Poplar St. Residents Protest Absentee Neighbor’s Plans
By August 1, 2022 2 673•
Georgetown’s residential streets are a constant buzz of service and construction projects, causing parking and street congestion, months if not years of having a dumpster parked in front of homes, noise and pollution. Georgetowners understand that those nuisances are part of the price for living in upscale neighborhoods that are well maintained, even manicured and beautiful. Usually, everyone is relieved when the neighbor’s project is done and their property value goes up as a consequence.
Yet for some, the post-project pain becomes worse than the project period. Construction can damage adjoining walls — sometimes the case in Georgetown’s many multimillion dollar townhouse neighborhoods — as well as electrical and plumbing elements. Roots of heritage trees, spread to under a neighbor’s garden over the decades, can be damaged during garden remodeling and even cause historic trees to die.
“As concerned neighbors, we are writing about our support of the preservation of the three holly trees and euonymus tree whose existence is potentially threatened by the extensive excavation planned at 2714 Poplar Street,” announced a letter signed by 18 neighbors on June 24. “Their root systems are in jeopardy.”
“These trees in my 15 foot-wide garden are an essential part of my daily life and my well being,” Nancy Flinn, the neighbor to the west, told The Georgetowner. “And while I would be directly affected by their loss, they also represent an incredibly important part of our Georgetown environment. Georgetown’s canopy of trees is a treasure. Advocating for the life of these treasures is key to maintaining a healthy environment.”
The neighbors to the east of the pending construction are especially concerned about the bowed wall, crumbling and displaced bricks that fall from the neighbor’s home into their narrow garden entrance way from Poplar Street. The property has been vacant for more than three years after having been gutted by the trustee of the elderly owner now in residential care, according to the neighbors, who had just moved in to the adjacent home in June of 2021 and asked to be unidentified due to job security concerns. “The back door was left open, rats were living there and the backyard was a tangle of weeds,” they said. “We were unsuccessful in contacting the trustees with our concerns.”
Last June, the neighbors filed an “abandoned property” report with D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). That brought about some garden clean up, rat control and a closed back door. “But we know nothing beyond that,” Flinn said. “We have not been informed of any construction timelines, inspections or even a chance to comment. We are afraid that damage to our homes and gardens will cost us thousands of dollars.”
The problem of construction damage is an issue that affects construction permits up and down the line, but especially in Georgetown which requires a long chain of community, architectural and historical preservation reviews. Now, the city has proposed some liability protection.
On July 5, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she has introduced legislation requiring special liability insurance coverage that would protect District homeowners from construction-related damage caused by neighboring projects.
The Protecting Adjacent and Adjoining Property Owners from Construction Damage Amendment Act of 2022 “would require property owners, contractors, or persons applying for a permit for construction or demolition work to obtain liability insurance to insure adjacent and adjoining property owners for loss or damage arising out of that work.” Along with the liability insurance proposal, DCRA also announced the launch of the DCRA Insurance Education Center to better inform and protect property owners before they are negatively affected by a damaging construction project.
The entrance to Poplar Street is at 27th Street. It’s a dead-end street with steps that ascend to 28th Street — and historically important to the Black history of Georgetown. Its small homes were owned or built by Black Georgetowners who resided in the east side’s Herring Hill section in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.