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Townhome Proposal For Georgetown Church Opposed by ANC

by Lark Turner

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A proposal to turn a historic Georgetown church and rectory into four single-family homes didn’t win over ANC 2E commissioners at a meeting on Monday.

The plan, floated by SGA Companies, would convert Alexander Memorial Baptist Church at 2709 N Street NW (map) into two separate single-family homes and turn its rectory into a large, 6,000 square foot home. The developer would also construct a 3,000 square foot house on the property abutting the rectory. The ANC passed a resolution objecting to the plan, which will look for approval from the Old Georgetown Board next.

The church is selling the property because its congregation can no longer support it, but local residents fiercely oppose more density on the site, and more than a dozen showed up to the ANC meeting to voice their opposition to the developers’ plans. Rev. Jesse Plater told the ANC that the church had considered 15 proposals from developers with their eyes on the site, most of which wanted to turn the church, rectory and open space into multi-family condos or apartments.

“We were against that,” Plater said. “We do understand that you live in that community. We did take that into consideration. We are sensitive to the fact that you do have concerns. We are willing to work with the community to see if we can come to some kind of resolution that will fit everyone’s needs.”

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The new construction was the biggest concern for the ANC, which suggested that because the lot had never been built on, it was historically significant.

“It’s an enduring part of the streetscape,” ANC Commissioner Tom Birch told UrbanTurf on Tuesday. “It’s every bit as much of the fabric, the look of the community as the built environment is.”

The project plans do retain green space in front of the rectory and extend that green space in front of the proposed townhouse. SGA Companies noted its goal was to create a townhouse that blended into the background and let the historic rectory look dominant in the development.

SGA’s Sassan Gharai the firm “couldn’t make it work” financially to redevelop the property without adding in the new townhouse.

Birch also said an effort to create and hold onto green space in Georgetown to improve storm-water collection influenced the ANC’s resolution in opposition to the plan.

Update: This post originally stated that the building’s LLC was not revealing its backer. Gharai told us he and his business partner Eric Rees of SGA are the sole owners of the project.

See other articles related to: georgetown, anc 2e, alexander memorial baptist church

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/proposal_for_homes_at_alexander_memorial_baptist_church_doesnt_win_support_/8420

14 Comments

  1. jj said at 10:31 pm on Tuesday April 29, 2014:

    I think it looks like a great project. What exactly does the ANC expect the church to do? They need to find a buyer. Seems like a few residences would cause less congestion than a congregation. Unless it really causes a problem for immediate neighbors, I hope it moves forward.

  1. pp said at 10:36 am on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    At the meeting, the neighbors stated that it does cause problems for all of them as the intensity of use will actually go significantly up and the project requires significant zoning variances.  The design of the addition is also all wrong for Georgetown and ruins the side of the historic center building.  Neighbors at the meeting also voiced concerns about Gharai’s track record based on publicly available information—including damage to adjacent properties, which is understandably troubling for immediate neighbors—and as the article notes a lack of transparency on who is responsible for the project if there are problems.

  1. Berend van Roijen said at 10:59 am on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    I attended and spoke at the meeting as a concerned neighbor.

    Sassan Gharai noted that he “couldn’t make it work” financially to redevelop the property without adding a townhouse, but this assumes a purchase price of more than $7 million.  Obviously the economics change materially if the sale price were reduced.  The article notes that there were more than 15 developer proposals.  Some of these proposals may have repurposed the church and rectory into residential units, but without the addition of an additional town house of existing green space.  It was also noted at the ANC meeting that a proposal came before the ANC to concert both buildings into a single family home.  This proposal was well received by the neighbors as it would reduce or limit density. 

    The article correctly noted that the green space is an enduring part of the streetscape, but failed to note that the additional building would completely destroy the west façade (all existing windows, etc) of the historic rectory (aka “the Hall House”).

    The article also failed to note concerns about privacy on the Eastern face of the church, and the danger of property damage due to a steep gradient.  These risks were glossed over by SGA’s representatives, but are evident on TOPO maps and lot maps submitted to the BZA.  Fears surrounding excavation are not helped by the information found from a quick Google search at these two news stories:

    http://goo.gl/AHWdTh
    http://goo.gl/7jAa3M

  1. Lark Turner said at 11:22 am on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    Hi Berend,

    Thanks for writing in. I just want to note for others reading the comments that as Rev. Plater pointed out at the meeting, the proposal for the single-family home presented to the ANC and OGB was undertaken without approaching the church. The church said at the meeting that it did not receive a proposal or bid from anyone wanting to turn the church and rectory into a single-family home.

