NEWS: Dupont ANC Releases Working Draft Resolution on St. Thomas Church Historic Preservation Review

The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2B) is publishing a working draft version of a resolution for the Historic Preservation Review Board on development at 1772 Church Street NW (St. Thomas Church). The ANC is publishing this draft in anticipation of its September 29th special meeting on the topic and invites public comment on the resolution’s message, tone and specific language.

Commissioners may post additional resolutions for public comment and may introduce other motions at the meeting on Monday.

We invite you to provide your thoughts in the comments section below, to email all eight Commissioners at commissioners@dupontcircleanc.net, and to speak to us directly at the September 29th meeting. The meeting is taking place at 7:00 pm in the SAIS building at 1717 Massachusetts Ave NW, Room 500. Further information on that meeting and a link to download revised development plans is available here.

The Historic Preservation Review Board has asked that we remind neighbors that they may comment directly to the Board either at the October 2nd Board meeting or by emailing them at historic.preservation@dc.gov. The Board requests your comments by end of day September 29th.

The working draft resolution is available below and for download here.


 

Whereas, the project team for 1772 Church Street NW have submitted design plans to the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) for review of concept and massing of a renovated church structure and a new residential structure;

Whereas, the development of the two components is to occur concurrently and was applied for together, ANC 2B has reviewed the religious and residential components separately, as required by Federal law;

Whereas, the project team submitted drawings in July that ANC 2B reviewed and commented on;

Whereas, in July, ANC 2B agreed with the Dupont Circle Conservancy in noting concern that “the residential massing presents an incongruous transition on the Church Street with the rest of the block.” ANC 2B suggested that the designers reduce bulk adjacent to the townhouses on Church Street with a more gradual increase in height from the east to the west;

Whereas, ANC 2B recognizes that the project team has made changes to the design that address concerns raised in the July ANC resolution, including reducing bulk at the far east side of the project;

Whereas, there remain significant concerns from neighbors regarding total massing, setbacks on all sides of the lot, as well as elimination of park and green space;

Whereas, there is general consensus that the totality of the project is large in its scale and massing, however this is not consensus on whether that will have positive or negative impacts on the neighborhood. Additionally, there are architectural approaches that can be introduced to reduce the perceived massing and height, particularly from the ground;

Whereas, ANC 2B supports a community involvement process, led by the office of Councilmember Jack Evans, that will bring together neighbors, the applicant, the developer and the ANC to proactively address potential negative impacts on quality-of-life issues such as light and air quality, traffic congestion and safety, parking, loading and unloading, and others;

Whereas, ANC 2B recognizes that these quality-of-life concerns are generally addressed through a zoning process that the ANC will hear in the near future, but that these concerns are also directly correlated to the massing of the structure that is the subject of HPRB review, especially the residential component that will house perhaps one hundred new residents, and also to the concept design of the structure that is subject to HPRB review, especially whether the design incorporates parking/loading/unloading elements sufficient to accommodate the proposed uses of the building, and that therefore these concerns are appropriate to address to HPRB and should be taken into account by HPRB; and

Whereas, the ANC in prior church construction or renovation projects has had concerns that the HPRB does not take into account applicable constitutional and federal law – including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA) – and that the HPRB has not recognized that these federal laws supersede the HPRB’s own regulations and impose further limitations the HPRB’s authority.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED that ANC 2B does not object to the concept and massing of the religious component of the project and strongly urges the HPRB to take seriously its duty to follow applicable federal law – including RFRA and RLUIPA – by not imposing undue burdens on the use of this property for religious purposes; and

Be it further RESOLVED that ANC 2B would support the residential component massing and concept under the following conditions:

  • The project team begins active participation in a committee made up of neighbors, the church and the ANC to proactively address potential zoning and quality-of-life related matters prior to submitting an application for any zoning variances;
  • The project team hires a professional arborist and submits plans to the ANC and HPRB that include methods to protect and preserve existing trees to the extent possible and, where not possible, to replace them;
  • The plans are altered so that the setback of the ground floor on Church Street from the sidewalk is consistent from the residential to religious components (maximizing that setback where possible); and
  • As recommended in the HPO staff report, the project team reexamine some of the earlier design elements as they relate to expression of the project at the pedestrian level and determine ways to improve the design’s relation to the street and overall unity of the two components.

