Last night’s ANC2B meeting was lively and full of spirited debate on the St. Thomas Episcopal Parish redevelopment project, among other things. The project, situated on 18th and Church Streets proposes to rebuild sections of the church that had burned down in 1970 and to pay for it through the construction and sale of 50-60 residential units on Church St.
Links to stories on the project can be found here and here and here.
I thought I’d take a few minutes to write out my thoughts on the project and on the meeting, in case there was any confusion from the 1.5 hours of debate we shared.
The ANC is charged with providing advice and guidance to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) on matters before it in our neighborhood. Here, we were asked to comment on the proposed massing (or physical size) as well as the design concept of the project in historic context.
The ANC has several options to consider. We can: support or oppose the project outright, support the project contingent on specific conditions, request a one month delay, and take no action. We can also split our support or opposition among different parts of the projects and distinguish between the massing and the design concept.
The ANC’s equally important other role is to foster a dialogue among neighbors and the applicants, in this case the church and its development partners. I think the ANC, and particularly Commissioner Leo Dwyer, did a fantastic job in hosting meetings and providing ample opportunity for folks to have their voices heard. This is essential.
What did we hear from neighbors?
What I heard from the immediate neighbors was mostly negative. It ranged from legitimate concerns about parking and loading to more outlandish doomsday predictions about the neighborhood after construction. I thought several neighbors made reasonable arguments about the overall size of the residential component of the project, especially as it stood next to the row houses of Church St.
On Monday July 7th we held a subcommittee meeting to discuss the project with neighbors and the architects. I was upfront with the project team and the public that I thought the project was a bit out of context and I even met with the developers on Wednesday before the ANC meeting to discuss it further. The Subcommittee, however, failed to recommend action to the ANC.
On Tuesday, the Dupont Circle Conservancy (DCC) adopted a resolution supporting the project but recommending some alterations, specifically:
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.
Stated simply, I support wholeheartedly the design concept and the proposal to build an improved church and residences on the land, however I think the massing of the residential component is too large. I think that the DCC resolution is well reasoned, however I wanted to use the ANC’s great weight to indicate our opposition to the massing of the residential component.
Why amend the resolution as introduced?
Unfortunately, while the resolution introduced at the ANC meeting supports the design concept, it makes no conclusion on the massing of the project. I received the proposed language of the resolution at 4:15pm on the day of the meeting and after reading it, drafted an amendment that indicates opposition to the massing of the residential component and included language from DCC on how to alleviate that concern. My amendment struck the last two paragraphs of the resolution and inserted:
ANC2B does not support the massing of the residential component of the project as it is too large, visible from the street, and is incompatible with the historic character of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, particularly the 1700 block of Church Street NW, which has maintained modest height and massing throughout its history, resulting in a quiet, charming and beautiful street.
ANC2B concurs with the Dupont Circle Conservancy that the designers should revisit the massing with the intent of reducing bulk adjacent to the townhouses on Church Street with a more gradual increase in height from east to west.
After that discussion, the ANC voted 4-3-1 to adopt the amendment as part of the resolution, which was still on the table.
What’s the difference between the amended resolution and the DCC resolution?
The DCC resolution supports the project and suggests that the designers revisit the massing on the east. My amendment forces the conversation by opposing the massing of the residential component and (with the influence of the elected ANC) recommends that the designers reduce massing adjacent to the townhouses on the east.
What happened at the end?
In the end, the ANC voted 3-5 to support the resolution and it did not pass. A motion to support the DCC’s resolution verbatim, was introduced and passed 6-2. Its full language will be posted on the ANC2B website shortly. That is the resolution that will be sent to HPRB and will hold great weight in their decision.
What are the next steps?
As with all projects in a historic district, this will go to the HPRB where anyone can testify or provide written comments. Information on that meeting, which will likely be on July 31st, will be posted here.
The developers noted that there may be zoning variances required in the future and they will come to the ANC and the community after the HPRB has decided on massing and concept.
Though I applaud and appreciate the sincerity of all of my fellow commissioners, I am disappointed that we voted to support the residential component as presented. In the end, I hope that the HPRB will strongly consider our suggestion that the designers revisit the massing of the residential component.
Any other questions? Contact me anytime.