Housing Complex

D.C. Preservation League Settles With Third Church, Quid Pro Quos Abound

It couldn't be saved!

Last month, the Post reported that after a years-long legal fight over whether the Church of Christ, Scientist would be allowed to tear down its Brutalist home on 16th Street NW, developers were finally getting ready for demolition. It struck me as odd: What happened to the D.C. Preservation League's litigation to prevent the church from being destroyed? The group had battled a tide of public opinion for nearly two decades; it seemed improbable that they would have given up and gone home now.

Recently, I found my answer: An 11-page settlement between DCPL, the Committee of 100, the Third Church, and developer ICG Properties, received by the Court of Appeals on November 24. Boiling down the legalese, the main terms are:

  • ICG may demolish the church and Monitor buildings and construct a new office building not to exceed 156,000 square feet, a new church building not more than 10,000 square feet, and a parking garage.
  • The redevelopment plan must go through DCPL's normal review process, but DCPL may not oppose the plan, "directly or indirectly."
  • DCPL also may not oppose ICG's plans for an addition to 1600 K Street NW, provided certain height setbacks are incorporated.
  • Within three days after the start of demolition, Third Church must request the withdrawal of legislation proposed by Councilmembers Marion Barry and Jack Evans that would allow churches to exempt their buildings from landmarking, on the grounds of religious freedom. On top of that, Third Church may not "initiate or sponsor legislation concerning the issue of religious institutions' rights as they relate to historic preservation practices for a term of 25 years," unless an application for historic landmark status has been filed for another property owned or leased by Third Church.
  • Here's the meat of the agreement: ICG will donate a flat $450,000 plus two bucks for every square foot ICG ends up building, which comes out to a maximum of $770,000, to a fund managed by DCPL. The group can take 20 percent of that amount as an administrative fee. According to a statement by the league, the fund will be used "to enhance citizens’ knowledge and understanding of modernist and religious architecture in Washington, and to provide grant funding for research, training, building rehabilitation (bricks and mortar), and other eligible projects."

The settlement was met with surprise from some quarters in the preservation community, given that DCPL had fought so long and so hard to save the church, only to settle for a few hundred grand (the money part, at least, has precedent: DCPL got $450,000 out of Monument Realty in a case around Potomac Place in Southwest). DCPL itself could only issue this statement: "The terms of the settlement agreement are supported by the DC Preservation League and is a satisfactory resolution to the dispute among the parties." That comports well with a provision in the settlement, which dictates that any party to speak about it publicly "shall express its full support for the terms of this settlement agreement, and shall generally represent that this settlement agreement is a fair and mutually satisfactory resolution to the dispute among the parties."

DCPL's reasoning is fairly easy to understand. If you can't win the case outright, why not at least get what you can? If Evans does agree to withdraw his bill exempting churches from historic preservation, that's an important win. And over half a million dollars for preservation, even if at least $100,000 goes to the DCPL's overhead, isn't peanuts either.

This isn't the end to the Third Church saga: If it finally gets demolished, the new proposed church will have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board. Considering the HPRB ordered that the church be preserved three years ago–and even though the church's staunchest defender, Tersh Boasberg, has relinquished the chairmanship–it'll be interesting to see how they handle the application for a replacement to be built on its ashes.

Read the settlement here:
[scribd id=45707262 key=key-1ddpbrd3ttlp6e9rz0jv mode=list]

  • Skipper

    The Evans bill withdrawal is irrelevant; the bill will die at the end of this month when a new Council Period begins.

  • http://offthemall.org/ Bryant Turnage

    This was a complicated issue and I know there were conflicted feelings on the part of some. Lots of lay people may not have understood why anyone would fight so hard to keep the church, but as the best-known work of Brutalist architecture in the city - a style that these days gets short shrift from almost everyone - I'll be a bit sad to see it succumb to the wrecking ball.

  • Rick Mangus

    What the big deal,tear it down, it has to be the ugliest building in town, it looks like a bunker designed by the Department of Homeland Security!