8 thoughts on “NEWS: Dupont ANC Releases Working Draft Resolution on St. Thomas Church Historic Preservation Review

  1. Mark Kehoe

    Dear ANC 2B Commissioners: Thank you for sharing this resolution on the St. Thomas development and thanks as always for your hard work for our community. I can only imagine how many hours you have devoted to this issue!! I am a former parishioner at St. Thomas and I support the resolution. It seems like a reasonable compromise was worked out with the church to me. Thanks again for all your hard work!

    Mark Kehoe
    1823 Corcoran St. NW

  2. Jared Fackrell

    A very well written resolution, which to me is clear in its message, respectful in its tone and detailed where necessary. Great work!

  3. Scott Royal

    Thank you for putting forth this resolution. Like many other neighbors, I agree with the majority of the issues set forth. However, we urge the ANC to add statements that oppose the proposed height and massing of the current proposal. Many of us recognize church’s right to rebuild and we understand the need for a residential component to fund his effort, but many residents (your constituents) have major concerns with the height and mass of the proposed apartment building, given its front faces Church Street, a narrow, smaller residential block. Thank you for your consideration.

  4. Suzanne Richardson

    I would like to thank the commissioners for drafting this resolution which so clearly seeks to bring the church and its neighbors together to form a solution which will meet the needs and concerns of both. However, I think any resolution would be incomplete if it did not mention the historic and aesthetic value of this church and its setting as recognized by the District of Columbia’s “Inventory of Contributing Historic Sites.” I propose the following language be included in the resolution:
    Under Whereas:

    Whereas the St. Thomas Church and Ruins are listed as contributing historic structures in the District’s Inventory of Historic Sites;

    Under “Be it further Resolved:

    • That the HPRB abides by and enforces all District of Columbia laws, regulations and preservation standards with regard to the proposed residential unit.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  5. Lee Granados

    Many thanks commissioners for this thoughtful resolution that took into consideration the many complex issues surrounding this development. As a third generation resident on Church Street, I will mourn the loss of the green space but respect the Church and it’s right to build. The history of the church is long and key to the Dupont community and there are many that reside on Church that know little of it. Those that have been here for years can certainly say they do not miss the asphalt parking lot that sat for years before a park was placed there. We are fortunate to have the renovation of Stead Park on the other side of the block (not to mention Dupont Circle itself) to enjoy. Many thanks to all commissioners and residents that have worked towards improving these green spaces and holding events at each that make our area a fantastic place to live in.

    I truly appreciate the Church, developers and architects time to adjust the design and plans according to concerns for the past months. The have proven that they are collaborators and are more than willing to work with all residents. I look forward to the continued dialogue to move this project along sooner rather than later.

    Regards,

    Lee Granados
    1725 Church Street

  6. Gerald Schwinn

    The ANC is to be commended for arranging the special meeting devoted to the St. Thomas development plan.

    Below is part of the email I sent to the 7 Commissioners addressing the concern of many neighbors that the planned residential building is too large and too massive for Church Street.

    Whereas #5:
    Whereas, ANC 2B recognizes that the project team has made changes to the design that address concerns raised in the July ANC resolution, including reducing bulk at the far east
    side of the project;

    There is neighbor concern about the height of all of the residential building. Until there is a proposal to reduce the number of floors and the number of units, neighbor concerns will not have been addressed.

    Gerald Schwinn
    1743 Church Street

  7. Sarah Ellenbogen

    Notwithstanding the changes that have been made since July, the project remains too large to be compatible with the character of the neighborhood and the relevant parts of the Historic District. We urge our ANC representatives to not acquiesce to the inexorable pressure to build more, bigger, higher everywhere. If ANC does not help act as a firewall here and elsewhere, Dupont Circle will eventually be consumed by the sorts of buildings typical of Mass Ave southward.

  8. Matthew McInnis

    Dear ANC2B Commissioners:
    As a long-time DC resident who has enjoyed the ruins and the park for almost two decades before making St. Thomas my church home two years ago, I am pleased to support this resolution. I know this has been an extremely difficult process for the Commission and the language here reflects the inevitable tensions when something beloved must change for something even better to emerge.
    The debates on this issue among my neighbors here in ANC2B have been heart-felt and understandable, though admittedly saddening to watch at times as someone who loves Dupont Circle. I am hoping we can move forward soon with decisions that are in the best interests of both the church and the community.
    J. Matthew McInnis
    1753 Swann Street NW

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