As neighbors of a 7-story condo building proposed for a portion of the current St. Thomas Church site in Dupont Circle, 1772 Church St., NW, warm to the revised residential design, many are now calling for changes to the proposed church design as well.
The by-right residential development will still be 7-stories, but the plan now includes set backs at several levels to reduce the feeling of height from the street. The design is about 4,000 square feet less of built space than had previously been proposed and less then the allowable size.
“We’ve substantially carved the building away from Church, P, 17th Street, etc. to separate ourselves and respect the context around us,” said Kevin Riegler, whose company CAS Riegler is developing the residential portion of the project.
The project has faced vocal opposition from a group of community members who recently flyered the polling location at the church on primary day in early April.
The architect for the residential portion, Laurence Caudle, a principal at Hickok Cole architects, described the setbacks as a “wedding-cake” approach.
“We’re open minded here, but we’ve dug pretty deep as far as various massings, scope, height, square footage etc. both the church and the residential so where we stand today is the basic envelope,” said Riegler.
Reactions were mixed, but included some praise from attendees who felt the revisions resulted in improvements in the design.
One woman called the entire project “obscene.” But another resident said he felt the architects have done a “commendable job” in creating setbacks and tweaking the design.
“I think it is a significant improvement over the previous design and I think it could work” said another neighbor.
The evolving feelings about the residential design did not apply to the new church building.
Residents called it “suburban” and “oppressive.”
One person said the design reminds them of the Brutalist Third Church of Christ on 16th St. downtown that was just recently demolished.
Several neighbors attending the event complained the church had not tried to engage the community in discussions in a meaningful way about the building program or design.
Many wore stickers that said:
“Dear St. Thomas, Your neighbors want to help. Please talk to us.”
James Clark,principal at MTFA Architects, the team that went throughthe long planning process with the church before St.Thomas chose a developer through a request for proposals, said initially the church had envisioned programming the entire lot in church uses.
The church design has had a few adjustments since it was first presented to the community in February. Clark created new pocket parks in the front to provide a place for neighbors to sit and enjoy the open space and several elements of the 1894 historic structure will be integrated into the new building both on the exterior and interior.
Clark called the church design a “very tight program” for the various uses proposed–worship, administrative, classroom and other needs.
Ryan Winfield, chair of the building committee for the church, said the current design was not nearly as massive as previous iterations and he considered it “prudent” and “realistic.”
However, Leo Dwyer, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for the church project area, said he was disappointed in the church’s outreach efforts.
Dwyer praised the developers for meeting with, listening too and making adjustments based on the community.
“The church should be doing the exact same thing,” said Dwyer.
Winfield agreed to set up a meeting for the community to provide feedback on the church design.
“There’s room for tweaking,” said Winfield.
Riegler said his plan is to file with the Historic Preservation Board (HPRB) to potentially appear on the agenda for the board’s May meeting. That would involve presenting to the ANC zoning committee on May 7th and then at the full ANC May 14.
Caudle acknowledged that the “big lift” for the project in terms of approval is the requested partial demolition of the existing parish hall and the relocation and reintegration of the remaining portion of the arson-destroyed church.
Riegler said they are trying to fine an “artful way” to integrate historic elements of the old church building into the project.
The current plan is to remove about 20% of the current structure, a 1920s church hall, that has served as a community and worship space since. The facade would be incorporated into the base of the new residential project.
“I have not heard one person—literally one person—say that they think that the existing parish hall is a beautiful, contributing historic structure,” said Caudle.
Still he said they recognize the “merits” of the facade and are hoping the board will agree with the plan.
“We don’t know whether that works for the board or not. We don’t know how much of the building we can take down” said Caudle.
They could get the answer to those questions as soon as May should HPRB take up the review at the May 22 meeting.