City Paper Widget

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

St. Thomas' Parish Church Tries Again

St. Thomas Parish Episcopal Church (1772 Church Street NW) was back before a committee of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on December 1. Their representatives presented a revised design for a controversial plan to expand the church and construct multi-story residential units at the site on the corner of 18th and Church Streets.  The revised plan dropped more than 1000 square feet from the previous iteration of the building.

It would not look as tall from the street (photo credit below)
Some neighbors attending the meeting of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee complimented the new design, but there were also attendees who were determined to object to any construction on the site. A representative of developers CAS Reigler called these objectors "the elephant in the room".

Laurence Caudle of Hickok Cole Architects presented the new plan. He said Hickok Cole had "taken over" the project. Previously, the project had two architects -- one for the residential portion, another for the church. Hickok Cole had been in charge of the residential portion of the project and MTFA Architecture had been in charge of the church portion. It seemed like MTFA Architecture had left the project -- but the name of the firm was never mentioned at this meeting, and did not appear on the latest plans for the project.

"We switched design teams in midstream," said Kevin Reigler of CAS Reigler.

Size is the issue

Laurance Caudle, presenting the revised plans, said the new design was "less of a block". The total area of the residential building is between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet less than before. The upper stories were set back further from the street, so that a person standing on the sidewalk on the far side of Church Street would not see any stories above the fifth story (see example in photo above).

"This breaks it down to essentially a five-story building," Caudle said.

"We've effectively lowered the mass of the building one story," Caudle said at another point.

However, the rear side of building, facing an alley, still looks like a seven-story building, as the neighbors were quick to point out. One Church Street resident said that DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) had recommended a larger church and a smaller residential component, but this revised design did not follow this recommendation.

"You say that it's 50 feet [tall] when it's really 80 feet," the neighbor said.

Ramon Estrada, President of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, said: "The project still looks too big, too massive, too tall."

"If the HPRB says shave this further, you're prepared to come back?" Estrada asked.

The presenters answered that they were.

The plans are a "moving target"

The presenters said they met with a committee of neighbors three times in the last month, and had sent to the interested neighbors a set of revised plans shortly before Thanksgiving, i.e., about 4-5 days before the meeting, as they had promised. The neighbors came to the meeting prepared to comment on these plans. However, the plans that were presented to the ZPD Committee were further revised, that is, they were not the same as the pre-Thanksgiving plans sent to the neighbors. There seemed to be suspicions that somebody was trying to get away with something.

"I am becoming less and less sympathetic to this concept of evolving plans. We were presented with a different set of plans," said Noah Smith, ANC2B Chair and Commissioner for district 09.

"We're simply trying to respond to comments," said Kevin Reigler.

"I'm very concerned with this moving target," said Commissioner Mike Silverstein (district 06).

The presenters' goal, they said, was to get an agreement on the "massing" of the building (meaning, the general shape and size) before moving on to matters like the materials used on the exterior, the design of the rear loading area, traffic patterns, shape and size of the windows, and so on. The presenters said that massing was the only issue the neighbors wanted to talk about so far.

After a lot of discussion, the ZPD Committee decided they would review the newer version of the plans, and said ANC2B would publicly post them. This promise has already been kept -- see a 39-page .pdf file of this version of these plans here.

Members of the committee will review the documents and prepare a draft resolution ready for the next full meeting of ANC2B, scheduled for December 10, at 7pm, at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue). The resolution would address the concept and massing of the building only. It would be worded to make clear that any approval of the concept and massing should not be construed as approval of other aspects of the design, e.g. the materials or colors.

See the full agenda for the December 10 meeting of ANC2B here.

(photo credit: detail from a drawing presented by Hickok Cole to the ZPD Committee)

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