CWPT Letter to DC Board of Zoning Adjustment
New Threats to the Fort Stevens Battlefield
December 15, 2009
Mr. Marc B. Loud, Chairman
D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment
441 4th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Chairman Loud :
Although we appreciate the sensitivity the Emory United Methodist Church has shown to the historic and fragile nature of Fort Stevens, as well as the community’s longstanding stewardship of the site, we are concerned about the development’s scale and the height of the proposed courtyard wall surrounding the structure. We are apprehensive about the impact it would have on the overall visitor experience on Fort Stevens and the long term effects it will have on future protection of the overall Defenses of Washington, of which only 11 of the original 68 forts remain.
CWPT is particularly concerned with the proposed five-story wall along Old Piney Branch Road that would create a significant visual intrusion on the fort, as well as the Beacon Center’s overall size and floor plan. We respectfully ask that Emory United Methodist Church scale back its development plans so as not to exceed the height requirements of the District of Columbia Zoning Regulations according to Section 770.1 and the Floor Area Ratio requirements of Section 771.2.
The Battle of Fort Stevens occurred on July 11–12, 1864, as Confederate troops under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Jubal Early attempted to capture Washington, attacking from the north. The assault was repulsed by a contingent of veteran troops that had been rushed by train from the siege lines around Petersburg, Va., to bolster Washington’s defenses, resulting in 874 casualties. Perhaps most notably, Abraham Lincoln came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters while he observed the battle, the first time a sitting American president had come under direct enemy attack.
Aside from its historical significance, Fort Stevens is also a rich resource for heritage tourism, attracting visitors from across the nation. It is central to the ongoing efforts of the nonprofit organization Cultural Tourism DC to encourage visitors to explore further than the Mall and experience the history and vibrancy of Washington’s diverse neighborhoods.
In its General Management Plan for the Fort Circle Parks, the National Park Service calls for a plan that will link the various historic sites through a combination of walking trails and driving routes, as well as increased educational and recreational activities at those locations. The plan also deems it critical to protect the fringes of these parks from inappropriate development, placing special emphasis on Fort Stevens as the most pivotal of the forts. These steps are seen as an overall effort to raise the visibility of the parks, and attract more tourists to each site, particularly when coupled with the unique opportunities afforded by the upcoming Sesquicentennial of the Civil War beginning in 2011. But if the Emory United Methodist Church development moves forward as planned, a huge piece of the equation will be missing and cause the plan to deteriorate.
CWPT respectfully requests that the Board of Zoning Adjustment denies Emory United Methodist Church’s application. We believe that granting exemptions for height and floor area ratio for this project would have an adverse impact on Fort Stevens and subsequently the other remaining Circle Forts.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments on the proposed Beacon Center. We would be happy to further discuss with you our position on this matter.
O. James Lighthizer, President