Neighboring church restrains local support for Hillel renovation

Media Credit: The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted Wednesday to take no action on renovation plans until Hillel comes to an agreement with the neighboring St. Mary's Episcopal Church, which is concerned with how the construction will affect the neighborhood. Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted Wednesday to take no action on renovation plans until Hillel comes to an agreement with the neighboring St. Mary's Episcopal Church, which is concerned with how the construction will affect the neighborhood. Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Foggy Bottom’s top advocacy group voted Wednesday to only support renovation plans if Hillel comes to an agreement with the neighboring St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Zach Montellaro | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Updated: June 22, 2014 at 10:40 p.m.

As GW Hillel prepares to pitch its renovation project to city officials, a dispute with a neighboring church is holding back local leaders from fully supporting the construction plans.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted Wednesday to give GW Hillel and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church one month to hash out their differences before Hillel starts a multi-million dollar renovation project.

Hillel and St. Mary’s, neighbors on 23rd Street, entered negotiations early this year after church leaders raised concerns that construction could damage the 147-year-old church and affect the air quality inside the building. The two organizations have yet to settle the disagreement, throwing off the ANC’s plans to back Hillel’s zoning application.

The commissioners said Hillel and St. Mary’s need to first agree on how to pay for structural engineering and air pollutant consultants before the ANC’s July 16 meeting, or the group could oppose the plan altogether.

“The Church didn’t ask Hillel to build the building, and it feels that to the extent that it has to protect the building, Hillel should pay the cost of experts the church doesn’t have,” said Stephen Marcus, the church’s attorney.

Hillel will present plans to D.C. Zoning Commission on Monday to demolish and reconstruct the building, adding two stories for a total of four. GW will lease the top two floors for student space.

Representatives from St. Mary’s pushed to delay Hillel’s zoning meeting by a month, which Patrick Kennedy, chair of the ANC, said could push back construction.

Kennedy, an alumnus who was elected to the ANC as a student two years ago, said St. Mary’s was a “treasure in our community” that needs to have its interests protected.

“No one wants to see Saint Mary’s and their invaluable property damaged in any way by this construction,” he said.

Hillel announced in April that it will operate out of the University Honors Program townhouse until January 2016 while the building on the corner of 23rd and H streets is under construction.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission did not take a stance on GW Hillel’s zoning application. In fact, the ANC voted to support Hillel’s plans – on the condition that the Jewish community hub comes to an agreement with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church by July 16. We regret this error.

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