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Tenleytown Group Files Court Appeal Over 86-Unit Church Redevelopment

A rendering of the retirement community Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church aims to build on its Tenleytown property.

A plan to redevelop a church in upper Northwest D.C. and add senior housing has received opposition from a neighborhood group, and it is now taking the project to court. 

The Tenleytown Neighbors Association filed an appeal Friday with the D.C. Court of Appeals contesting the approval of the redevelopment of the Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church site at 3920 Alton Place NW. 

The church partnered with Sunrise Senior Living and filed an application with the Board of Zoning Adjustments in June 2018. The application called for demolishing and rebuilding the church and adding a four-story, 86-unit continuing care community on the site. The BZA approved the project in February 2019. 

Throughout the BZA process, the Tenleytown Neighbors Association filed a series of motions in opposition to the project, including a 163-page letter. Several group members testified in opposition at a Nov. 14, 2018, hearing. 

The group's arguments in opposition included the size of the proposed development  and the traffic and noise it could create.

"The lot at 3920 Alton is not large enough to accommodate the massive CCRC and this problem is exacerbated by the fact that the building would also include a church," the Tenleytown Neighbors Association wrote in an opposition letter. "The Sunrise project would be a serious overuse of the site, which shares a boundary with 5 single family detached homes."

The project was supported by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E. In its resolution of support, ANC 3E said the applicant made changes in design and agreed to mitigation efforts around traffic and noise.

It was also supported by groups including Ward 3 Vision and Coalition for Smarter Growth. CSG Policy Director Cheryl Cort submitted written testimony for the November 2018 hearing detailing the project's benefits.

"We support this project given the need by Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church to renew its outmoded facility for religious uses," Cort wrote in the letter. "We support the project because it is sensitively designed, requiring only modest relief from zoning requirements. We support the project because we believe it is important to provide assisted living and memory care for DC and DC area families."

A member of the Tenleytown Neighbors Association who spoke in opposition, Juliet Six, filed another appeal in May 2018 over a 146-unit development in the neighborhood.

Residents across the city have appealed dozens of projects in recent years, delaying projects that would create thousands of new housing units. The appeals come as Mayor Muriel Bowser is pushing toward a goal of building 36,000 new units in D.C. by 2025, with a focus on adding housing in upper Northwest neighborhoods like Tenleytown.