Neighbors Call Plan to Redevelop Dupont Circle Church “An Unholy Alliance”

by Lark Turner

A rendering of the new church building by MTFA, an architecture firm.

Neighbors of a Dupont Circle church pledged Wednesday night to do “everything they can” to derail the development of condos on part of the church’s site in its bid to help pay for the construction of a new church building.

The church plans to use the sale of some of its land to pay for what it says is a much-needed new building on the site, which currently offers neighbors the use of plenty of green space on the corner of Church and 18th Streets. In a meeting about the project for ANC 2B residents on Wednesday, various neighbors called the plan “an unholy alliance” and “bullsh*t,” and one urged the church to “find another facility” or “take up begging.”

The residential building is slated to be developed by CAS Riegler with architect Hickok Cole. The building will primarily need approval on historic preservation grounds; the rest would be built by-right. A preliminary RFP suggested zoning would support a little under 60 units on six to seven floors on the planned residential site, which would sit about where the church is now. The church plans to build underground parking to accommodate both churchgoers and residents.

Most of the original St. Thomas’ Parish Episcopal Church at 1772 Church Street NW (map) burned down in an arson attack in 1970, and since then the church has tried — and repeatedly failed, mostly for financial reasons — to rebuild. The existing structure is the building’s former parish hall, and Ryan Winfield, chair of the church’s building committee, told the hundred-plus crowd gathered at the Chastleton that it was in a state of disrepair.

“The space is falling apart around us,” he said. “We are hemorrhaging money by maintaining it.”

Winfield also said that because the church’s sanctuary was on an upper floor without elevator access, casket funerals can’t be held in the church and baptisms are inaccessible to those unable to use the stairs.

But some of the residents weren’t convinced.

“You have what you need,” said one resident, who said he was there to witness most of the church’s destruction after he and his wife moved in back in 1970. “We don’t need more apartments. This community is saturated with people. You’re meeting your mission. Keep it up.”

“Amen!” came the response from several in the audience.

Residents accused the church, who many acknowledged as a previously “great” neighbor, of acting secretly to develop the redevelopment plan. But Nancy Lee Jose, the church’s rector, said the residents’ comments were extremely concerning and that the Episcopal Diocese, not the local church, was the ultimate decision-maker on the project.

“When we say that we didn’t know, it’s because we didn’t know,” she said.

Another member of the building committee said the church was sorry for its “radio silence” during the past year or so of planning in conjunction with architect MTFA, “but we honestly couldn’t move forward” without the final go-ahead from the diocese.

Other neighbors suggested the church was selling off the land for a paycheck, though Winfield and others said the money from the land sale may not entirely cover the cost of the new church.

“It’s not a make-money proposition,” one architect responded.

But it was the residential developer, Kevin Riegler, who took most of the heat.

“I don’t think there’s anything more we can say or you guys can say to make us feel worse about (the planning process thus far),” he said toward the end of the meeting. The church took CAS Riegler and Hickok Cole on about 11 days ago, though MTFA has been part of the planning process for much longer.

Though many of the residents’ blanket opposition to the plan couldn’t be more plain, some took a more nuanced view.

“I’m in the camp that says it’s your land and you can do what you want with it,” one said, while asking the developer to keep the community in the loop and be willing to shift things around if neighbors are concerned.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/neighbors_call_plan_to_redevelop_dupont_circle_church_an_unholy_alliance/8174

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