The First Baptist Church of Washington proposes to build a 9-story, 228-unit apartment building on the site of its surface parking lot at the corner of 17th and O Streets, NW. Some nearby residents object to the plans due to concerns over noise, parking, and the specter of the project becoming a student dormitory.

The existing site. Photo by the author.

The site is one of the last remaining surface parking lots in the Dupont neighborhood. Building apartments would improve neighborhood walkability, increase the city’s scarce rental inventory, and provide needed revenue for the church to continue its charitable activities.

The main hurdles for the project before development can proceed are endorsement by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC 2B), approval by the Historic Preservation Review Board, and acquisition of a zoning variance needed for a portion of the lot.

Proposed building. Image by Keener-Squire Properties.

The property is currently split between two zones. The portion of the lot facing 17th Street, NW is zoned to allow 90-foot buildings. The remainder of the lot is zoned for 65- 70-foot buildings. The project will need a zoning variance in order to build to the 90-foot limit allowed for buildings on 17th Street. Even with that variance, the proposal only calls for half the density permitted by zoning.

Most of the surrounding buildings are around 90 feet tall, so this proposal fits nicely with the established neighborhood scale. The building design by architecture firm Eric Colbert and Associates has already been approved by the Dupont Circle Conservancy and garnered positive reactions from members of the ANC. Commissioner Mike Silverstein commented that the project’s design fits nicely with the modern architecture of other nearby buildings.

Although it does not appear to be their main concern, project opponents have seized upon the height variance issue in order to stop the project as proposed.

Some residents who attended this month’s ANC meeting were vocal in their opposition to the scope of the project. Fliers were distributed to meeting attendees that warned of noise, trash, and parking issues. Opponents’ main concern seems to be that this development could become a “dorm” for undergraduate students and young people.

While it is true that the proposed building will consist of one-bedroom and efficiency units, 8% of which will be set aside as affordable housing, there is little chance the building will become a dorm. Property management company Keener-Squire reports that of the over 1,100 similar units they manage in the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods, only about 2% are occupied by undergraduate students.

Johns Hopkins University does maintain a campus in an adjacent building, but it houses graduate programs attended primarily by part-time students who are unlikely to be living in the area specifically for school.

As for parking concerns, the new apartments will be located in one of the most walkable and transit-accessible areas of the city, mere blocks away from retail and the Metro. It is likely that few residents of the building will actually own a car. Regardless, the church will construct 93 underground parking spaces, 36 to replace those lost from the current lot plus 57 additional new spaces to comply with zoning requirements.

The most controversial issue may be a proposed rooftop common area. Residents are concerned about the noise a rooftop common might generate. This is a reasonable concern, but similar amenities have become a fairly common element of DC residential buildings, and there seems to be no particular reason why this specific rooftop deck should be disallowed.

Even so, both the developer and architect have said that they are willing to make changes to the rooftop area in order to abate as much noise as possible. The current design is partially enclosed, so perhaps there is opportunity to enclose more.

The full Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission has delayed a final vote on this proposal until after a special meeting of the Zoning, Preservation, and Development Committee to discuss the project. That meeting will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 6, at the Hotel Dupont.

Correction: The article originally said the zoning provides for 65-foot buildings. However, while this is true for the basic zoning, the Inclusionary Zoning law increases the maximum height to 70 feet.