Dupont Circle is home to a lot of great people. But it is also home to a group that considers itself “machers” (a Yiddish word meaning important person, big shot) who feel they should control everything that goes on here.
The leaders of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) see themselves that way. They claim to speak for the neighborhood when they clearly don’t. According to their website they were “Founded in 1922 in a townhouse at 1767 P Street, to promote and protect the interests of the residents.” What they forget and people should understand is they are a very small membership organization and don’t speak for the many thousands of people who live in Dupont.
Over the years they continue to fight any change to the neighborhood managing to nearly destroy the 17th Street business corridor. They regularly cost business owners thousands of dollars by fighting them as they have done to JR.’s and Hank’s Oyster Bar. They supported the liquor license moratorium for years, clearly hurting the neighborhood.
Now they again support a small group of people fighting the St. Thomas Parish project on Church Street as the parish tries to build on property they own to support a growing congregation. DCCA sided with a group of residents on Church Street who made false claims suggesting it was a dying congregation hoping all along the project would fail. A church that has been a good neighbor on the block since 1899. A church that suffered an arson fire in 1970 yet stayed and allowed the community to use its land as a park since then.
Many in the community and on Church Street worked with St. Thomas and its developer in a collegial way. There were many meetings with the community, a number of which I attended in the church as I live only a block away. They agreed to scale back the original plans for the project, keep the Church Street side of the old building façade and make it into the entrance to the apartments. They agreed to set-backs on various levels of the building to make it more compatible with the street and to many other requests the community made, including some green space facing 18th street in front of the new church entrance.
But this wasn’t enough for the DCCA. It is fairly clear much of the money, though they haven’t given an accounting, for a lawsuit to stop the building came from the DCCA, which often pursues an angry anti-building, anti-business agenda. The current president of the DCCA is used to suing regarding projects having done it for the Nader-funded Library Renaissance Project, which blocked the West End Library and Hine school projects for a year, only to eventually lose.
This project on Church Street will get built, one way or another. It already mostly is. The variance fight is over a few feet in the back, on the alley that will not really affect the quality of life for anyone. It seems once again the DCCA is using membership dues to pursue an angry anti-building agenda. In the case of the church project, DCCA leaders turned down a settlement offer never bringing it back to either their membership or the community for discussion. They’re clearly not acting in the best interests of the neighborhood.
So now they have gotten an order from the Court of Appeals, which doesn’t end the nearly built project but resulted in a stop work order. As of Friday night the stop work order was lifted on the church but not the apartments. They claim that Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) didn’t take everything into consideration when giving the go-ahead to a variance needed for the building. The court is demanding more extensive analysis and perhaps that’s right on the law. But it is wrong for the neighborhood since we know this building will eventually be finished.
In the interim, the mess on Church Street and 18th Street and in the alley behind the homes on P Street continues. There is a possibility all this could cause the church to go bankrupt, hurting the entire congregation. As a resident of the community, I find it offensive that a few are hurting many of our own neighbors who for years have worshipped there and are part of the wonderful and diverse Dupont community.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.