Petition for Review of an Order of the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment
Belson, Schwelb and Farrell, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell
Petitioner, Richard Myrick, contests a decision of the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA or Board) granting an application for an area variance to James G. and Barbara Lanahan Mauro, intervenors, for the construction of a 175 square foot addition to their Georgetown home located in an R-1-B district. The Mauros had sought and received a variance allowing them to exceed the maximum allowable lot occupancy requirements and the minimum side-yard requirements, 11 DCMR §§ 403.2, 405.9 (1987), and to construct an addition to an already non-conforming structure, 11 DCMR § 2001.3. Mr. Myrick contends that the Mauros failed to make the showing of uniqueness that is necessary before the BZA may approve such a variance, and that the BZA's factual findings and legal Conclusions were therefore not supported by substantial evidence. We agree and reverse.
This appeal concerns two previously separate pieces of adjoining property, each improved with a two-story row dwelling, located on 32nd Street in Georgetown. The properties are known as 1691 and 1693 32nd Street, N.W., or Assessment and Taxation Lots 831 and 832, and together they occupy square 1281, lot 9. *fn1 The lots front on 32nd Street and are approximately the same size. *fn2 The homes on both lots have two story additions, sharing a common wall, which extend into the rear of each property. Both additions are approximately 8.5 feet wide but the 1693 addition extends approximately seven feet farther into the rear of lot 9 than does the 1691 addition. *fn3 There is a narrow open court, created by the addition to 1691, measuring approximately four feet wide by 22.22 feet long running along the southern property line. Abutting 1691 to the south is a semi-detached home located at 1689 32nd Street which is owned by petitioner Myrick. This home shares a common wall with 1691 and also has a rear addition abutting the southern property line of 1691. The northern wall of this addition faces the narrow court behind 1691.
In November of 1987, the Mauros, after having lived in the house at 1693 for several years, purchased 1691 with the intention of combining the two structures and creating a larger and more livable space for themselves and their growing family. Shortly thereafter, they hired an architect to design an addition to 1691 and, on June 9, 1988, filed an application for an area variance for that property. The plans consisted of a two story addition to the rear of 1691 between the southern property line and the existing structure. The addition would fill the narrow court separating the existing structure from the neighboring property, and would also extend the 1691 addition an extra seven, feet to the east to bring it in line with the adjoining structure at 1693. *fn4 This proposed addition exceeded both the maximum lot occupancy requirements for an R-1-B district and the minimum side-yard requirements. A variance was therefore required.
In support of their application, the Mauros contended that 1691, being little more than 12 feet wide, was one of the narrowest lots in the area and that the two story addition contained small and virtually unlivable rooms. The ground floor housed a very narrow kitchen measuring from 6.5 to 7.5 feet wide and a small, virtually unusable bathroom. The second floor contained a bedroom measuring only 7.5 by 10 feet. The proposed addition would allow them to create a dining room and family room on the first floor adjacent to an existing kitchen in the adjoining structure at 1693 *fn5 as well as a master bedroom and bath on the second floor. The Mauros contended that without such an addition it was impossible for them to create any useful living space and that strict application of the zoning regulations would therefore "result in peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties exceptional and undue hardship." D.C. Code § 5-424 (g) (3) (1988).
A hearing was held on September 21, 1988 at which petitioner and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2A opposed the requested variance. The ANC contended that the problems faced by the Mauros were not unique to their property but affected the entire neighborhood and therefore should properly be addressed by seeking an amendment to the zoning regulations from the District of Columbia Zoning Commission. Petitioner argued that any claim of exceptional narrowness was defeated by the fact that 1691 and 1693 were being combined to create a 25-foot lot, as wide as most lots in the area and wider than some. *fn6 The BZA, however, found that
the applicant has met its burden of proof by demonstrating, that given the exceptionally narrow shape and small size of the subject lot, and the existence of the structure for more than 100 years, exceptional practical difficulty and undue hardship would be imposed on the applicant by the strict application of the requirements of the R-1-B District.
The Board found that it was "not practical or feasible to redesign the interior of the two existing structures to meet the applicant's living needs," and concluded that "because of the historic nature of the structures, the size and shape of the subject property, the strict application of the lot occupancy and side-yard requirements of the R-1-B District can not be met without causing exceptional practical difficulties to the applicant." *fn7
On Apil 10, 1989, petitioner moved for reconsideration or rehearing on the ground, inter alia, that when the BZA met to vote on the application on October 5, 1988, one of its members, John Parsons, announced that he had visited the site and did not believe that the addition would cause any adverse effect on the light or air of Myrick's property. *fn8 On May 31, 1989, the Board granted the motion for a rehearing solely on the issue of Parsons' visit and allowed further testimony responding to Parsons' Conclusions regarding light and air. *fn9 On July 27, 1989, following a hearing, the BZA sustained its previous decision. This petition for review followed.
In reviewing decisions of the BZA we must determine whether the Board's findings are supported by substantial evidence of record and whether "Conclusions legally sufficient to support the decisions flow rationally from the findings." Levy v. District of Columbia Bd. of Zoning ...