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A dream dashed. (Community Three Development)

My column this week (posted below) is about Laura and Neil Seldman’s long nightmare at 1922 Third Street. But there are a few bits of the story behind this fascinating address that I couldn’t quite fit on newsprint. So, for the interested:

First, the history of the house, which is one of several Ledroit buildings designed by James McGill in the late 1880s. Eric Fidler at Left for Ledroit pulled together several of the original drawings, and even a nifty video of what the carriage house could look like. Records on the house go back as far as the 1970s, when it was owned by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and operated as a boys home. In 1973, it transferred to Catholic Charities; neighbors remember all sorts of tenants, including the Howard University band. Greek immigrant-turned-land-baron George Basiliko bought it in 1994, and sold it—somewhat suspiciously—to convicted fraudster Lebon Bruce Walker for $10 in 1999.

Second, the prospects for the property. The ANC 1B design committee supported Grant Epstein’s revised plan for the house and scaled back townhouse. Part of the reason is that it’s unclear whether someone will buy the house to renovate as a just single-family residence, as some neighbors would prefer—certainly Epstein argued that the only way to make the project financially viable was to add units on part of the expansive corner lot. This, however, raises the question of what local architect and design committee member Joel Heisey calls the “condo-ization of the neighborhood.”

“This development has flashed a discussion that the community is not having,” Heisey said. “Logan Circle never had that conversation. It’s really changed the character of the neighborhood. It’s a larger discussion that really needs to be had: How much is the neighborhood willing to have these single family houses subdivided?”

Finally, there were other dynamics at play that may have influenced some community members’ response. Ledroit Park Civic Association leader Jeff Herron brought up the example of the Juniper, at 531 T Street, which ended up growing in size after community organizations had expressed their support.

“I think there’s an inherent point of view of being cautious until a plan is finalized, or at least until the Historic Preservation Review Board has weighed in,” Herron said. “Once approval or support is granted, there’s no check on the developers…Having a say on the front end seems like the most prudent way to ensure that the community’s needs are fully heard.”

But in this case, the community’s timeline—ANCs only meet once a month, after all—didn’t jibe with the seller’s.

Suzanne Des Marais, Community Three’s realtor, says she walks her dog past 1922 3rd street every day, and brought the lot to Grant Epstein’s attention. But she couldn’t keep it under contract forever.

“Part of the problem was I think that the people who wanted to continually to revise the plan didn’t understand the limited time frame we had being under contract on the property,” Des Marais said. “We just don’t have that kind of time.”