Man, these Neighbors for Neighborhoods people raising hell over the Office of Planning’s proposed zoning overhaul sure are masters of the hyperbolic email. In addition to the one David Alpert debunked at Greater Greater Washington yesterday, an organizer named Linda Schmitt had the Committee of 100’s Alma Gates—-she of the Harry Potter-style publicity campaigns—-post another on the Palisades list yesterday. It begins:

“That’s crazy,” they say as they take a step back. “They can’t be serious!” “Yes they are serious,” I say, and launch into explanation of proposed zoning changes. Friends, neighbors and strangers react the same when I tell the real life tale of the city’s overhaul of the zoning code.

Stand-alone living units plopped into any neighbor’s back yard, for rent, for whoever, even in “single family” housing areas. All streets within a half mile of a Metro stop or major bus route would be called a “Transit Zone” and properties would be developed without parking. Why? To extract people (meaning me and thee) from cars and get them to walk vigorously to a Metro stop. Think about wrestling a toddler and a baby in a stroller into a Metro station, through the stiles, down the escalator, onto the train and home again. Fun? Add some groceries. You’d think parking was the devil’s work. And that Metro is perfection itself. Yes, I guess I have to agree, “it’s crazy.”

Schmitt should stop worrying about the “standalone living units.” The proposed regs for apartment zones explicitly provide that the accessory dwellings not compromise their neighbors’ light, air, enjoyment, and privacy, and that they “shall not substantially visually intrude upon the character, scale and pattern of houses along the subject street frontage.” Even where they are allowed by right in single family zones—-which is recommended by the AARP—-there well be restrictions on size and protections for neighbor privacy.* Yes, minimum parking requirements will disappear in some commercial areas, but not according to a radius around Metro stations. 

So we—-neighbors across the city—-16th Street Heights, Queens Chapel, AU Park, Chevy Chase and more—-have formed a group (N4Ndc) to alert people to the proposed changes. Why us? Because the city hasn’t. Why now? Because the city wants these changes adopted by the end of the year. Why change? Well, they won’t say.

Fifty years with the original zoning code seduced us into thinking “maybe a few changes, but no big deal.” Our normal confidence that in the end the city will more or less do the right thing has lulled us into a false sense of security.

These changes, the Office of Planning says, would be a “matter of right,” meaning nobody would have ability to comment on, object to or say “boo” about what a neighbor could do along these lines. How many stories in a house? It’s been three stories but now they say “no limit on stories.” On the other hand, they say 40 feet high. But why say “no limit” on stories? How does that work? Houses closer together? Sure. Try to get a ladder up for the painter after the setback’s been changed to five feet. No driveways? That’s right.

Is she really worried about people cramming eight-foot-high stories under a given height? Nobody who wants to lease, sell, or live in their building would do that. And yes, the new minimum side yard width would be five feet, but the requirements are proportional to the width of the lot—-some will even increase. In areas where residential buildings will not be required to have parking spaces, they will also not have to have driveways, but nobody’s going to prevent you from building one, or take one away that already exists.

This is real. Our homes, our neighborhoods and our tranquility is at risk. Help us get the word out; we are N4Ndc, and we want to play a constructive part in engaging the city on the proposed zoning code. Our website is in the works; until it’s up and running, you can contact us at We have no other agenda than to get the word out, help communities figure out what their concerns are, and have a say in what does—-or doesn’t—-get approved.

And don’t forget: emails to the mayor, Councilmember and the Office of Planning are critical. Before our residential rights are whisked away, take the next step, speak your mind.

Linda Schmitt


Neighbors for Neighborhoods (Note the “1” after “tt”)

Everybody’s for more information and resident engagement here. I look forward to N4Ndc’s informative and explanatory website. But spewing breathless, distorted accounts of what the new zoning code will do is hardly constructive behavior, as Schmitt claims to want.

* CORRECTION, May 10: This post initially confused regulations on accessory dwelling units in apartment and single family zones.