The dispute over the fate of the Brutalist concrete church at 16th and I streets began decades ago. Now the debate over what to replace it with is underway and so far it isn’t going much more smoothly.
Developers of the project, a joint venture between ICG Properties and the JBG Cos., are seeking zoning changes that would allow them to replace the church and an office building next door with new offices designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern that would include new worship space for congregants of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist.
Now the developers are engaged in a battle with the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board over how large a building they can construct in one of the city’s most prominent locations, two blocks from the White House. The talks come at a time when there is more discussion about whether the city’s Height Act ought to be changed than at any time in recent years.
So far the developers are not faring well.
They initially designed an 11-story building. However after hearing concerns from the board’s staff about the height, they cut the design to 10 stories. Then nine. Then they moved the ninth floor back 30 feet from the street, creating a building would have reached 93.7 feet along the street and 107.7 feet at the top of the recessed ninth floor. Current zoning for the property allows a height of 90 feet.
The developers then crossed their fingers and submitted those plans to the board. (To compare renderings of the original design with the current one, click through the slides.)
Staff was not satisfied that the height had been lowered enough, however, issuing a report recommending that, “the Board find the proposed construction in excess of the 90-foot height limit to be incompatible with the character of the Sixteenth Street Historic District and the urban design character of a major contributing element of the L’Enfant Plan.”
On May 24 the board voted down the proposal, 5-2.
For ICG principal David Stern (no relation to the architect), the board sent a clear message: “They effectively told us if you want to get approval you need to chop off the ninth floor.”
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