Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A group of residents is contesting the development of a proposed co-living space on a small, alley-like block in Truxton Circle, alleging that the team behind it has violated zoning rules.

This week, the Richardson Place Neighborhood Association filed an appeal with the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, seeking to have a pair of building permits issued in September by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—for 410–412 Richardson Place NW—rescinded. In April, the site’s previous owner sold the land and prefab structures he’d installed there to Oaktree Development, an Arlington-based firm that has partnered with New York startup Common to open a shared-living project with 24 bedrooms. Common “members,” typically young professionals, pay for short-term leases that include utilities, furniture, weekly cleaning, and other amenities. The business’ inaugural D.C. property, which has not yet opened, is three-stories.

RPNA casts the project as a “commercially operated dormitory” in their filing to BZA. The association argues that the developers did not ask for a zoning variance given the site’s intended use, and that they essentially mischaracterized the development to District officials as two adjacent “family flats.” 

“This is a blatant violation of the city’s zoning laws, and represents a breach of trust with both the city and the development’s immediate neighbors,” RPNA contends. “…If Oaktree’s intended use is permitted to proceed as ‘flats,’ neither DCRA nor the affected neighbors will have any guarantee that the property will not consistently exceed its lawful occupancy.”

Considering that tenants could have “partners, significant others, spouses, children, friends, or [other] guests” over, the group adds, “the neighbors may well face a building whose density far surpasses the 24 units constructed by Oaktree—perhaps permitting as many as 30 or 40 individuals residing in a space designed for a handful of single families.” Though the building directly across from the site is also three-stories-tall (at a set-back), the block mostly consists of two-story, single-family rowhouses.

City Paper has contacted Oaktree and Common and will update this post if it hears back. Last month, Oaktree Partner Peter Stuart said the project complied with zoning requirements, and Common CEO Brad Hargreaves said it was to open in December or January. But a former webpage for the project, called “Richardson,” has been taken down from Common’s website. A cached version advertises the project as “in Shaw” (a point that RPNA harps on), with one-year rentals “starting at” $1,700 per month.

A spokesman for DCRA declined to comment on the appeal, citing the “pending litigation” before BZA. James Wilson, RPNA’s president, deferred to the association’s memorandum in support of the appeal.

The situation is proving an early case study in how the District accommodates co-living spaces, which have popped up in other cites like New York and San Francisco. “‘Co-living’ is not a use contemplated by the existing rules, which means it cannot be constructed as [a matter] of right in an R-4 zone,” RPNA states, referring to a residential code in D.C. law. “But even if the Office of Zoning were to analogize to existing uses contemplated by zoning regulations, the uses closest to what Oaktree intends are either as an apartment house—which is not permitted in an R-4 zone at all—or as a rooming or tenement house, both of which must comply with the 40 percent lot-coverage requirement.” A hearing has not been set.