Toutorsky Mansion Owners Apply for Chancery Use

by Borderstan.com January 10, 2011 at 5:30 am 1,830 7 Comments


Toutorsky Mansion 16th Street NW Luis Gomez Photos

The owners of the Toutorsky mansion at 16th and Riggs NW have applied for zoning review to locate a chancery in the landmark property. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Tom Hay. Questions for Tom? Send him an email.

The owners of the historic Toutorsky Mansion at 1720 16th Street NW in Dupont Circle have filed an application with the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) seeking approval to locate a chancery in the property. The filing by owners Humberto and Francisco Gonzalez is on behalf of the contract purchaser of the property, The Embassy of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Under the Foreign Mission Act of 1982, the location of a chancery in certain mixed-use areas of the city is subject to review and possible disapproval by the BZA.

The 12,000 square foot brick mansion was completed in 1894 for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings Brown in the Flemish Revival style. It was purchased in 1947 by Prince Basil Toutorsky, a Russian music teacher. The property, at the corner of 16th Street and Riggs Place NW, is in the Sixteenth Street Historic District. According to D.C. tax records, the current owners bought the property in 2001 for $2.2 million and it is currently assessed by the city at $4.5 million. The owners started a limited bed and breakfast operation soon after purchase and sought to expand in 2004, but were denied by the BZA.

“Relatively Low Intensity of Use”

The application describes a “relatively low intensity of use” by the Republic of the Congo, with just 10 staff members and one small scale social function each month. The chancery would be used by his Excellency Serge Mombouli, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Congo to the United States of America, a post he was appointed to in 2001.

The new owners agree to comply with historic preservation regulations and do not with to alter the structure. However, the application does outline a few significant changes to the property. The new owners are requesting an allowance to create a circular driveway in the public space on the 16th Street NW side of the property. This would require two curb cuts, one on 16th street where cars would enter the drive, and a second on Riggs Place where cars would exit.

They also are proposing to erect a flagpole in front of the building. After a walk around of the perimeter of the property it appears there may be a mature tree or two in the way of the plan along with some impact on the S1/S2/S4 Metrobus stop in front of the mansion.

Additionally, the application proposes parking for six cars to supplement the two existing garage spots. The new parking spots would be located in the courtyard in the rear of the property and access would be from the public alley that joins Riggs and S Streets.

Public Hearings on Proposal

The Republic of the Congo currently has operations on the corner of Colorado and 16th Streets NW, near the Rock Creek Tennis Center. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire and not to be confused with the purchaser of the Toutorsky Mansion) owns the once-neglected mansion at 1800 New Hampshire Avenue NW, which was recently stabilized after pressure from the State Department and ANC 2B.

The application is on the agenda for the monthly meeting of ANC 2B (Dupont Circle) on Wednesday, January 12 at 7 pm at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The BZA public hearing will be held on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 10:00 am at 441 4th Street NW – Room 220 South (Judiciary Square – Red Line).

  • Ken

    Is the drive and curb cuts likely to be approved? A quick drive around Kalorama will provide numerous examples of diplomatic properties that turn their front yards and sidewals (regardless of it being public space) into parking areas. For some reason there is no enforcement of city rules.

  • Avi

    YIKES! The owners should rethink this idea. You should see the awful state of disrepair that the Congolese have let their building on 16th & Colorado fall into: collapsed gutters; exterior paint blistering & peeling; broken windows; exterior walls eroding. I’ll happily provide photos.

    If this is how they treat their own property, it doesn’t bode well for the neighborhood in & around Riggs place. DON’T DO IT UNTIL THEY HAVE CLEANED UP & RESTORED THEIR CURRENT SPACE!

    • Jack Jacobson

      Avi, if you could email me those photos at [email protected], I would be very appreciative. I’m the commissioner representing the property. Thanks.

      • Since this would become an Embassy property, would DC have any authority to make the Congolese Government do anything afterward? Anything at all? Or would they simply be able to ignore local law?

      • LoganBoy

        Jack – Will it be possible to get input and information from the neighbors near their current property? Are there records of problems? Thank you.

  • Avi

    Jack, I will get those photos to you either later today or first thing tomorrow. Thanks for asking about this.

  • Lance

    Matt, “Since this would become an Embassy property, would DC have any authority to make the Congolese Government do anything afterward?”

    Yes … and no. They’re technically responsible for obeying all local building codes, historic preservation regulations, etc., but the mechanism for enforcement is weak. Very weak. It’s via the State Dept. And the State Dept. must of course give precedence to national interests when dealing with these foreign governments, and also to the needs of the American Embassy in the other country (e.g., We need to be able to build tall fences around our embassies. Telling a foreign country here that they must retain a low lying non-secure but historic fence, my not fly … and the State Dept would have little incentive in even wanting to enforce this matter.) The bottom line is that once it’s in the hands of the foreign government, little can be done to enforce the local building codes and historic preservation regs.

    Here is the ‘enforcement section’ I referred to:


    (g) Compliance with District of Columbia building and related codes

    The Secretary shall require foreign missions to comply substantially with District of Columbia building and related codes in a manner determined by the Secretary to be not inconsistent with the international obligations of the United States.


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