The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has lifted a stop work order on construction of a new church building for St. Thomas Parish Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle that church officials said could have forced the church into bankruptcy.
DCRA said it issued the stop work order on construction of the church and an adjoining 56 apartment residential building following a decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals overturning a zoning variance approving the two new buildings on a site that the church has owned for more than 120 years. The variance was issued by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment.
The court acted in response to a lawsuit contesting the zoning variance filed by the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, which says the planned seven-story apartment building is too large for the neighborhood.
Rev. Alex Dyer, the priest in charge of St. Thomas Parish, said the church entered into a partnership with a developer that included selling two-thirds of its property at 18th and Church Streets, N.W. as part of a joint project in which the apartment building project would pay the costs for building the new church. The longtime LGBT supportive parish’s original church building was destroyed by a fire in 1970 that authorities listed as arson.
Dyer said the DCRA lifted the stop work order for the church during the first week in May in response to requests by church members and supporters who noted the church has appealed the court’s decision overturning the zoning variance. He said the halt to construction was forcing the church to continue to pay a construction company even though work had stopped.
According to the church’s attorney, Lyle Blanchard, one week later at the request of the church and the developer of the apartment building, a D.C. Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring the city to lift the stop work order for both the church and the apartment building.
Blanchard said the attorneys have also introduced a motion before the Superior Court seeking a permanent injunction that would ban DCRA from reissuing a stop work order for both buildings until after the Court of Appeals issues a final order or mandate directing the Board of Zoning Adjustment to reassess whether to approve the zoning variance.
Attorneys for the church and apartment building have argued that the appeals court ruling says the zoning variance could be reissued by the Board of Zoning Appeals, which first approved the variance, if it provides a better legal rationale to justify it.
Meanwhile, Dyer, who’s gay and lives with his husband and their toddler child, said the church and the apartment building developer are negotiating with the Dupont Circle Citizens Association to work out a possible settlement over the lawsuit.
The legal fees in response to the lawsuit and construction delays have cost the church over $100,000, Dyer told the Washington Blade.
“This has been a financial hit for the parish,” he said. “We could have spent that money for projects in support of the community.”