ANC Opposes Latest Plan for N Street Lots

Photo by Bill Petros/Current File Photo
The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission objected to the latest plans for the Alexander Memorial Baptist Church property.
The Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission objected to the latest plans for the Alexander Memorial Baptist Church property.

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

A month ago, the developer proposing to convert the Alexander Memorial Baptist Church property into four homes said he was working to revise his plans in response to harsh community feedback.

But neighbors were perplexed at Monday’s Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission meeting to hear that the Bethesda-based SGA Cos. now hopes that the 2709-2717 N St. site can instead hold five housing units, including three condominiums.

“You’ve gone to a greater density within the property than you had before, yet somehow you say you’re thinking of the neighbors,” said one nearby resident.

The neighborhood commission unanimously agreed, advising the Old Georgetown Board, which has final say on the proposal, that there should be no more than three housing units — two in the 1910 sanctuary building and one in the early-19th-century Hall House, the church’s parish hall.

In addition to that parish hall unit, the SGA proposal calls for the sanctuary to serve as three condo units, and the company also wants to build a new town house on open space to the west of the Hall House.

Besides adding a third unit to the sanctuary building, the new plans reduce the size of the proposed new home and no longer connect it to the Hall House. Also, all residents in the sanctuary would now enter through the existing front door; previously, plans called for a rear town house with its own door.

SGA’s Sassan Gharai said the new home would be just 18 feet wide by 50 feet deep and three stories tall, and constructed along the west property line. “This building is a continuation of the houses on the street,” he said. “I know you and many other Georgetown groups would like it to remain an empty lot, and if that’s what’s decided we’ll work towards that.”

Commissioners said the open space is part of the site’s historic character. A neighbor also said she had “grave concerns” about any plans that require excavation for new construction, due to a botched SGA project on Florida Avenue NE that damaged adjacent properties. Gharai has said he is now working with a better contractor and has completed many successful projects.

The main concern about the sanctuary portion of the project is the number of units. When neighbors asked why it couldn’t be two condos instead of three, project attorney Meredith Moldenhauer said the interior hallway robs salable space in the project and reduces window space for each unit, so that cost was best borne among three units rather than two.

The neighborhood commission will consider that zoning application June 30.

One aspect of the SGA proposal that was not controversial — and which was handled as a separate Old Georgetown Board application — was to add a front porch to the Hall House and convert it into one single-family home.

Commissioner Tom Birch added that overall the commission is supportive of housing on the church site. “I think we’re all very anxious to see this property take new life … in a way that will be an asset to the neighborhood and compatible with its surroundings,” Birch said.

This article appears in the June 4 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

2 Comments For This Article

Eigil Rothe

I live right around the corner from this project. In addition, I grew up in Georgetown back in the late 50's, early 60's-- my point: I am well acquainted with Georgetown and I have a historical perspective.

First--I have faith in the vetting process and the participation of Tom Birch affirms that faith.

Second--Gharai's reputation is well documented on the internet and it's not good. He is duplicitous and the fact that one couple has been forced out of their home because the integrity of the structure has been imperilled by the digging he did next door. His unwillingness to take responsibility and do the right thing is why the couple has taken him to Federal Court.

As a neighbour, I am concerned about any addition to an already challenging situation with respect to parking. As a neighbour, I am concerned about the preservation of the existing footprint and open space. Georgetown is not just one community, it's a patchwork of a multitude of distinct areas, each of which have their own character and contribute to the special experience of what we call Georgetown.

Georgetowner

Actually, the FoxNews story says two families had to move out due to damage - at the second house, the owner was apparently "OK" with being paid to move out. That would not work for homeowners who live in their houses and don't want to leave their homes or suffer property damage in the first place.

Also, last month's story in the Georgetown Current said that the developer would no longer be proposing a building in the side garden -- but this story says the revised plans show a building there, just in a different location? Seems like the developer changed his tune (again) or was not being straight with the Current. That's unfortunate, either way.

Bottom line, this project will require first-rate craftmanship and supervision. If done cheaply and without serious care, as appears likely under the current proposal, it won't work for anybody involved and will end sadly.