by DAVIS KENNEDY
St. Thomas Episcopal Parish and developer CAS Riegler have reached a settlement with civic organizations over a partially completed construction project that includes a 51-unit residential building and a new church, ending a financially damaging stalemate.
The lot at 1772 Church St. NW is the site of St. Thomas’ original Gothic church, which was completed in 1899 and burned down by an arsonist in 1970.
The Dupont Circle Citizens Association and Church Street Neighbors sued to block the seven-story project after construction began in February 2017. A D.C. Court of Appeals panel ruled in April that the Board of Zoning Adjustment improperly issued a zoning variance.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued a stop-work order April 23, with the project about 60 percent complete. That order was lifted in May, but the status of the project remained in limbo until the settlement was reached.
CAS Riegler committed to make some of the project’s units more deeply affordable than required by law and to contribute $100,000 to at least one non-profit organization devoted to assisting those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The beneficiaries will be selected by the DCCA.
The DCCA has objected to the size of the project and loss of scarce green space since it was first proposed five years ago.
St. Thomas needed the overall project in order to fund construction of a new church, Rev. Alex Dyer, the priest in charge of St. Thomas’ Parish, told the Current. If the stop-work order had remained, it could have bankrupted the church, he said.
”It cost the church between $300,000 and $500,000 in legal and construction fees,” Dyer said.
“The action was very disturbing that the agency could act like that, no matter what you thought of the project itself.”
But Glenn Engelmann, the DCCA’s vice president, said it was the developer and the church that “had broken off settlement discussions well before the construction was started.”
He said the agreement will “address serious needs in Dupont Circle.”
“I’m delighted we found solutions that benefit our neighborhood and the wider community,” Dyer said. “My hope is … this is the beginning of a new relationship with some of our neighbors.
Under city law, four units of the apartment project must be “affordable.” That usually means that they will be rented to people whose income is no more than 80 percent of the area’s median. Under the agreement, three of those units will be rented to people whose income is no more than 60 percent of the median.
Engelmann and Dyer said they are uncertain if the Board of Zoning Adjustment must now re-approve the project. However, with the appeal officially dismissed, they said, that should be a formality.
Dyer said the apartment project is further along than the new church building. The cost of the delay means the church will have to put off building the new church’s third story, which is to house Sunday school rooms, community rooms and meeting spaces. To fully complete the building, he said, the church must raise an additional $750,000.
“Minus the third floor, we are going to be able to complete the project,” Dyer said, “but we will have less funding for outreach. We won’t be able to do as much as we would like.
The second floor will house more meeting space and a large lobby that is to serve as a “ruins gallery” displaying some of the remains of the original church, Dyer said.
St. Thomas currently holds a 9:30 service on Sundays at the National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St. NW.
“We will remain there until April or May next year when our building will be complete,” Dyer said.
He said the church has about 110 congregants and hosts between 70 and 80 on a typical Sunday.
“We are continuing to grow in spite of the fact we are not in our own building.,” Dyer said. “We are attracting young families and young single people as well.”