During a concept review hearing yesterday, the Historic Preservation Review Board voted 5 to 2 against granting The Third Church of Christ, Scientist and ICG 16th Street Associates, LLC an exception that would allow them to build a mixed-use church and office building more than 90 feet high at 910 16th Street (between K and I), where the church currently stands. This would have broken a restriction placed on the historic district of 16th street, which leads to the White House and is where The Third Church of Christ now stands. The review did not include discussion of the highly contested demolition and rebuilding of the church.
Historic Preservation Office staff members David Maloney and Steve Callcott presented a 16-page report urging the Board to deny an exception for a number of reasons, including incompatibility “with the character of the street as a whole” and a fear of creating a precedent of breaking the height rule on 16th Street.
According to the report, "The proposed structure would exceed the 90-foot height limit in several respects. The street facades would extend above the limit to 93.7 feet, calculated from the allowable measuring point on I Street. An extra ninth floor would rise to 107.7 feet, with a 30-foot setback from 16th Street and a 15-foot setback from I Street. The top of the mechanical penthouse would be at 123.7 feet.”
Originally, the project was proposed as an 11-story building with a copper façade. Following comments from the HPO, ICG and architect Robert A.M. Stern Architects partner Graham Wyatt scaled it down to a 9-story building with a stone façade for it to blend better with neighboring buildings.
Since the height restriction has been controversial for years and because this is a historic district, Maloney said it would create a slippery slope with a precedent that other developers could use to break this rule and begin to break down the historic district's uniformity.
“The physical nature of the historical district … is established by the requirement that has been in place since 1894 not to exceed 90 feet,” Maloney said.
ICG principal David Stern, Third Church member Darrow Kirkpatrick and Wyatt represented the project.
Stern said he hoped the project wouldn’t be judged on what might happen, while Kirkpatrick called the report a “substantial burden on our religious beliefs” (though it should be noted the only thing in question was the height of the office building, specifically the addition of a ninth floor, which would not include any part of the church, according to the renderings presented by Wyatt).
The hearing lasted approximately three hours, though it wasn’t until the final twenty minutes that board member Rauzia Ally asked Wyatt what seemed like the most important question: Why does it need a ninth floor?
His answer was that the church is set back into the building and takes up valuable office space, which would be reclaimed by adding a ninth floor. The board was not impressed.
The room filled almost completely for the hearing, and various arguments took place throughout the day including attacks on Wyatt’s architecture, complaints about the lack of religions iconography on the building and arguments about from where in the city can one actually see the extra floor (which is set back 30 feet in the plans).
Several members of the area’s ANC spoke, including 2B chairman Will Stevens, who complained that the staff report never mentions the ANC and said, “Not only will [the ninth floor] not detract, it will add historical flair.”
Former Washington Post columnist and University of Maryland professor emeritus Robert Lewis argued in favor of the extra floor by questioning if it would actually set a precedent. David Alpert founder of Greater, Greater Washington said, “Historic preservation is … becoming the anti-height movement.”
Gretchen Pfaehler, Nancy Metzger and Robert Sonderman also voted to adopt the staff report’s recommendations. Pfaehler explained her decision concisely: “That’s the law.”
Washington D.C. real estate development news