ANC Preview: Alley Dwelling Edition

The ANC will be meeting for its March session next Monday, starting at 6:30 pm via Zoom. There are some pretty interesting items on the agenda, so I hope you will join us!

The most notable item, in my opinion, is a proposed new alley dwelling in my district. A homeowner who lives in a house in the center of the block confined by R St., 34th, 35th, and Filmore School has purchased some adjacent parking pads along an alley that comes off 34th:

The homeowner is proposing to combine the parking pads into a single lot and build a two-bedroom house on it. It is proposed to look like this:

Although it would legally be a free standing house, it would for all intents and purposes serve as an accessory dwelling of the primary home. The backside would open freely into the homeowner’s backyard. When I first saw this proposal, I assumed it would actually formally be an accessory dwelling. But the main home is itself technically an alley dwelling. (It’s actually the original home on the block and ended up somewhat stuck in the middle since the owners over the years sold off the surrounding lots.) And as an alley dwelling it’s legally not allowed to itself have an accessory dwelling.

The house is designed to be a residential building, but residential use is not a by-right use for an alley dwelling in Georgetown. It needs zoning approval. But the city is strongly encouraging developments like this. And to that end it has made getting zoning approval for this easier. It is now just a special exception process, which is significantly easier than a variance. Moreover the BZA has received the message from the city too and is very open to these sort of applications. The home owner has already submitted a zoning application (which is separate from the application the ANC will consider next week, which is strict about getting design approval from the OGB).

I have no idea at this point what exact position the ANC will take. In my opinion this is a nicely designed project that does add housing to the neighborhood by replacing a handful of parking spots. But I also acknowledge that this would mark a sea change for Georgetown. As far as I can tell, if the OGB gets on board with these types of buildings, there’s very little to stop a whole bunch of similar buildings going up in alleys around the neighborhood. Maybe that’s a good thing! But it’s certainly a big change.

Alley dwellings were a big part of Georgetown’s past. Many of them still exist in the form of tiny dead end streets like Pomander Walk. This change is obviously not an attempt to recreate that since it’s hardly likely that working class families will be moving in like they did in the original alleys. But from a strictly physical point of view, they do have a history here.

Do they also have a future? Tune in next Monday to find out!



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2 responses to “ANC Preview: Alley Dwelling Edition

  1. drmittermaier

    I don’t have a problem with this plan, but am also skeptical of the claim it adds more housing. Is the homeowner going to rent it out? If not, this is just a fancy guest room for the homeowner.

  2. Carolyn Campbell

    The plan looks like a wonderful way to beautify an unsightly alley in a Georgetown-appropriate way. It would be a tremendous improvement and render the alleyway into an English mews, for the benefit of the neighbors and all that pass through the alley. It could hopefully start a trend that rather than garbage can strewn passages, which attract vermin and other hazards, Georgetown could have more mews-like features. The look is charming and not ostentatious, and one can conceive of far more unsightly plans and uses for the alley compared to this understated yet pleasing enhancement. Hope it comes to fruition!

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