The tomato pop-up under construction. Image by Tracy Loh.

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

In recent years, some individual homeowners and small-scale developers have created infill density in DC by adding new floors to existing homes to convert single-family townhouses to multi-family structures. These “pop-ups” have been very controversial, and have triggered pushback from the DC Zoning Commission.

Now, this building trend is expanding from residential to other land uses — and the controversy is riper than ever.

Emerald Street's historic character is being degraded by rogue pop-ups

Recently in the historic Emerald Street neighborhood, local homeowners and gardeners Sonya and Dalton Hubtulli built a pop-up tomato trellis in their backyard garden. Constructed practically overnight on wooden supports, the trellis rises to an impressive height visible when looking over from neighboring yards. The structure is almost three times as tall as the pre-fab tomato cages it replaced.

Complaints from neighbors sprouted almost as quickly. On the neighborhood listserv, the towering trellis has been a hot topic for debate.

“That thing is blocking my light and ruining my view,” said one disgruntled adjacent homeowner.

Others objected on aesthetic grounds, saying the height of the trellis does not match the efforts of neighboring gardeners who are also growing tomatoes.

Another neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, asserted that, “I have a degree in architecture, and it's killing me to see this thing disrupting the envelope and rhythm of the historic facades of our back yards.”

One impassioned neighbor circulated a petition demanding a stop-work order on the trellis.

The controversy is still growing

In an attempt to address complains and comply with local regulations, garden owner Sonya Hubtulli sought a permit from the relevant city agency.

The permit was denied on the grounds that, “This is a change to the historic character of the backyard. The Historic Preservation Review Board will require you to tear down the wooden poles and replace them with chain-link fencing that matches the stye and character of the existing area. Also, you will need to seek a variance for your tomato tower's failure to meet the statutory avian parking minimums.”

Hubtulli estimates that it will cost her several hundred dollars to remove the existing structure and put up birdhouses to meet the avian parking minimums. However, with organic heirloom tomatoes ringing up at $7 each at the farmers market, she has little choice.

Said Hubtulli, “This kind of intrusive regulation is just making it even harder and more expensive to create a livable city for people and edible plants. I wish the HPRB had understood that my neighbors are just jealous of how healthy my tomato plants are.”