City Paper Widget

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dupont ANC Resolution on St. Thomas Church: "A Back-to-the-Drawing-Board Situation"

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B/Dupont Circle set up a special meeting September 29 to consider the revised plan for the development of St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church (1772 Church Street NW) and condo units on neighboring land owned by the church. By the end of the meeting, the ANC had revised its original proposed resolution to advocate increased setback for the proposed residential condominiums.

"It's a back-to-the-drawing-board situation", project developer Kevin Riegler of CAS Riegler told the meeting.

Commissioner's view of the meeting, from ANC2B's Twitter feed
The meeting was structured to give every person who wished to speak on the matter an opportunity to do so, while trying to keeping the length of the meeting within the limits of sanity. The meeting ran about 2-1/2 hours, including an initial presentation of the revised project by the developers and architects, as well as debate and questions by the Commissioners.

By my count, the community testimony was more than two-to-one against the church -- 17 speaking against, seven for, and one mixed. About 100 people filled every chair and lined the walls of a conference room on the fifth floor of 1717 Massachusetts Avenue (part of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies). If the sound and frequency of applause is any indication, the anti-development forces outnumbered their opponents by a similar margin, or perhaps more, in the audience at large.

ANC lets everybody prepare, speak, then passes resolution

As part of the effort to make the decision as transparent as possible, ANC2B posted a draft resolution online before the meeting and solicited public comment. ANC2B also posted the 56-page revised design drawings and presentation.

Some of the revisions made at the meeting were minor rewordings. The more substantial revision to the resolution at the meeting, proposed by ANC2B Chair Noah Smith (Commissioner for district 09), recommended to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) that the setback of the building be increased starting on the fourth floor. Yesterday, less than 12 hours after the end of the meeting, ANC2B had posted the full revised text of the resolution as sent to HPRB -- see the letter here.

HPRB will meet at 10:45am tomorrow (October 2) at 1100 4th Street NW to take up the historical preservation aspects of the proposal. HPRB staff has issued a mixed review of the proposed revisions in advance of the meeting.

Two architects involved in the design spoke at the meeting. "We're refined the design," said Jim Clark of MTFA Architects.

A representative of Hickok Cole said the design contained "nothing really all that new". He said the new design was set back further. The proposed construction above the parish hall would not be visible. The overall massing was "simplified", the architect said -- previously, the design had been "wedding-caked".


The atmosphere remained mostly polite during the period where members of the public made comments. Each comment was initially limited to two minutes, and later one minute, but many ignored the alarm that signaled the end of their allotted time. Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 01) sometimes told people that their time was up, but Chair Smith seemed determined to let everyone speak their piece.

Civility began to break down a little as the ANC closed the period of public comment and debated the draft resolution among its members. Members of the audience from both sides of the issue tried to interject themselves, with the anti-development forces more likely to break in, in rough portion to their larger numbers. Toward the end of this period of the meeting, when the final resolution was taking shape, St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church Rector Nancy Lee Jose stood and attempted to make a statement, and was roundly shouted down by the anti-development forces. When the hubbub had nearly died down, someone shouted: "Shut up, please!"


During the Commissioner-only portion of the debate, Chair Smith made a motion
to include language that would recommend the height of the project be reduced by one story.

Kevin Reigler said: "It would make the project not viable."

Smith then withdrew the motion, and went on to propose the language concerning the setback, which was included in the version of the resolution that passed, advocating increased setback.

"Today I am concerned about how it would look from the street," Smith said.

The vote was 6 for the resolution, one against, no abstentions. The lone vote against was Commissioner Abigail Nichols, who felt that the resolution as passed did not go far enough. Nichols then proposed a second resolution about finding a public-private partnership to buy the church's land and turn the current park at 18th and Church Streets into part of a memorial for Eleanor Roosevelt.

It was getting late, the room was crowded and stuffy, everybody wanted to leave. Nichols agreed to table the motion until a regular meeting of the ANC in November.

ANC2B will have its next regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 8, at 7pm, at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue).


  1. The public-private park suggested by Commissioner Nichols et al (DCCA) is nothing more than a way for them to flesh out a talking point after the word "no." Show me the last significant neighborhood project that group ever brought to realization. Their reflex and habitual talents rest in opposition, not building anything.

  2. This story suggests or implies that someone shouted at the rector to "shut up, please." That's not true. Someone had asked the rector to sit down, and that person was told to shut up.

    1. Definitely looked from my side of the room like they were yelling at her to shut up.

    2. It looked like that to me too, but I spoke to the person who'd shouted to her to 'sit down' and he said it was a guy to his left who told him to 'shut up'. In any case, the ANC's asking permission from the Developer and the Church if they could take a vote related to alternatives to the condo building development was HIGHLY inappropriate. The ANC also turned to the developer to ask permission for amending the resolution, which was again highly inappropriate. The Long Story about what happened here was that this was a sham meeting. The commissioners came to the meeting with a resolution already indicating which way they leaned on the issue, virtually ignored the people testifying (astoundingly playing with their phones, reading church calendars, and making jokes between themselves as people testified), and then took their orders from the church and the developer. Not a good show of democracy in action.

    3. So tell us the name of the person who shouted to the rector of the church to sit down when the rector.

  3. The "shut up, please" comment was spoken by none other than the rector's own husband.

    1. This would be quite the development if true. Is there a way to prove it? The rector's husband was the author of an embarrassing blog post a few months ago after the Washington Post article about the condo project, and has made some questionable Facebook posts as well.