Sunrise Senior Living hopes to construct a four-story assisted-living center off Tenley Circle, teaming up with Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church to build a new house of worship and a care facility on the church’s 3920 Alton Place NW lot.
Philip Kroskin, senior vice president at Sunrise, presented project plans at last Thursday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Friendship Heights, Tenleytown), where several residents offered vehement opposition. Kroskin said Sunrise will ask the Board of Zoning Adjustment for zoning relief to build four stories on the lot — the source of most of the complaints from residents. The site is zoned for single-family detached dwellings.
ANC 3E members expressed some early worries, too.
“You’re trying to pack a lot in on a relatively small lot, and there needs to be a solid zoning basis,” said Jon Bender, the commission’s chair. “That’s where I am. I’m torn.”
The designs for the facility feature a mansard roof, to give the exterior the illusion of a three-and-a-half-story building. Two levels of underground parking are planned, but Kroskin expects “minimum traffic,” other than from Sunrise employees, many of whom would be likely to use public transportation. The new church building would face Tenley Circle.
“The idea is that we want to make sure that we keep the church front and center on the circle, and [allow] plenty of space for their programming,” Kroskin said.
The lot in front of the current church is empty, and the project would add new landscaping and trees to soften the site, Kroskin said. Sunrise has also proposed upgrading the landscaping on both sides of Tenley Circle. He said the National Park Service, which owns part of the church lawn and Tenley Circle, supports Sunrise’s proposed modifications.
“The Northwest neighborhood is very, very underserved by our use,” Kroskin said of senior living centers. “There’s a significant need.”
Lynn Bergfalk, the pastor of the church and a local resident, said he is convinced Sunrise is “the ideal partner” for them.
“It provides, number one, [an] assisted living facility. … It keeps the church, which has been in this community for over a century, here,” Bergfalk said at the ANC meeting. “It allows us to focus resources and energy on people and not on struggling to take care of the building.”
The church would own a partial stake in the facility, according to Kroskin. Sunrise runs more than 300 senior living communities worldwide, including one on Connecticut Avenue NW in Chevy Chase.
But residents who opposed the development said they found Sunrise’s for-profit nature to be problematic, arguing that the company provides overly costly services for seniors.
Kroskin said Sunrise will file its Board of Zoning Adjustment application in the coming weeks and return to ANC 3E and the community for more input. On concerns that the building will be noisy with traffic — such as ambulance trips — Kroskin said Sunrise’s other buildings have few emergency vehicles with sirens and little traffic in general.
“The reality is that these are quiet buildings,” he said.