We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
The stately houses nestled along Chain Bridge Road NW are hardly modest. But the most opulent new feature of the neighborhood isn’t a mansion. It’s a garage.
The garage is still being built. It stands two stories high, near the foot of a hill at the edge of Battery Kemble Park. The exterior is mostly complete, done in a dapper schoolhouse red with white trim and a bright copper roof. There’s no roll-up door with a creaky chain-drive opener for this garage: Cars are to enter through a pair of mullioned French doors. Three more sets of French doors open up directly onto a neighboring “infinity pool,” which hangs spectacularly off the hillside. Once the pool is finished, performing a cannonball from your car seat into the deep end will be a possibility.
Yet the original plans for the 1,000-square-foot one-car garage left out one amenity: a driveway. Any vehicle trying to get there would have needed to bound down two sets of stone steps.
Nevertheless, the owner of the property, real-estate broker Brian Logan, called the building a “two-story accessory structure garage/studio” in the plans he submitted to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs last April. According to District zoning regulations, private garages in residential areas may have a second story, housing domestic quarters; any other type of accessory structure is limited to one story.
Logan’s garage goes with a 14,000-square-foot home he’s constructing for himself and his family, overlooking the wooded valley. “Who wouldn’t want Battery Kemble Park as their back yard?” Logan says.
Sitting in his sunroom at sunset with a glass of juice and a newspaper, neighbor Henry Sailer overlooks his own back yard, the park’s wooded vales, and Logan’s half-constructed garage. “My blood pressure rises every time I look at the goddamned thing,” the 74-year-old retired lawyer says. “I’m not even going to look anymore.”
After neighbors examined the initial plans, they sent Logan a letter and met with him about the drivewayless garage and other issues. After the meeting, Logan filed a revised plan, in which a new ramp led down to the garage and what had been termed a “pervious”—read: gravel—“terrace” turned into a “pervious lower drive court.” The ramp was to be built of grass pavers—also pervious—and to be at a steep 12 percent grade, the legal maximum.
Any cars that might struggle with the slope, though, would have other options: Another, four-car garage was already, and still is, planned for the main house. In total, the property is to have five parking spaces, which Logan says is “absolutely” average for the neighborhood.
To prevent excessive runoff, special regulations for the Chain Bridge/University Terrace area require that no more than 50 percent of a lot’s surface be “impervious,” whether buildings, pools, sidewalks, or, crucially, driveways. Logan’s initial plan included so much impervious material that adding another hard-paved driveway would have been impossible. The revised plan dealt with the limit by making the new drive court and ramp pervious.
In testimony to the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment last fall, Logan’s lawyer argued that, because the house would have parking spaces in the other garage, the garage/studio did not need to meet District requirement that driveways have solid paving.
“If you accept their legal arguments, you could build driveways of any steepness of pitch, pave them with impervious jello, and they could be 3 feet wide,” says Steven Wolf, a neurologist who lives three doors up from Logan’s house. On March 2, the Board of Zoning Adjustment also rejected that logic, finding no support for the possibility of a pervious driveway in zoning regulations.
Now Logan’s forced back to the drawing board. With no driveway to his garage, he may choose to lop the top floor off the structure, rejigger his property to find more pervious space, or sue District authorities, though he says he hasn’t decided which avenue he’ll pursue yet.
Before the decision, Logan had maintained that the addition of the driveway was a minor detail, not something that could decide the fate of his garage. “As the plans develop, things change,” Logan said. “It wasn’t a major change.” After the ruling, he maintained the plans met the regulations.
Asked what he planned to do with the garage, Logan said he would “probably park a car in it.”
Logan characterizes his foes as stodgy obstructionists. “What they’re saying is completely bogus,” he says. “[Wolf] is just going around trying to make trouble for me.”
Wolf says he’s “actually a big fan” of permeable surfaces for environmental reasons. “But what I’m not a big fan of is developers who overbuild their properties intentionally,” Wolf says. “We’re trying to stick it to him for a reason.” CP