Board of Zoning Adjustment Gives Blessing to St. Thomas Parish Project

by Tim Regan January 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm 7 Comments

The contentious plan to redevelop St. Thomas’ Parish (1772 Church St. NW) has moved one step closer to fruition.

D.C.’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) voted unanimously to approve developer CAS Riegler’s request for a zoning variance during its meeting yesterday. The developer sought permission to construct its planned seven-story building on 86.7 percent of the lot as opposed to the usual maximum limit of 80 percent.

Though neighbors and developers have previously clashed over the proposed height of the development and the loss of green space, the Historic Preservation Review Board in July voted to approve the project. Yesterday’s BZA vote is yet another hurdle the developer has cleared since taking on the project roughly two years ago.

“I was actually a little torn,” said BZA board member Frederick Hill during the meeting. “This went on for a long time with us and there were a lot of people that were on both sides. … I could understand why I wouldn’t want something this large at the end of that block.”

But the vote to approve came easier for board member Peter May.

“I was not particularly torn in this circumstance,” May said. “I can certainly appreciate the concerns of the neighbors regarding the height and bulk of the building. It is different from the rest of the block, however it is consistent with the zone,” he added.

May said that, although he heard from many neighbors regarding the building’s height, he found “almost nothing that actually specifically relates to lot occupancy, which is where the relief is requested.”

“I’m also, frankly, a little bit disappointed,” May said. “We often hear from neighbors of projects who are unhappy with changes in the status quo, but I saw precious little appreciation from the neighbors for the 45 years that they had for this public park.”

Dupont Circle’s ANC 2B voted to reject supporting the zoning variance last month. Among the ANC’s chief concerns was the enforceability of a type of contract called a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the developer sought to strike with neighbors. According to ANC 2B, the MOU — which would have set rules for issues like construction noise limits and dust — was not enforceable and therefore not worth brokering.

But the ANC “tilted at windmills” in its decision to reject supporting the zoning variance and the MOU, according to Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert.

“Neighborhoods engage most successfully with development when they identify concrete elements they care about and advocate for those,” Alpert wrote. “To simply draw lines in the sand and refuse to budge from them, even when the conflict has moved far beyond that line, is ineffective and gives up the chance of actually helping neighbors.”

  • Guy DC

    So f’ing ugly.

    • So OverIt

      And what’s there now is “pretty”?? Let’s face it… the park right now is a dirty, dog potty. When’s the last time you or anyone else read a book on a blanket in the park? Or used the prayer circle? You cant! Doggy doo all over, and the circle is crumbling. The neighbors want it so bad, but not helping to fix the issue, they just want to voice their unhappiness in life, just like you.

      • Bob

        Bingo. The same group of hysterics will move on to some other imaginary disaster.

  • Page 7

    I used to live on Church St and it is a great quiet oasis two blocks from Dupont Circle. One of the nicest streets with huge trees, and the lovely green space at the end of the block. This new development will kill the area.

    • tom bower

      The huge trees will still be along the street and there will be a new green space at 18th St. end of the block. The current park isn’t used by anyone but homeless and dog walkers and needs to be restored which no one has offered to help the Church to do.

    • So OverIt

      You clearly haven’t been over there recently. The “oasis” with “lovely green space” is an eye sore; an overrun, unkempt, doggy toilet. The church has a guy that cleans all the trash that always accumulates. I’d rather have a building there that gives new life and purpose to the space than what’s there now. Wasn’t there a church there originally? Yes, a different size and layout, but that space wasn’t always “green space.” The church did us a favor by letting us use it as long as we have. I’m not aware of any law or ordinance requiring them to do that… I think the neighbors, as a majority, have been extremely selfish, and in some cases down right rude to the church. For whoever’s sake, it’s a church, not a bar, not a strip joint. It’s a church…

  • Bob

    At the west end of this block are two enormous residential buildings, which run from on 17th Street and extend for the equivalent of numerous row houses along the 1700 block of Church Street. What’s the difference? NONE. Advice to the complainers: Move to upper Ward 3 or 4 where you have to get in your car to buy a loaf of bread. And be thankful there (probably) won’t be a Hooter’s in the new building.


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