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Fire That Wrecked Historic Meridian Baptist Church a Catalyst for New Residential Stock

Accompanying images can be viewed in the November 2015 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

How does a tragedy become an opportunity? Maybe the Meridian Baptist Church development with Valor Development Partnership has accomplished this. In 2008, a five-alarm fire completely destroyed the four-story Deauville apartment building in the 3100 block of Mt. Pleasant Street, NW. (For morning-after photos taken by a neighbor, see InTowner April 2008 issue pdf, page 9.)

The rear of the Deauville building backed up across the narrow alley from the rear of the church building which faces onto 16th Street. Because of the close proximity of both structures, the fire jumped the alley causing extensive, multi-million dollar damage to the church making it unusable.

The 400 church members now meet close to the District’s boundary in Prince Georges County at Christ in Chapel Oaks, where Meridian’s Reverend Calvin E. Cage, Sr. also ministers. Initially the Church and Valor were to jointly redevelop until they decided that the better plan was sell the building to Valor and completely end the partnership.

Valor Development Partnership is adaptively repurposing the church building, to be called The McIntyre, by creating 85 multi-family, residential units. Although luxury condos priced in the low $200,000 to the low $400,000’s were initially planned, these will now be luxury rentals with an expected Summer, 2016 availability. There will also be seven “affordable” rate units.

Overall the development plan has not been controversial. Initially, the Church wanted it to be senior or affordable housing. The project languished. Bozzuto Homes, Inc., the original developer, was no longer involved and the new developer Valor did need a minor rear yard variance. In June 2013, the Columbia Heights ANC held a community meeting to discuss this project, and subsequently passed a resolution (4-0 with one abstention) to advise the Board of Zoning Adjustment to approve the variance.

Parking, however, became a concern. Most residents were pleased to see development of the derelict property, but were surprised when construction began and discovered there was no provision for off-street parking. This was, apparently, based on a 2011 letter from the Zoning Administrator permitting such as being consistent with standard practice. The ANC protested this “standard practice,” though not the project. To that end, the ANC enacted and directed to the Zoning Administrator the following resolution: “. . . that the ANC1D advises the Zoning Commission that the explicit ‘grandfathering’ of off-street parking spaces, currently incorporated in Subtitle C of the draft new regulations, should be eliminated.” The ANC also protested the lack of notice from the Zoning Administrator.

Joe Bous and Will Lansing are the Valor principals. Joe began investing in real estate in 2005, after a successful career in the tech industry. Through the years he has been involved in purchasing and developing single family, condo, and commercial-type properties, primarily as an equity investor. It was through those equity investments that Joe and Will connected and began collaborating on deals together. They formed Valor Development shortly thereafter. Will began his career in real estate straight out of college. In 2003 he co-founded a company specializing in the purchasing of distressed real estate and grew it into a significant business. After selling his partnership interest five years later, Will and Joe completed their first real estate transaction together. As the volume of their transactions grew, Valor Development was formed

When interviewed by The InTowner, Mt. Pleasant ANC Commissioner Jack McKay commented that “it is admirable that the developer has been able to convert this defunct church into a productive property, despite the restrictions of historic preservation.”

The District continues to grow in population and needs additional residential space. A quarter of the DC housing stock consists of row houses — many of which are being converted from single family to multiple condos. It is also estimated that a third of DC’s housing stock consists of 20 or more-unit apartment buildings. The Meridian Baptist project will add to this housing need.

As for the 200 displaced residents of the destroyed Deauville building, through their tenants association they were able to purchase the building for $4 million with the assistance of District government and then able to obtain another $15 million to rebuild which they secured through tax credits and other financing. They have renamed the building The Oscar Romero. honoring the Salvadoran human rights leader.

Groundbreaking took place in July of 2013, and now 45 of the 63 apartments are home to formerly displaced tenants. These tenants benefited from the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA); elderly and disabled persons received additional protection.

*Larry Ray is an attorney who teaches at The George Washington University School of Law and Graduate School. He was elected four times as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and also served as the President of the North Columbia Heights Citizens Association.