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D.C. Residents Oppose Pop-Up Home Plans, Claim Victory

By Beryl Kessio, Howard University News Service
On October 31, 2017

Washington D.C.-- Tensions ran high at the Oct. 10 Advisory Neighborhood Committee (ANC) 5D meeting, where neighborhood residents opposed to the proposed renovation of 1121 Morse Street NE showed up in full force to voice their concerns.

ANC 5D covers the Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Trinidad neighborhoods. The controversy surrounding Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) Case #19635, surrounds property owner Brandon Jackson’s plans to build a pop-up home in a single-family home neighborhood. Pop-up homes feature additional floors added to existing rowhouses to increase the quantity of more units available as housing demand increases in the District, resulting in altered roof lines and a host of other issues, according to opponents of the pop-up trend. Two two-bedroom units in the pop-up would rake in $600,000 each, a hefty sum that neighbors say will push people out of the community.

“I’m not opposed to you finding a totally vacant area and upgrading it. Why would you want to come and disrupt something especially established?” said Sheila Poole, a 5D resident, as she pressed Jackson. She received affirming applause from other residents. 

“I see a total disregard and disrespect for the city. I’m very much opposed to people coming here to change what we already like,” she said.

“I was born in my house. I’ve been there for 60 years,” Cedric James said with frustration. His home is right next to the proposed construction site. Another neighbor of his wanted to construct a pop-up, much to his chagrin. “I think it should stay as a single-family home. I have solar panels. I filed a complaint because my neighbor was trying to do a pop-up, and if she did that, it would block my solar panels.”

Disgruntled neighbors also voiced their concerns about loud construction noise, safety code violations and finding parking if construction were to move forward. Jackson addressed the latter concern by promising to install two private parking spots behind the pop-up. His would-be neighbors quickly rebutted.

“We already can’t get residential parking. They won’t allow it on our street for no reason. Now if we’re not home early enough we can’t have parking,” resident Sonja Stanley said. “You’re only gonna have two parking spots in the back. That’s parking that we can’t use on our street.”

When Chairman Clarence Lee asked if anyone in the audience supported the pop-up project, David Hailes, another Morse Street resident yelled “no,” resulting in a call to order from Lee.

“We don’t want this anxiety anymore. Vote tonight,” Hailes continued.

Morse Street residents were not the only ones opposed to the project.

“I certainly appreciate the residents for coming out tonight and taking a strong stand. Every resident is entitled to light and air. And if your access to light and air is blocked by questionable construction, that’s a concern. It’s something the city is dealing with,” said Commissioner Kathy Henderson.  

“We really need to nip this in the bud,” Commissioner Peta-Gay Lewis said of the spreading pop up craze in the District, which she sees as destructive of the historical integrity of single-family neighborhoods. “After a while, the whole character of the neighborhood will be gone. I don’t think it’s going to truly pass because the residents don’t want it. I think we need to have the vote tonight.”

And vote they did. The commissioners voted 5-0 to deny Jackson from moving forward with his plans. The bulk of the approximately 50 residents present celebrated with cheers and applause. A defeated Jackson sat down after being scolded by Commissioner Henderson for the illegible one point font on his presentation.

“We have to make changes and keep coming to meetings. We have to keep talking to neighbors and the architect to work something out and hopefully reach a compromise,” Jackson said.  

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