Church at 8th & Upshur to be demolished, new condos to be built

Rock Creek Baptist Church, 8th & Upshur St NW (photo: Google)

The Rock Creek Baptist Church at 8th and Upshur, originally built in the 1950s, had been up for sale for quite some time, as the church prepared to move to Maryland. Now the sale is final and the congregation has moved out, leaving questions in the neighborhood for what comes next. The answer is a developer, ERB Properties, purchased the property and the lot next door, and plans to build four new multi-unit rowhouses.

(See also: "Update on Rock Creek Church development" - Nov 30, 2016)

Neighbor Chris Broderick was kind enough to pass along his notes from a meeting with the developer held Monday, November 28th at Ruta del Vino. I've added additional information as needed. Questions can be added in the comments below.

From Drew: As background, the church had tried to get permission expand its footprint (and add a parking lot) by taking down some of the adjacent homes it owned on both 8th Street and on Upshur Street. This was turned down by the city, so church decided to move to Maryland, where a majority of its congregation lives. The church started looking for a developer to purchase the property, and ultimately chose ERB, who purchased the property for $2.2 million. As an aside, I understand the stained glass windows from the church will not be salvaged in their entirety, as, according to the developer, they are encased in concrete and cannot be removed without shattering the glass.

Update: I heard from the developer who said that they were able to give away about three dozen of the stained glass windows to neighbors.

ERB hosted an informal question and answer session regarding the development of Rock Creek Baptist Church (4201 8th Street NW) with about 15-20 community members. Matt Scorzafava, a partner at ERB (the Master Developer on the project, spoke to neighbors who came to the meeting.

ERB most recently participated, with other partners, in the now complete development of the condo project adjacent to Ruta del Vino at 4126 8th Street NW. Matt personally has extensive development experience and has been involved in many development projects throughout Washington, the Logan Circle and Columbia Heights areas in particular.

A Google Earth view of Upshur and 8th Street, with both ERB properties outlined (pre-construction)

After a brief introduction by Matt the meeting essentially consisted of a series of questions/comments from attendees. 

The first comment to open the discussion was to thank Commissioner John-Paul Hayworth for his work in coordinating the meeting and in working to create and foster a forum for questions and concerns.

The first question addressed the basic design of the building and how, from the neighbor’s perspective, the design detracted from the ambiance of the neighborhood. What were ERB’s goals in choosing a design that did not continue the basic elements of other existing homes in the neighborhood? (They look nothing like the existing row houses on 8th Street.)

ERB rendering of the new rowhouses, courtesy Chris Broderick. 

Matt expressed regret that the neighbor felt that way about the design and that it was not ERB’s intent to mimic or copy existing design elements in their projects but rather to complement the areas in which they develop projects.  

From Drew:
One neighbor emailed me after the meeting to say she is happy the condos are being built. “I have always advocated for greater housing density in DC and railed against NIMBYism, and now that I'm a homeowner, I'm glad to put my money where my mouth is. Although this type of luxury development does little to alleviate the affordability crisis, and I hope to see more large-scale affordable housing go into the neighborhood, the city needs market-rate housing, too, and these types of duplex condos are conceptually just right for a block of rowhouses.”

However, from other emails Petworth News has received, the modern design of the new buildings frustrated many who were at the meeting — they felt the design clashed with the existing design of the homes in the area, and on 8th Street, as did the perceived attitude of the developer.

As one resident wrote to me, “A project that seems right conceptually has gotten some of the details wrong, and seems to have done so due to arrogance. Maybe market forces require the developer to build in a modern style, but I'm saddened at the decision to drop a row of dull gray façades into our Crayola-box block (although I do appreciate the small concession of the brick wall on the Upshur side). It just seems so unnecessary, given the little tweaks that could have made the design so much better!”

“And what makes it worse is the sense I get that the developer's attitude has been ‘because this project is as of right, I don't need your approval, and because I don't need your approval, I don't care about your opinions.’ ERB could have had a neighborhood meeting a year ago, and could have painted the buildings to match their environment, but it didn't need to do either, so it didn’t.”

“In the end," she wrote, "these are small matters to get agitated over. Our neighborhood is lovely, and will remain lovely, and if it doesn't remain lovely, it won't be because four new condos are painted the wrong color. But it's a shame to be reminded that getting people to do the right thing (in this case, informing the community early on about the plans and showing genuine interest in finding small ways to accommodate their views) takes so much effort.”

Another question was asked about zoning issues and wondered how the site could be converted from a church to residential use.  

Matt explained that the area is zoned R-4, which he described as a “transitional zone” between downtown and more commercial areas. This type of zone allows for both residential and church buildings to be in the same area (as well as schools and other types of buildings).

