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Historic Toutorsky Mansion Large Front Yard Paved Over by New Embassy Owner

This imposing former residence at the corner of 16th Street and Riggs Place which was purchased late last year by the Republic of the Congo for use as both its embassy and chancellery which had boasted three mature trees, grass and shrubs in its large corner front yard now boasts what neighbors are calling a parking lot.

In a letter of complaint addressed to the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions’ Office of Diplomatic Property, Taxes, Services and Benefits, with a copy to Ambassador Serge Mombouli, the Dupont Circle Conservancy has requested that the Ambassador carry out “precisely, no more and no less, the work approved” by the District’s Foreign Missions Board of Zoning Adjustment (FMBZA).

Stating that the removal of the trees and grass and shrubs was “not consistent with the modifications that had been approved” nor in keeping with the testimony at the hearing held by the FMBZA by the embassy’s historic preservation expert witness, Emily Eig, who gave assurances that there were to be no material changes made in the front yard.

Nevertheless, as detailed by the Conservancy in its letter, “since the finalization of Zoning Application No. 18162, the following actions outside its scope have occurred . . . under the direction of Ambassador Mombouli:

“Three mature trees in the front lawn have been removed; and the entire front lawn, which is DC public space has been removed and filled in with concrete giving it the appearance of a parking lot making it a visual blight among neighboring residences and other embassies.”

Continuing, the Conservancy noted that “over the years through the work of property owners, all abiding by the spirit of the L’Enfant and later plans and the letter of [DC] law, these front yards have been landscaped and cared for with the result that today a greensward now stretches from Lafayette Square north to the District boundary with . . . Maryland.”

In closing, the Conservancy called on both the District and State Department to initiate “immediate and coordinated action . . . to have the Government of the Republic of Congo replace the paved over front yard with grass, shrubbery and three reasonably mature trees planted to replace those cut down.”

As we reported at the beginning of the year, there was strong opposition in some quarters to the embassy’s proposal to install only a circular driveway, make two curb cuts and replace “the dilapidated iron fencing with similar but new and apparently higher replacement fencing.” (See, “Historic Toutorsky Mansion Zoning Change Sought for Diplomatic Use,” January 2011, InTowner, PDF page 1.)

Ironically, as we further reported, there was also concern expressed about “the loss of green space and an imposing, mature oak tree and the relocation of several other mature trees should the proposed driveway be approved.”

At the time, back in early January, Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Bob Meehan shared the following observation with The InTowner: “I’m very partial to the Toutorsky mansion. The brick and wrought-iron fence, the grounds and the trees are an integral part of the impression that this mansion makes on 16th Street. As a corner building, it plays a particularly important role in establishing the ambience of the Riggs Place block.”

[photos–courtesy Dupont Circle Conservancy]

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