With government approval now in hand, Emory United Methodist Church is beginning its designs for the Beacon Center, a mixed-use development on Georgia Avenue in Brightwood that would envelop the quasi-historic church in a cocoon of new housing. The Church (tagline: "real church for real people") will offer its residences as affordable, naturally - that being what gets built on Georgia Avenue - and should be underway by next year.
The rear of Beacon's hilltop property abuts Fort Stevens and a previous iteration of the church building served as a hospital and barracks during the Civil War. The new development, designed by PGN Architects, will include 67 residential units, street-level retail and 58,000 s.f. of new church space, to include an expanded worship area, administrative offices and church-operated residential uses.
Above the church offices, Beacon Center will offer two floors of "transitional" housing for families, totalling 24 units. The other residential building will sit four stories high on top of the hill, but will appear as a five-story building from the Georgia Avenue street-level retail. The 67-unit residential development will contain 34 units for seniors, 17 units set aside for veterans and 16 affordable rentals. Each floor will have a common area and a common laundry facility. Tucked beneath the residential building in the hillside will be two levels of parking for just under 100 cars, with a few bicycle racks thrown in for good measure.
Sean Pichon, a Partner at PGN Architects, said design challenges such as addressing the grade of the property, preserving the "view corridors" and maintaining the affordability of the project compelled his firm to be flexible. The result? Unique features like "curved green roofs" over the retail space to create and "continue the imagery of the hillside." Though the materials are mostly affordable, PGN tried to vary the color and use a mix of materials in the wood-framed structures to "create a dynamic design" within the financial constraints of the church's budget. Pichon said the team's efforts to maintain the views from Georgia Avenue lead them to create a main entrance from a side road, Quackenbos, and to provide multiple access points to maintain the historic stairs leading up to the old church.
The Beacon plan did not gain approval without its share of complications. Two Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) members recused themselves from the case, one because of personal contributions to the project, and another because he is a representative of the National Park Service (NPS), which submitted a letter in opposition. The recusals made for a more stressful zoning process: with only three board members left and a majority approval needed, there was not much wiggle room for the development team. According to Pichon, it put "a lot of pressure" on the team to get "all the support you can across the board."
The NPS expressed concerns that the requested height variance, which brings the building in at over 63 feet, would obstruct views of Fort Stevens from Georgia Avenue - despite the fact that you can't see Fort Stevens from Georgia Avenue now, less'n you are two stories tall - and that the development is too close in proximity to the park property line. The community largely spoke out against the NPS objections. To make amends, the applicants suggested erecting a memorial to the Fort on site and even using some of the retail space as a souvenir shop (souvenir shops; now that will improve Georgia Avenue). The height variance along with the souvenir shop ultimately received approval.
With the zoning approval in hand, Emory selected the Bozzutto Group to serve as general contractor for both pre-construction and construction. Neighbors can expect work to start by next year.
Washington, DC real estate development news