ERB was approached by the church on several occasions to purchase the property so that the church could relocate to a preferred location. One caveat in this arrangement was that ERB was prohibited (by contract with the church) from allowing another church organization to occupy the church or to develop the property for another church. ERB paid $2.2 million for the property.  

The lot on which the church was built was zoned residential prior to the church being built and consisted of three separate lots that were combined for tax purposes. The property is essentially being converted back to the previous arrangement of three 20’ W X 48” D lots with the fourth lot consisting of an existing attached home that will be demolished that sits on an 18’ W X 48’ D lot. There were no special zoning exemptions or special arrangements requested or granted for this project.  

ERB blueprint of the footprint of the new building (courtesy Chris Broderick.)

Another question asked about the “footprint” of the new development relative to the existing footprint of the church. Was it bigger, closer to the street, alley, etc?  

Matt explained that zoning did allow for the residential structure to be closer to the sidewalks and that, essentially, the amount of green space presently on the lot would be reduced or eliminated. The design calls for the fronts of the new residences to essentially match the fronts of the existing homes along 8th Street in terms of how close they are to the street and to try and maintain the presence of a retaining wall, steps up to the property and other features so that some sort of continuity in maintained.

The new building will not extend as close to the alley as the existing church due to the addition of parking spaces in the back. The new building will be taller than the existing homes by 5-10’ (they are allowed to a maximum height of 40’). The new residences will each have an exterior porch, likely constructed out of metal.  

A question was raised regarding the disruption caused by the project to the occupants of the home currently connected to the home that will be demolished to create the fourth lot. They essentially share a wall with the project.  

Matt estimated that the project will take 10 months to complete, once the actual construction phase begins. They are approved for demolition but ERB is still waiting on various construction approvals from the city. Efficiently completing the project is the main step ERB can take to minimize the disruption to residents of the remaining connected home. There was some discussion regarding protection for the homeowner should their home be damaged, etc., as part of this type of project. ERB is allowed to work from 7:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Saturday and Matt stated that they will likely work during all those times.  

A comment was made that work on weekends was especially disruptive and that some violation of the day/hour work restrictions had already occurred and was observed occurring on the recently completed project adjacent to Ruta del Vino. Also, some neighbors work from home during the week and wondered if it were possible to provide notice of especially noisy periods.  

Matt reiterated that they intend to work during all hours that they are allowed but not more. He encouraged neighbors to contact him and/or his partners who will most often be on-site with any concerns in this area. Matt referenced his contact information and recommended emailing with any problems. ERB has its own construction company and can control its activities but inevitably there will be small disruptions, alley being blocked, working a little past cutoff time due to a construction requirement, etc., but that ERB is committed to being a good neighbor and will work with everyone to reduce any negative impact from the project.  

Rock Creek Church, before construction. The grey and red house on the left will be razed as well to make room for the new homes.

Additional discussion happened on whether “rollup” type garage doors or other types of treatments would be best for the property.

Matt stated that ERB had not come to a decision on that. A variety of opinions/preferences were expressed and issues such as noise, security and maintenance were discussed.  

A resident asked a question regarding pest control.  

Matt stated that ERB had contracted with PestNow and had been working with them for several weeks to lay traps, etc., to reduce/control the pest problem. He hoped this had been effective. It was ERB’s understanding that various neighbors would arrange as a group for additional services and ERB was not coordinating or participating in this additional service.  

Question was asked regarding the impact on water pressure/delivery and the delivery of electricity given 16 new residences were being added through the two ERB projects. (Note: the "16 new residences" refers to the 8 units at 4126 8th Street and here at the new site on 8th & Upshur, also 8 units.)  

Matt stated that the project had to be approved by the city in terms of water delivery and that the impact would be minimal. PEPCO is required to provide power (as a general condition of working in the city) and they will do so without disruption to existing neighbors.  

Question was asked if the new residences would have rooftop decks.  

Matt stated the answer was "No."

Question was asked about construction vehicle parking or other disruptions to parking or traffic as well as any impact on the alley and trash pickup.  

Matt stated there would be a significant amount of traffic and parking demand from the various crews coming to work on the project. ERB will have a “staging area” in front of the church along 8th Street that will be blocked off and used to park some vehicles overnight, store materials, etc. Except for brief interruptions, the alley should continue to be available for trash pick-up and access to garage/parking areas. They did not expect to damage the new paving job that was recently completed in the alley.  

Matt provided an update on the project next to Ruta del Vino (4126 8th Street). The new condo building has eight units, six of which are already under contract. Prices are $675,000-$680,000 for the largest top floor units, mid- to high-$500,000s for the other units. He referenced a recent article in the New York Times about Petworth that featured a picture of this development.  

Drew: I'm sure more will come out as the work progresses. My thanks to Chris Broderick for allowing me to publish his notes.

Update 11/30: The developer reached out with some updated information. Read the update.

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