City Paper Widget

Monday, March 16, 2015

St. Thomas Parish Church Gets Conditional Endorsement from Dupont ANC

"That was a little more civil than I've become accustomed to," said a supporter of St. Thomas Parish Episcopal Church (1772 Church Street NW) on the way out of the last regularly monthly meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 2B/Dupont Circle on March 11.

Proposed church design as seen from across 18th Street
The ANC had just passed a conditional endorsement of a design for both a proposed new church at the corner of 18th and Church Streets as well as multi-unit residential buildings next door. (A 39-page .pdf of the endorsed design is available for download here.) A series of SALM posts explaining the progress of the proposal since last February --  against stiff community opposition -- is available here.

Many of the points of disagreement about the project seemed to have been resolved -- as much as possible -- in numerous previous meetings between the interested parties, including, most recently, a meeting of ANC2B's Zoning, Preservation and Development (ZPD) Committee the previous week.

Presentation at the meeting

ANC2B Chair Noah Smith (Commissioner for district 09) opened the section of the meeting devoted to St. Thomas by asking for a shorter presentation that the one presented at the ZPD Committee meeting, with an emphasis on the outside of the structure.

Architect Laurence Caudle of Hickok Cole Architects seemed to think that it was necessary to see the inside to understand the outside. The ANC and roughly 80 members of the community in attendance saw some renderings for the inside as well the outside, all projected on a wall on the side of the auditorium at the Brookings Institution (1775 Massachusetts Avenue) where the meeting took place. Caudle explained the rationale behind both components (i.e., the church and the residential) of the project.

"We've really scaled down the building," Caudle said.

Commissioner Justine Underhill (district 07) then put forward the formal motion to approve the resolution as drafted and distributed at the meeting. (ANC Chair Smith apologized that the 75 paper copies of the resolution he had printed were slightly less than the amount needed for everyone at the meeting to have a copy.) St. Thomas is in Underhill's ANC district.

About the resolution, Underhill said: "This is something we have worked hard to craft."

"It is not a rubber stamp," she said.

"We're saying that [the project] does not necessarily echo the neighborhood," said Smith.

The resolution

The resolution states the ANC supports the proposal "if and only if" conditions stated in eight separate bullet-pointed paragraphs are met, including:
  • Alterations to "the corrugation of the Church Street buildings' facades", "the rhythm of the Church Street buildings' roof lines", "the church and residential exterior", "the articulation of the residential bays", "the small, dark window panes", and "the horizontal terra cotta panels"
  • the residential building should not appear to be taller than 59 feet, meaning, tests should be done to make sure any roof structure over this height is not visible from the street
  • a setback or other solution to offset anticipated addition congestion caused by traffic coming and going to 33 additional parking spaces in a proposed underground parking garage with an entrance in an alley off 18th Street
  • continued consultation with the community about zoning, "quality-of-life", and traffic
The text of the resolution is available about half-way down this page.

Commissioner and community discussion

Not everyone loved the newest compromise. Commissioner Mike Feldstein (District 01) called the design of the church "ugly" -- at which several members of the audience shouted "here here!" in approval. A member of the community, while supporting the ANC resolution, commented sarcastically on the church design: "If you google Best Buy, I'm concerned there will be copyright infrigement."

Another community member said: "This does not fit in."

A representative of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) said the residential component was "incompatable" with the area and "wholly inappropriate in the Dupont area or anywhere in the L'Enfant city". The DCCA asked the ANC reject the design completely.

Other commenters said the problems of the alley space were not yet addressed. Another commenter objected to "lack of green setback at the pedestrian level".

But more frequently the comments were summed up by one Church Street resident: "I don't like this resolution but I can live with it. That is the essence of the democratic process. I wish there were something more we could do with the church design."

Other former categorical opponents to the project came to the microphone and said they could live, however reluctantly, with the ANCs resolution on the design. Some thanked the newly-elected Underhill for her work.

The leadership and advocates of the church sat silently through the entire process. Finally, as the ANC was gearing up for a final vote, Smith asked if anyone from the church wanted to say anything. A man identifying himself as the chair of the church's building committee asked the ANC to support the resolution as written and thanked Underhill.

The vote

Commissioner Feldstein felt that two sentences recommending specific changes to the design and materials went into "too much detail". The ANC considered two separate motions by Feldstein, each to delete a sentence. His motion to delete the first of the two died for lack of a second. His motion to delete the second of the two sentences failed, two votes to seven.

After that, a motion to pass the resolution granting conditional endorsement to St. Thomas Project passed by a vote of seven to zero, with two abstentions. The abstentions were Feldstein and Commissioner Stephanie Maltz (district 03).

This endorsement now moves to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) for consideration. Assuming the historic preservation aspects of the project are eventually agreed on, the project will be back before the ANC, probably more than once. The ANC has agreed to help negotiate a memorandum of understanding about details of the construction project, like hours during which construction work will be permitted. In addition, the project will almost certainly require zoning relief, which will give the community and the ANC another opportunity to examine the project.

(photo credit: detail from documents presented to ANC2B by developer CAS Reigler)

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