Friday, March 05, 2010

Brightwood Church Gets Mixed-Use Upgrade

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


IMGoph on Mar 5, 2010, 3:02:00 PM said...

hey, i know you guys trade in snark, but a serious question here. bike racks "for good measure"? isn't there actually a legal requirement for bicycle parking in new construction?

Ken on Mar 5, 2010, 3:09:00 PM said...

Thanks for the complement. No, there isn't, but there may be an agreement with the govt or community to provide back racks based on the negotiations.

Unknown on Mar 8, 2010, 6:28:00 PM said...

Re: NPS - if they ever cleaned, maintained, or patrolled Ft. Stevens Park then maybe their opinion would matter. Kudos to Emory, and best of luck to them! They are the one positive force for development in that part of Ward 4!

- A neighbor

Anonymous said...

wow - that's one of the worst architectural clusterf**ks I've seen in years. A beautiful old church building, with all that modern stuff just sort of flung around the lot nearby? It almost looks like they TRIED to find the *least* compatible, least consistent materials, colors, style and layout for the lot. I really hope they rethink this before building anything - the church should be the centerpiece of an overall design that works with it, not against it...

Anonymous said...

That rendering is just discordant visual chaos. Bizarre! Ugly!

Unknown on Mar 10, 2010, 11:08:00 AM said...

Well its not the Pantheon to be sure, but it doesn't look bad in my opinion. Granted I'm no architect, but making the surrounding buildings look like the original church would be prohibitively expensive since the original is stone and marble. These new additions look very much like the current trend of condos built in much of NW (Columbia Heights, U St., etc.). Lastly, any improvement in that area of Ward 4 is simply a massive improvement over the current array of empty storefronts, which makes these buildings look gorgeous to me. Don not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Anonymous said...

VestigialLARS, you used the perfect term: "Current trend of condos..." I'm not saying they have to be built of stone or marble, but trendy isn't going to age nearly as well as the old church has. Smooth stucco exteriors may work better with the stone: I think a "wood" sided addition on a brick or stone building can look cheap and flimsy.

Anonymous said...

Two years later and no progress. Is there any update on this construction?

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