopped from illegal activity.
DCRA issued a permit to I.S. Enterprises Inc. in January 2014 to remove and replace the second story at 1328 Montello Ave NE and to build upwards to convert this single family home to a six-unit condominium building. The developer, I.S. Enterprises, Inc. located at 1324 H St NE, exceeded their permits and demolished the structure to ground level. Even though two walls in the far corner remained, they were most likely not slated to be included in the new building, and the developer clearly violated the permits and regulations. A stop work order for exceeding the building permit was issued by DCRA. Commissioner Laskaris helped secure this stop work order by working with DCRA, however, the developer only had to pay a fine that they can build into later sale of the property and they resumed work. They again violated DCRA regulations on the building and were issued another stop work order for construction and electrical work without permits. I had been documenting the demolition from last fall and was able to provide BZA and DCRA evidence of violations to put the second stop work order in place.
While issues with DCRA on building permits continued, there was a case submitted by I.S. Enterprises to request a variance to exceed the R-4 zoning currently in place in Trinidad. They now intend to build an eight-unit apartment building instead of the six-unit condo building noted in the original permits. This variance is requested to permit construction one story above the four allowed as matter of right (the current allowance is 40 feet tall) and to increase the number of units allowed on the site. I heard about this variance request and hearing from a neighbor on Neal St. who raised the issue at a Trinidad Neighborhood Association meeting and noted the upcoming May 20th hearing date. Despite having a hearing on the BZA calendar, the developer continued construction without awaiting the hearing or the outcome of the case. I attended the hearing and six neighbors submitted letters of opposition to the variance request, including one from the ANC Commissioner.
I.S. Enterprises Inc. did not attend the hearing and submitted a letter requesting that the hearing be delayed. The reason they had provided was that they had not contacted the ANC representatives to discuss the case. They have not contacted the Commissioner for the Single Member District to date so no SMD meeting was held to discuss the project or to request feedback from neighbors. Also, the developer has not reached out to the community in any way, unlike developers that wish to build on Florida Avenue and whom have sought community involvement and discussion. Unfortunately the letters of notification of the hearing were not sent to the correct Commissioner. Letters on the BZA website are all addressed to the 5B, not the 5D, Commissioner and were not received the Chair or the SMD Commissioner. Also, the house is on the border of two SMD areas, 5D06 AND 5D07, so this would be of concern to those of us like myself that live in the SMD on the opposite side of the street.
Given the scope of the demolition, the developer may have violated zoning regulations. I recently spoke with Stephen Cochran in the Development Review Division of the Office of Planning to better understand some of the regulations governing converting houses to apartments. This was complicated to follow and while I hope this is an accurate reflection of that discussion any errors are mine. Per DCMR Chapter 3, Section 330.5C in R-4 zoned areas like Trinidad a house constructed prior to 1958 can be converted to an apartment building as a matter of right. The lot at 1328 Montello Ave NE is large enough in square footage that they could have converted the previously existing structure to a six unit building. From looking at the site, the developer has demolished the existing building. They now want to build a new structure that has eight units. Without an existing building to convert they can only build two units on that property unless they seek and obtain variance relief from BZA.
In addition to some of the issues with permits and zoning noted, this development should also be of concern for those parking in the area. The house on Oates that is immediately behind 1328 Montello is being converted into a five-unit condo building (the sign out front notes that they will be two and three-bedroom units). Thus, two single-family homes will be replaced by up to 13 units. These residents would all have access to residential parking permits and can park anywhere in the surrounding blocks.
Since the initial hearing I have worked closely with Stephen Cochran, who is in the Office of Planning and is reviewing the BZA case on this property, and Commissioner Laskaris, in SMD 5D06, to raise the urgency of this case, to try to stop further illegal action by the developer, and to avoid what happened with changing permits at 1233 Morse St NE. This process requires the engagement of more than a handful of residents as it could set impact future development projects. This is where we need your involvement and action.
The BZA hearing has been rescheduled for July 15th but notice of the new date has not been posted on the fence surrounding the property and neighbors have not received letters with notification of the new date. Everyone who is concerned about developers that act without regard to neighbors, DCRA and BZA laws; oversized structures replacing single family homes; setting precedent for exceeding R4 zoning height and other requirements; increased density in the interior of the neighborhood; or issues with a lack of street parking should take notice and act. I encourage you to review documents on the BZA website for Case number 18759, I.S. Enterprises Inc. and to write letters of opposition. If you are able, please also attend the hearing on July 15th at 441 4th St NW, Suite 220 South.
Some sites that will be of help in your research or in preparing letters are:
http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/PIVS/Search.aspx Where you are search the building permits issued for this address (1328 Montello Ave NE)
http://app.dcoz.dc.gov/content/search/Search.aspx The Interactive Zoning Information System where you can search by case number (18759) for documents posted, notice of hearings, and transcripts from the previous BZA meeting.
Letters of opposition can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. They should be submitted prior to July 14th so that they are available to the BZA for review prior to the meeting.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to block I.S. Enterprises from trying to work around the system and change the permits (as was done at that boarding house at 1233 Morse), the following notice has been posted on the Property Information Verification System:
“DO NOT ISSUE ANY BUILDING PERMITS OR CERTIFICATES OF OCCUPANCY without approval from the Zoning Administrator or Deputy Zoning Administrator. Based on the ICA inspection from 5/28/14, the exterior perimeter walls have been removed in violation of the zoning regulations and has exceeded the scope of building permit B1307865. Part of the scope of work is for a conversion to an apartment building; however, the removal of the exterior perimeter walls will now constitute new construction. A new apartment building in the R-4 zone is not allowed without BZA approval.”
Hopefully this developer can be stopped from further illegal activity and from having a negative impact on our neighborhood.
Thank you for speaking up for Trinidad.
Montello Ave NE