Housing Complex

Mary Cheh Goes to Bat For Neighbors Fighting “Two Towers”

Not big enough! (Lydia DePillis)

Not big enough! (Lydia DePillis)

The corner of 29th and Garfield Street NW in Woodley Park is open and green, with a stately Colonial that looks tucked away in a forest. It’s been empty since January, and neighbors didn’t know what would happen to it about a month ago, when a raze permit appeared on the garage.

Shocked, the neighbors investigated. Turns out the lot had been bought for $1,395,000 by local developer Zuckerman Partners, was planning to subdivide the lot, clear the tall trees, level the house, and build two giant single-family homes in their stead.

They’re even on the market already: super-broker Marc Fleischer is listing a 5-bedroom, 4,470 square foot house for $1,995,000, and another, with 7 bedroom and 5,479 square feet, at $2,295,000. 

“I call them the two towers,” says Lisa Mitiguy, who lives next door. “It will completely change the character of the neighborhood.”

The neighbors sprang into action. They researched the local lot density, what permits had been issued and applied for—the Zoning Administrator had approved the minor exception needed for the subdivision back in November. By last week, they had a petition with 56 signatures, a zoning appeal in the works, and the ear of their city councilmember.

At 8:30 on Friday morning, about 30 residents gathered on the corner, some in jogging clothes, others on their way to work.  A few minutes later, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh strode down the hill towards them, mounted a staircase, and listened carefully as she was briefed on the situation.

“The question I have at this point,” said Cheh, after they’d finished, “is how did it get to this point.” This councilwoman then directed her assistant director of constituent services to contact the Zoning Administrator, a top official at DCRA, the heads of WASA and the District Department of the Environment. “Just to make it look like all of officialdom has been alerted,” she said. Cheh instructed the neighbors to report any more work being done on the site–"they might come back under cover of darkness"–and will meet again this afternoon with neighbors and a representative of DCRA. It's also on tomorrow's agenda at ANC 3c.

Seven out of the 12 total bedrooms planned for the site. (marcfleisher.com)

Seven out of the 12 total bedrooms planned for the site. (marcfleisher.com)

Through their lawyers, Zuckerman Partners refused to comment. The firm is a family operation that has built at least two other homes in the immediate neighborhood.

“We like to say they’re taking the wood out of Woodley Park,” said Mitiguy, who took on the role of spokeswoman. “We knew that he had done it before, so we were able to organize quickly. He looks for corner lots that he then subdivides and then puts enormous structures on these things.”

  • S. Sattar

    I live in the neighborhood and am very concerned about this. This developer -- who is not a DC resident - is swooping into town and adversely affecting the character of our neighborhoods in Washington -- of which Woodley is only one of the first. He builds giganitic houses that are out of sync with current norms of moderation and green environmental standards. However, he pursues this for the profit and really doesn't care about anything else.

  • Nimbys never sleep

    I really wish you self obsessed nimbys would get a hobby and mind your own business.

    As long as the owner follows all rules and regulations, what he builds there is none of your damn business. You want to live in a planned community where you get to determine what gets built and where, I suggest you move to one.

    This guy bought the lot, worked within all zoning rules, is having to work within all overriding architural and/or historic overlays and regulations to pull his permits. Just because "you" don't like what the house is to look like doesn't matter. You have issue with the process, take that up with DCRA.

    Seriously, you folks in Cleveland Park/Woodley Park should just get back to what you do best, discussing the best yacht clubs in belize and where to get Mandarin speaking nannies at your chardoney parties. You folks need to get over yourselves because you really aren't as important as you think you are.

  • Kwiw

    The multiple, healthy, 100-yr old trees that this 'acclaimed' developer will cut down on that lot to build his mega homes is a disgrace. I thought the city cared more about its trees. I guess one kind of 'green' always wins out over the other kind.

  • L. Tankersley

    I am a resident of this neighborhood, and I am very concerned about this development. There was no notice to anyone, including the Advisory Commission, which we think was required under the regulations because one of the lots is too small for development of the size planned. And there are huge trees on the lots that will all have to be taken down in order to build houses of the size planned. What is the point? There is already a nice size house there that's just going to be torn down! This is not about NIMBY -- it is about forcing a developer to abide by all the rules that are there in the law, and making sure the regulators enforce them properly.

  • K. Stratton

    We live on the street directly behind the house that is to be torn down. The neighbor's concerns are not about nimbyism. We are concerned about trees being cut down, the land being leveled,the structural stability of the homes directly abutting the property, and the viability of the remaining trees in the surrounding area. These are all legitimate concerns and the neighbors simply want the regulators, who up until now had not even visited the site, to consider these issues before this development is allowed to proceed.

  • P DiVito

    We live on the street where this massive development is planned. Taking the wood out of woodley park is merely the start of deforesting our neighborhood and jeopardizing our city's tree canopy. Records indicate that woodley park has the highest denisty tree canopy in the city. Development encroachment on the delicate 'lungs' of this city will certainly affect all city dwellers and visitors. Not to mention the negative impact on the massive slope that will be dug out to accomodate hardscaping and housing. Shame on this developer Zuckerman! His reputation precedes him on other projects that have negatively impacted our tree canopy. And shame on our zoning department, charged with protecting the stabilization of our neighborhoods.

  • J. Korn

    One would expect in the home town of all of the US government agencies and so many consultants who travel the world preaching the importance of community participation, that our local government would assure those same rights when considering a development/destruction project such as the one described in the article. There are clearly problems with the WDC zoning regulations if a lot such as this one is subdivided without a visit by the zoning authority, an environmental assessment of the impact and the input of the affected community. Please Councilmember Cheh and other enlightened members of the DC Council, change the zoning regulations so that other communities are not put through what is happening in Woodley Park.

  • Michelle Sender

    City Paper's staff writer got it right. Do we want this to happen all over the city? Woodley Park residents were
    by-passed by DC zoning authorities who were misled by aggressive developers and real estate agent. Is this the way to characterless neighorhoods in DC?

  • Jeff

    No one seems to mind the developer's plans when they are selling their house to one of them for $1.3 million. The homes are only worth that much because they are in a great location and you can tear them down and build what you want. While they are beautiful and should be preserved when possible, it's not the trees that bring the majority of value to the property. Believe me, if a buyer was stuck with one of those ugly 1970's facades that most homes on that street have, they wouldn't buy there.

  • Gus

    I wish all of you the best in fighting this greedy, investor, pig. This type of activity was more common during the Bush housing bubble. Unfortunately, it has not disappeared. And who in their right mind would pay $2M for a cheap, plywood barn, on a postage stamp lot constructed by illegal immigrants this pig is ripping off, when they could have had a much better house on a lot double the size for $1.4M. I urge you to use every means at your disposal to fight this individual including checking the immigration status of his employees and hiring people to investigate him to set him up for a possible IRS investigation.

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