The D.C. Zoning Commission has rejected plans by the Christian Embassy, an evangelical group whose mission is to offer spiritual guidance to governmental leaders, to buy the palatial $3 million, 34-room Archbold Mansion for use as a religious conference center.
The Hillandale Development Co., which bought the mansion and its surrounding 42-acre estate on Reservoir Road NW four years ago for a large town house project, had asked the zoning commission to allow the conference center.
But by a 4-to-1 vote in mid-July, the commission rejected the conference center without holding a public hearing and held to its four-year-old decision that the mansion be used either as a private residence or clubhouse for the owners of the town houses.
"This was so different from the original planned-unit development application and had no relation to the rest of the property that they did not want to take a look at it through a hearing," said Steven Sher, secretary to the commission.
The city's planning office also had opposed the proposed use.
Phil Feola, the attorney representing Hillandale, said the denial of a hearing was "not very fair."
"This is not an egregious use like a nuclear plant," Feola said. "We felt we had a nonimpact user, but even more disconcerting is not to get a hearing."
Feola added that at a hearing the Hillandale Co. would have explained that it has been unable to find a buyer for the Italian-style villa with 12 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and spacious ballrooms and dining rooms that sits atop a hill with a panoramic view.
With its $3 million price tag "nobody will buy it in the middle of the town house community," Feola said. "But we never had a chance to say that."
Feola said the company is undecided about its next step.
The Christian Embassy was founded in 1976 as an offshoot of the Campus Crusade for Christ International, which claims more than 15,000 staff members in 150 countries. In its literature, the group lists among its international executive committee Texas businessman Clint Murchison, whose company is building Hillandale.
The development company also has asked the zoning commission for 10 more years to complete the expensive enclave. The commission will hold a public hearing on that request Sept. 26.
The commission had given the company four years to build all its homes, but construction was halted nearly two years ago because the homes, then with price tags beginning at $310,000, were not selling.