05/21/2012: Third Church historic preservation controversy discussed on Slate
"Historic Preservation Rules Are Economic Policy," Slate (May 21, 2012)
"Historic Preservation Rules Are Economic Policy," Slate (May 21, 2012)
The saga over the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, though involving a much younger building, has dragged on even longer. Members of that congregation have been trying for two decades to demolish their “Brutalist” concrete building at 16th and I streets, erected in the late 1960s, because they say it is cold, unwelcoming and nearly impossible to maintain.
But those plans got caught up in a historic landmark nomination, which blocked demolition, and then an appeal to a higher zoning official known the mayor’s agent, then a long court battle. The situation finally ended with a complicated legal settlement that will allow the church and Christian Science Monitor building on the corner site to be removed in favor of a large office building incorporating space for a glassy new Christian Science church.
E. Wiener, "City board to review projects at two Christian Science sites,"The Dupont Current (May 9, 2012). S&G represented the Third Church in its lawsuit against the HPRB.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York has been named by developers ICG Properties and the JBG Cos. to design a 160,000-square-foot office building and a new place of worship for the Third Church of Christ, Scientist to replace the current building, an example of the Brutalist architecture movement of the 1960s. . . . With such a high-profile choice, the developers are hoping to move the conversation away from what might be lost when the existing church is torn down and toward what might be gained when the building is replaced.
J. O’Connell, “Robert A.M. Stern to design 16th Street church project."Washington Post (April 24, 2011
In applying takings principles to the particular facts here, the Mayor’s Agent properly took into account that failure to grant historic-preservation clearance would interfere with Third Church’s reasonable expectations concerning its utilization of the building to enable it to continue its mission as a downtown congregation, which was vital to its existence. Moreover, putting aside the particular situation of Third Church, there is substantial evidence that the building cannot feasibly be maintained or repaired and that there are no reasonable alternative economic uses for the building.
More information is available here
Roman P. Storzer, lead counsel for the Church, argued that the landmarking of its structure at the corner of 16th and Eye Streets in Washington, D.C--only a few blocks from the White House--presents a ripe case and controversy for federal adjudication under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the First Amendment. The District of Columbia and the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board had unsuccessfully argued that landmarking a structure itself causes no legal injury to a religious property owner.
The issue before the court is whether landmarking the structure violates the church's First Amendment rights. And according to [Mike] Silverstein, Judge Robertson clearly signaled his willingness to overturn the Metropolitan Baptist Church case holding that landmarking of a church does not pose a "special burden". Robertson also criticized the HPRB hearing which denied the raze permit, where Chairman Tersh Boasberg dismissed First Amendment issues as being beyond the scope of the Board's purview. "I am very troubled that the District refused to even entertain assertions of violations of First Amendment, RLUIPA and RFRA rights," Robertson said.
David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington (April 9, 2009).
“Court denies DC’s request to dismiss Church’s lawsuit to raze Brutalist building,” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Press Release (Apr. 7, 2009).
Score one for the little guy: Mayor Adrian Fenty's representative has ruled that members of a downtown church must be allowed to worship in a building of their choice, despite efforts by historic preservationists to landmark the 38-year-old concrete bunker of a sanctuary that the church wants to get rid of.
Marc Fisher, “Decision Saves a Church, Not a Building," Washington Post (May 19, 2009).
Press Release, “Church cleared for demolition: Building goes so Church can survive,” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (May 13, 2009).
“D.C. Modernist church can be demolished,” USA Today (May 18, 2009).
"D.C. OKs demolition of Christian Science Church,” Washington Business Journal (May 13, 2009).
Kevin Eckstrom, “D.C. church wins fight to raze its ugly building,”The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (May 13, 2009).
Hayley Peterson, “Demolition OK’d for historic church after maintenance found too costly,” Washington Examiner (May 14, 2009).
Nor can the Church walk away. While some congregations may freely move their location without losing their identity, that is not the case here. Throughout its history, this congregation has manifested an unwavering intent to remain where it is. Its location is its mission. To leave the area it has served since 1918 would be tantamount to its destruction.
Decision and Order, District of Columbia Office of Planning, Historic Preservation Office.
The years-long battle over whether the District's historic preservation police can force a Christian Science church to keep a ugly, cold, expensive home that it doesn't want took a turn toward the church's side the other day, as a federal judge made clear his sympathy for the church's plight. . . . He seemed highly skeptical of the city's argument that a religious organization's right to freedom of expression does not protect its building from demolition. "Arguing that historic landmarking posed no burden on the church blinks reality," the judge said. . . . "A violation of First Amendment rights is always ripe" material for a court to consider, Robertson said, a blow to the District's argument that preservation decisions should be made purely on architectural and historical merit--not the preferences or freedoms of a church or other group that owns such a building.
Marc Fisher, "Brutalist Church: The City Loses A Round," Washington Post (Apr. 13, 2009).
The congregation, which bitterly opposed landmark designation in December 2007, filed a federal lawsuit this August arguing that the designation violated its First Amendment rights by restraining its ability to practice religion freely. . . . [T]his case is more outrageous than the norm, given the structure in question. Most such controversies swirl around church properties of a certain age, as when, in 1981, St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue in New York sought, in vain, to demolish its lovely community house in order to build a modernist tower alongside its renowned Byzantine church, constructed in 1916. The Third Church's building, by contrast, is relatively new -- indeed, too new to be designated historic under federal law.”
Julia Vitullo-Martin, "A Congregation Fights for the Right to Raze Its Ugly Church,” Wall Street Journal Nov. 20, 2008. More information about the Third Church and its lawsuit can be found here
The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s editorial on S&G client Third Church of Christ’s lawsuit against the District of Columbia: “The District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia need to stop brutalizing the sacred sphere.”
NPR’s story on the Third Church of Christ’s challenge to the landmarking of its place of worship by the District of Columbia can be found here.
Lead counsel Roman Storzer said the church is suing to remove the landmark status so it can build a new building in its place. Storzer claimed that the landmark restrictions are in violation of federal civil rights law about religious land use as well as the First Amendment’s guarantees for freedom of worship.
“In the hierarchy of values that should be protected, freedom of religion has to come before architecture,” Storzer said.
Church files suit to allow demolition of historic downtown building, Michael Warren, D.C. Examiner (Aug. 7, 2008).
"It will be the first of its kind in terms of the ability of a government to prevent a church from being able to worship as it sees fit through the imposition of historic preservation laws," says Roman Storzer, the church's attorney who filed the lawsuit.
Congregation fights for right to tear down church, Adam Tuss, WTOP News (Aug. 7, 2008).
Church sues over landmark status, Sarah Abruzzese, New York Times (Aug. 7, 2008).
Church sues do undo landmark status, Sindya Bhanoo, Washington Post (Aug. 8, 2008).
Church sues District over landmark, Tom Ramstack, Washington Times (Aug. 8, 2008).
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