Myth/Fact: Alley Lots 1

Myth: Under the updated zoning code, developers will be able to build apartment buildings along alleys behind my house.

Fact: It is not permitted now, nor will it be permitted in the future, to build apartment buildings on alley lots located in residential zones. We are proposing changes which could allow, subject to Board of Zoning Adjustment review, more single family alley dwellings in some residential zones and multi-family apartments in some commercial zones.

In general, “alley lots” are properties which abut an alley with no direct street access or frontage. Currently, the zoning code allows limited use of such alley lots in residential zones (such as parking, artist studios, and storage), whereas a greater range of uses are permitted in commercial zones. However, the existing zoning code strictly regulates residences on alley lots in all zones. Single family alley dwellings are permitted only on alley lots accessible via a 30-foot wide alley or alley network and are generally limited to a height equal to the adjacent alley’s width. Any residence located on a sub-30-foot alley network or multi-family housing would require a “use variance” pursuant to Board of Zoning Adjustment review, which is a high burden for relief.

alley dwelling2

The proposed regulations would allow residents additional housing options. Single family residential uses along sub-30-foot wide alleys would be allowed in R-3, R-4, R-5 and commercial zones by special exception. A variety of interested agencies, such as DC Water, FEMS, DDOT, and DPW would have an opportunity to review a proposal as part of the Board of Zoning Adjustment review process. Other conditions that would apply to alley dwellings include setback requirements, a 450 square foot minimum lot area, and 22-foot building height limit in a residential zone (30 feet in some commercial zones), among others. Alley dwellings would not be permitted in low-density residential areas (R-1 and R-2 zones). Multi-family alley dwellings could be subject to certain conditions in some commercial zones to prevent adverse impacts on the community.

Where are alley lots located?

According to a survey performed by the Office of Planning, the majority of alley record lots (59%) are located within R-3 and R-4 zones; 16% are located in R-1 and R-2 zones. Most alley record lots are located in Ward 6. Where data is available, approximately 14% of existing alley lots are being used as dwellings.

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