  1. pp said at 11:47 am on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    Many people choose to get concept approval from ANC and OGB first before buying a property as a private individual that is listed at $7.5M. And of course that still doesn’t mean that proposals that do not expand the existing footprint of the structures and create less density are not feasible. It just means that this would-be developer doesn’t get to max out on profit at the full asking price. 

    The neighbors said they don’t oppose the church or a buyer with a responsible community plan and quality record, but this proposal worries them very much for the reasons discussed.

  1. Chetworth said at 12:56 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    In both articles (links above) the head of SGA does not respond to media requests. That is a Red flag imo.

    Other side of the coin, if SGA buys vacant land why does anyone have the right to tell the owner of the property what to do?

    Last, there is alley access in the rear, shared by the abutting church…force SGA or whoever buys it to provide parking.

  1. ms said at 1:28 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    Actually, there is no alley to the rear of the church.  That is actually church property.  The developer has acknowledged that there will be no parking available with the 4 proposed town houses.

  1. ppo said at 1:45 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    See Georgetown Current, No. 17 April 23 page 6, Letter to the Editor at

    http://www.currentnewspapers.com/archiveweek.php?n=2&year=2014

  1. ms said at 1:48 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    Just to clarify my comment above—there is no “alley” to the rear of the Alexander Memorial Baptist Church.  There is actually a private driveway that is the property of the Catholic Church on Dumbarton.

  1. Berend van Roijen said at 3:16 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    A direct link to the Current Newspaper referenced above (http://www.currentnewspapers.com/admin/uploadfiles/NW 04-23-2014.pdf)

    Also: SGA said during the ANC meeting that they would not approach the build site from N street and would instead use the rear access via Dumbarton.  As noted above, the “ally” is private property and the Alexander Baptist Church has not - to the best of my knowledge at this time - been approached regarding access through their property.  The statements made by SGA to the ANC panel suggested that such an arrangement was already in place (or at least pending).  False and misleading or otherwise incomplete statements like this by the developer are cause for further concern and certainly do not inspire confidence in the neighbors, and should worry the Old Georgetown Board (OGB) and BZA as well.

  1. I Love Georgetown said at 9:59 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    With regard to the editor’s update, as the neighbors stated at the meeting, Gharai has refused to provide them any information to substantiate who the parties to the LLC are. ANC Chairman Ron Lewis said at the meeting that this was a perfectly understandable request and pointedly told Mr. Gharai that he should consider being more open. In other cases, SGA Company has disclaimed responsibility for the damage caused by the LLCs created for those projects. If what he told Urban Turf is true, then he should have no problem sharing information that supports it. But he’s not. That’s another red flag, IMO.

  1. Mallory Duncan said at 10:21 pm on Wednesday April 30, 2014:

    The ANC and the Old Georgetown Board’s mandates are to preserve and protect all of historic Georgetown.  How is it consistent with that mission to approve a putative developer’s alterations to one historic lot when that developer has a demonstrated propensity for adversely affecting and damaging surrounding lots in the process?

  1. Malcolm Kelly said at 12:25 pm on Thursday May 1, 2014:

    N St at 27th has seen this kind of angst before, relatively recently with sale of the Phillips School in 2002 (by the then owners, the Washington International School)for conversion to condos and the construction of about 14 spacious townhouses. Neighbors more recently arrived won’t remember the discussion of density of use and building on the open space of the school playground and blocking of the view of the building.  But the project, in hindsight, was a success and the neighborhood returned to equilibrium.  Similarly, and more recently, near my home in the West Village Wormley School on Prospect Street was remade, this time with six condos and six 4,900 + square foot townhouses requiring truly massive engineering and construction works above and below ground. The current N St. church project and these two I mention are each distinct and different,  the church project being small in comparison with the others and preserving a far greater proportion of green space and requiring little new construction. I hope the church project stays more or less as proposed, else another multiple unit condo development might find itself a home in the neighborhood. And I hope the parties involved don’t mess up what has the potential to be a very good thing for the neighborhood. Rgds, Malcolm Kelly

  1. ppo said at 8:32 am on Friday May 2, 2014:

    You might read the posted public articles about SGA’s record, especially when it comes to excavation and other delicate work as would be required here.  Encore Development, who did Wormely Row, has a completely different reputation and project history of successful engineering and construction work at the high end of the residential market.  No such record exists here, to say the least.  And what is proposed has the potential to adversely affect a delicate grading situation for several houses and large retaining walls within 3-4 feet of large structures. The record shows that SGA typically does not use the kind of top contractors that would be required to do this properly; according to the company’s own position in the lawsuit over damage to adjacent property in the Florida Avenue Project, they use negligent contractors.

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