Tomorrow, the Zoning Commission considers magnanimously granting a second three-year extension to developer Steve Tanner and his Square 643 Associates for the Old Friendship Baptist Church in southwest Washington DC. The Commission's decision will determine whether the developer, who bought the property for $550,000 in 2003, can continue waiting with fingers crossed for dramatic change in the SW neighborhood, or whether a denied extension and defunct PUD will mean a renewed effort or the end of the line. Tanner has a bit more at stake than just the PUD; the property, advertised as 800 Delaware Avenue on the Woodmark website, has been on the market for over a year with an asking price of $3.5 million. Certainly denying the PUD would put a damper on the price for a property that has not changed in an area that, according to the developer, has not seen much change either.
The development, designed by Shalom Baranes Architects (rendering pictured at left), may someday incorporate the Old Friendship Baptist Church, built in 1886-1887, into a mixed-use building, preserving the historic landmark as non-profit office space and constructing between 18 and 27 new condominiums, with one set aside as an affordable rental unit. The site will provide a minimum of 32 parking spaces with at least 23 for residents and 9 for a future but undetermined non-profit tenant. The L-shaped building will be four stories high on the east side of the church and seven stories high on the north, with no more than 10,000 s.f. set aside for non-profit office space. The ZC set limitations on the non-profit tenant, ordering that no more than 40 employees and volunteers can work on site during work hours limited to 7 A.M. to 8 P.M., which seems to mean they would need a court order to work overtime. Hm.
The Zoning Commission (ZC) originally approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) September 15, 2005 and the current extension, granted in 2007, expired September 15, 2009. In 2007 the ZC granted a three-year extension to the PUD, meaning it would remain valid as long as the developer filed for a building permit within two years, and began construction within three. The developer failed to file a building permit and now the PUD is back before the ZC. In 2007, Tanner claimed the "current market conditions in the immediate neighborhood...made it impossible to attract a non-profit office tenant."
The developer had been banking on the nearby redevelopment of Randall School by Corcoran College of Art and Design and Monument Realty, a partnership which ended last spring. Potential non-profit tenants apparently hesitated to sign on without the reassurance that the area would be changing for the better in the near future. In 2007 the ZC said the extension was "justified by the uncertainty of market conditions" near the project - mind you this was in 2007, before the Big Mess. According to Office of Zoning records, between Jan. 2007 and October 2008 only seven time extension applications came before the Commission, one of which belonged to Tanner. Maybe the ZC will feel generous again.