  • DC Guy

    Glad to see bidness being done the ol' fashion way 'ere in DeeCee.

  • RT

    This extortion is absurd power-mongering. The DCPL is a bunch of fuddy duddies with WAYYY too much time on their hands. "DC Preservation of Blight and Opposition to Change and Progress League"

  • In MD

    DCPL is laughing all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, DC taxpayers get stuck with the costs of "preserving" the church: years of hearings, lawyers and all the rest. Will the DCPL reimburse the DC government?

  • Julie

    @In MD. DCPL didn't landmark the church - the DC Government did! It says the money is going back into the community. Sounds like they aren't laughing their way to the bank but trying to make a positive out of a negative situation. Can't wait to see what the grant program looks like and hopefully my church can apply for some funds.

  • Calling BS on this one

    The holier-than-thou preservationists, who accused the congregation of wanting to tear down their structure because of greed, have succeeded in blackmailing the church to the tune of half a million dollars.

    Not only are DCPL, Boasberg, and their minions liars. They're also world class hypocrites.

  • Lance

    Note that the author is incorrect in stating that the Committee of 100 received part of a $450,000 settlement from Monument Realty or any other party related to the Potomac Place case. Of course, it's not the first time Ms. DePillis will have misconstrued the facts to better tell the story she wants to tell instead of the story that is the truth.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Lance,

    Thanks for pointing that out--the Committee of 100 was party to the Potomac Place case, but withdrew before it was settled. I've corrected the post.

    Best,

    Lydia

  • Typical DC BS

    So, by paying off DCPL (which is a worthless organization), the church gets to finally move on and demolish a white elephant with no redeeming value other than being an example of incredibly bad architecture. In the meantime, DCPL continues along it's merry way after it's been paid off? If this happened in Prince George's County, they'd be calling it corruption.

    How is this any different from blackmail or extortion?

    What a joke.

  • Lance

    Lydia,

    Thank you for cpromptly orrecting the post. In today's electronic age, a misstatement of fact can too quickly replicate itself in so many places that it can be difficult if not impossible to correct.

    In all fairness, you should consider doing an investigative piece on how much the Church gets out of the deal with the developers only made possible by demolishing this landmarked sanctuary. And more specifically, and how the monies will be spent.

    If DCPL was able to settle for close to half a million dollars, I'd except the Church elders' piece of the profits to be far far higher. DCPL has already in writing committed to what it intends to do with the funds. Wouldn't it only be fair to learn to what good causes the church elders will be committing their share of the profits from the demolition of this sacred space?

  • Lisa

    DCPL didn't receive 450K in the Monument settlement either. They were a party to the settlement with the City and the funds were administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and used for neighborhood research projects, a study on mid-century modernism and a conference on modern architecture.

    Another case is when the convention center was built. The mitigation money went to assist homeowners and businesses in the impact area restore their facades, roofs and structural issues. There is also a heritage trail.
    In my opinion mitigation funds aren't all bad. They can do some real good in the city.

  • http://dcjack.org Jack

    I'll be sorry to see that concrete monster go, because the absurd insistence of the preservationist community on keeping it, just because it was architecturally bizarre -- Brutalist/Stalinist -- revealed how foolish anyone is to let their neighborhoods fall into the clutches of the preservationists. Once that happens, your property is not your own, and the hard-line preservationists will demand the preservation of anything, no matter how impractical or ugly, nor how much the homeowner may want, or need, improvements. Chevy Chase and Lanier Heights have successfully fought off the Historic District plague. The CS Church was a brilliant example of why neighborhoods should resist the preservationist movement. The artsy types take over, and impose their expensive, impractical demands on you, because it pleases them to look at your house as they drive by.

  • Eric

    Looks like the DCPL is in the business of opposition for financial gain now doesn't it?

  • DC Guy

    While this particular case is a crock, I disagree with "Jack". The preservation movement has been invaluable to the United States, and particularly in the District.

    Let's value the parts of the movement that are worthy rather than tossing the baby with the bathwater.

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