Park View Church Conversion Gets Zoning Approval

by Lark Turner

image
Rendering by Arcadia Design.

When Mubashir Khan bought 625 Park Road NW (map) for $2.1 million from a church in April 2013, he didn’t make the sale contingent on getting any approvals to build from the Board of Zoning Adjustment. That’s because at the time, the property could be easily developed as a matter of right.

Khan proceeded with drawing up plans for the space based on demolishing most of the church, including its facade, and started in on the permit process. Then, in February 2014, a neighborhood historic group successfully filed to get the church historically protected. Kent Boese, president of Historic Washington Architecture, Inc. and an ANC 1A commissioner, said his historic organization filed the paperwork to get the church protected. Khan could no longer tear down the church.

New plans to develop the project will convert the church into about 12 units and construct a long, skinny residential building on the other side of the lot in order to preserve historic side windows on the east side of the church building. Between the two buildings, there will be about 40 total units in the development.

The project, on the edge of Park View near Petworth, is not far from the Georgia Avenue Petworth Metro and thus a commercial district that’s been sprouting high-density development of late. But the development itself is on the wrong side of the block. The other side of the block has a more relaxed zoning standard that allows for more density. But the north side of the block, where the development is planned, sits in a less dense zone.

image
Rendering by Arcadia Design.

Khan is working with architect Arcadia Design on the project. And his new plans, while more dense, are supported by many in the neighborhood, including Boese, who filed to get the church historically designated in the first place. The ANC came out in full support of Khan’s new plan on Tuesday, with Boese beside Khan advocating for the new project.

“We think this is a win-win,” Boese said. “We feel this is a really good solution to an otherwise thorny problem.”

image
Rendering by Arcadia Design.

The cost of redeveloping the site while retaining and converting the church, as well as the year-long delay to the project, were significant, Khan said, and made it impossible for him to developed the site without variance. Building the site to code without any variances would put him well into the red on the project, Khan said.

The R-4 district where the church is located is highly residential, and the Office of Planning generally frowns on large developments in neighborhoods otherwise dominated by single-family rowhouses. Most recently, Planning issued proposed changes to the zoning code that would double down on reducing density in R-4 districts, including limiting the building of so-called “pop-up” additions in those neighborhoods.

Because of its opposition to high density in districts zoned R-4, Planning opposed Khan’s revised plans for the project, suggesting the developer’s increasing costs on the property weren’t really the BZA’s problem to solve. But Meridith Moldenhauer, an attorney for the developer, said the site was on the very edge of an R-4 district, not in the middle of one, so it wouldn’t be an anomaly. There’s another dense apartment building across the street. Even a neighbor who spoke in opposition to the project said she was in favor of more density at the site.

Ultimately, the BZA sided with Khan, approving the necessary variances over Planning’s objections to the project’s density. The project received variances under lot area requirements, courtyard requirements and prohibitions on nonconforming structures. An HPRB staff report recommends approval of the project, so it is very likely to move ahead as planned.

See other articles related to: petworth, park view, church conversion, 633 park, 625 park

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/petworth_church_conversion_redevelopment_gets_bza_approval_despite_planning/8766

1 Comment

  1. skidrowedc@gmail.com said at 7:00 pm on Tuesday July 22, 2014:

    It looks like this is headed to a good conclusion, with an attractive development.

    But before everyone congratulates everyone else (and all the DC employees receive awards), let’s reflect that this story is an illustration of the fact that in DC, historic preservation has way too much power.  Nowhere is this clearer than in the designation of landmarks and historic districts.  Pretty much anyone can nominate pretty much anything at any time, putting all plans on ice for an extended period, costing the owner immense sums of money.  Moreover, pretty much anything counts as “historic.”  Every so often, the Board turns down a nomination, seemingly just to prove it’s possible.  But it’s rare.  To accomplish this, Board after Board willfully ignores the word “significant” as it appears in preservation law.  The word appears repeatedly—a significant work of a significant architect; a significant historical event occurred in the building or neighborhood; a significant cultural movement, etc.—and was intended to protect property owners from frivolous landmarking.  The first historic districts and landmarks were indeed significant, but this has steadily eroded. Nowadays, pretty much anything counts as “significant.” 

    [Note that in DC preservation, the same entity—HPRB—which confers historic status also reviews the designs for work on historically-protected buildings and in historic districts.  This sets up a modest conflict, I think.  Given the option to play God with a project, which probably includes a pleasant (if not necessarily significant) older building, how many people are going to say “No, I don’t want to have control; let’s leave the developer’s options open, including demolition of the existing building”?  Landmarking to operate more like zoning, where the Zoning Commission sets the zoning district boundaries, but the BZA hears most design cases.  Separate and different entities should decide what’s historically significant and what one can do with historically-designated properties.]

    And it certainly doesn’t help when, in situations of eleventh-hour landmarking, a sister DC agency (Office of Planning, in this case) regards the financial fallout as the owner/developer’s problem, rather than as a legitimate “hardship” or “practical difficulty” (to cite the BZA-relevant terms).  At least the BZA showed reason in this case, even if the staff didn’t.

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