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Divided ANC Supports Dupont Circle Church Plans, With a Caveat

by Lark Turner

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A view of the development on Church Street looking toward 18th.

A plan to build a new St. Thomas’ Parish church in Dupont Circle — along with residences to help pay for it — was ultimately supported, with caveats, by a divided ANC 2B on Thursday.

The church was mostly burned down in the ’70s, and has allowed Dupont residents to use its open land as a park for decades. The site is in the Dupont Circle Historic District, and the project will go before the Historic Preservation Review Board later this month.

The new plan has stirred up emotions in the community. Hundreds of people have signed a petition, Save Church Street, opposing the development. On Wednesday night, the ANC spent more than an hour debating whether to support the plans for 1772 Church Street NW (map). Commissioner Noah Smith asked the commission to oppose the plan, while the chair of the zoning committee, Leo Dwyer, advocated a resolution supporting it.

Smith ultimately managed to amend Dwyer’s resolution to read that the “ANC does not support the massing of the residential component of the project,” and that amendment narrowly passed 4-3. But though the resolution was successfully amended, it didn’t pass at the end of the night, by a 5-3 vote. Commissioner Stephanie Maltz was the swing vote in the passage of the 4-3 amendment, but after more discussion decided to oppose the resolution as a whole. She worried aloud that a too-strongly worded resolution might scare the church off the project entirely. The church said in a zoning committee meeting earlier this week that some developers had advised it to sell off its land and wash its hands of whatever happened next.

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Instead, the ANC decided at the last minute to support a resolution from the Dupont Circle Conservancy led by Tom Bower.

That resolution “supports the concept of the church portion of the project” but asks for higher-quality materials and “a better understanding of how the structure will exist in context with the adjacent fabric on 18th Street.” It also supported the residential component of the project with the following caveat:

“The DCC supports the residential concept but is concerned that the massing presents an incongruous transition on Church Street with the rest of the block.We suggest that the designers revisit the massing with the intent of reducing bulk adjacent to the townhouses on Church Street, with a more gradual increase in height from the east to west.”

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Developers said the residential building will “feel like” a four-story building.

Bower told UrbanTurf that the Conservancy passed its resolution by a 7-4 vote. He said some of the members are also supporters of the Save Church Street movement. He suggested that influencing the project positively was ultimately better than allowing the land to sit vacant and be developed later, perhaps with less scrutiny, by someone else.

“The built history of DC is very long,” he said. “None of us is going to be around when that lot changes the next time. By not doing something, you risk having something worse happen.”

He also said the church had been flexible in working with the community thus far. UrbanTurf reported earlier this week that the design had changed significantly since it was first revealed at a heated town hall earlier in 2014.

“The church could simply say it’s our property, we have this zoning right, we’re going to go forward and do what we want,” Bower said. “At this point, they’ve been gracious about being open to tweaking things.”

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/in_controversial_dupont_circle_church_project_divided_anc_supports_plans_wi/8719

2 Comments

  1. St. Thomas neighbor said at 6:54 pm on Thursday July 10, 2014:

    Quite honestly, St. Thomas Church has been anything but accommodating in their building plans.  In fact, they’ve been intransigent and utterly callous towards their neighbors. A modest renovation of their charming structure would have sufficed for a paying membership of only 115.  Instead they are building an 18,000sf, $10 million Taj Mahal. They’ll be debt free with the sale of the land and I guess they imagine that renting out much of the new space will cover their maintenance and expenses. But the idea that the massive volume of the combined church and residence would be better for the Dupont Historic District than other options is silly. If the church really cared about their legacy to the neighborhood, they would have sold the historic building and adjoining land to a beneficent nonprofit long ago.  As it stands, the only thing that’s sublime about their current building committee is their utter self-centeredness.

  1. Church Street Friend said at 9:30 pm on Thursday July 10, 2014:

    It is really disappointing that Tom Bower is highlighted so much in this article.  The author took time to interview him extensively but none of the 100 or so neighbors who packed the meeting to express concerns.  Bower’s comments are pretty amazing.  He says another entity could develop the property with less scrutiny: this is silly, because that entity would be subject to the same scrutiny as CAS Riegler.  He says the church has been “gracious” because it is open to “tweaking”; “gracious tweaking” is quite an oxymoron here, when you consider they have changed little since the start.  The truth is that Tom supported this massive project from the beginning (there is email evidence to prove it) and was surprised that there was so much opposition to his view at the DCC meeting.  He is doing everything he can to assist the pro-development side and, in the process, harm DCC’s mission and reputation.  Too bad!

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