The saga of the former Polish ambassador’s residence at 3101 Albemarle Street continues its long and winding path. If you’re caught up, you can skip the recap. In the meantime…
The story so far
This property had been vacant, with no activity, for years. Then, in 2015, a “For Sale” sign popped up. Fearing it would be purchased by a developer who would raze the historic home, a group of neighbors got together in 2016 to explore options. In February of 2017, some of these neighbors approached developer and Forest Hills resident P.G. Gottfried and his son Bobby with an idea: The Gottfrieds would purchase the property, support the historic landmark designation for the existing residence, and build townhomes on the east side of the property along 32nd Street.
In February 2017, the Gottfrieds purchased the 1.1 acre property as Soapstone Valley Ventures. With their support, historic landmark status was granted in April of that year to the house and most of the lot to the right of the driveway. In June 2017, the Gottfrieds presented a different plan for developing the rest of the property. Three townhomes would be placed on Albemarle, and two townhomes plus a single-family home would be built on Appleton Street.
This plan was challenged by neighbor Cyrus Frelinghuysen. He said he was concerned the additional hard surface would exacerbate already existing water runoff problems in the area and into Soapstone Valley. He preferred the addition of two single-family houses, which is what he believed was allowed under “matter-of-right” zoning at 3101.
The Gottfrieds returned to ANC 3F in October 2017 with an update on the townhomes’ design – and a backup plan should their application for zoning relief be rejected: They believed they could matter-of-right zoning would allow them to build three single-family houses.
Soapstone Valley Ventures, the owner of 3101, submitted its application for zoning relief (a planned unit development, or PUD) on November 20th, 2017. After that, all momentum appeared to cease. Then, in September 2018, neighbors were notified through their ANC Commissioner Naomi Rutenberg that this property would be developed as matter-of-right. P.G. Gottfried said work was going to begin on building the first of three single-family homes. Plants found new homes, trees were cut down, and protective fencing went up around street trees on Albemarle.
The rest of the story
Then, all work came to a standstill. Adjacent neighbors filed an appeal with the zoning administrator on November 21st on the grounds that the setbacks from the street are not supported by the zoning code:
“Setbacks are required in the R-8 zone. See 11-D DCMR § 505.1 (stating that a “front setback shall be provided”) (emphasis added). In this case, however, notwithstanding the clear language in the Zoning Regulations, the ZA (Zoning Administrator) determined either that no setback was required or incorrectly assessed the amount of setback required.”
The appeal goes on to question the legitimacy of the gerrymandered lot to the rear of the mansion with a small attached parcel on 32nd Street. The Zoning Commission had approved the subdivision of the lot into three in June. The lead applicant is Cyrus Frelinghuysen, et al. and the case number is 19935.
A public hearing will be scheduled before the Board of Zoning Adjustment in mid-March, according to Alexandra Cain, zoning specialist with the Office of Zoning.
There are two options for the developers and neighbors in going forward. One is to continue to proceed through the public hearing process before the Board of Zoning Adjustment. The other is for the parties to settle the issue before the hearing.
“While I can’t speak for all of the neighbors, I think we have a strong case,” Frelinghuysen told Forest Hills Connection in an email. “But of course that doesn’t mean that we are not open to a potential settlement.”
Bobby Gottfried said he could not comment on an ongoing legal matter.