04 Jan 2010

Friendship House Faces New Year with Fate Uncertain

photo by Elizabeth Festa

Historic Friendship House is facing the new decade with as much uncertainty as it left the old one. Now that PETA, the second bidder after the Sweek family,  has decided not to pursue its option of purchasing the property , the clock is now ticking for the third bidder in line for its decision.

That third bidder may be Capital City Real Estate, who intends to develop it as a residential property, according to ANC 6B SMD 03 representative Norm Metzger.

“The company is at this point investigating a number of open issues, not least community receptivity to the addition of several row house units to a section of the property to make the venture financially feasible,” Metzger said.

Metzger is concerned that the derelict property could become a fire hazard.

“The longer it’s empty the more likely there are to be problems, not least fire as various “guests” try to keep themselves warm,” Metzger said by email.

The  property, most recently a social services center for children,  has been in foreclosure for many months, and its sale is being handled by the  U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. It is known as The Maples, aka Friendship House, and runs mid-block at 619 D St., SE, with a sweeping mid-block location also facing South Carolina Avenue Southeast.

Friendship House is Zoned R-4, which permits matter-of-right development of single-family residential uses (including detached, semi-detached, row dwellings, and flats), churches and public schools with a minimum lot width of 18 feet, a minimum lot area of 1,800 square feet and a maximum lot occupancy of 60% for row dwellings, churches and flats. Conversions of existing buildings to apartments are permitted for lots with a minimum lot area of 900 square feet per dwelling unit.

Emails to Capital City Real Estate and Ron Joiner, chairman of the Friendship House Board, were not returned over the long holiday weekend.

Sonja Sweek was the highest bidder for the property back in September, offering $3.2 million, and wanted to provide daycare services, a primary care physician’s office  and also make it an extended family residence.  However, she was unable to fully package her finances within the 45 days required to close on  the property, and the option to buy Friendship House then passed onto the next bidder, PETA, which finally declined to buy it shortly before the New Year.

Sweek  and her family, longtime Hill residents, may not be totally out of the picture, yet, either. “We are considering putting ourselves back in the mix….but we have to be sure of funding before we do anything too much,” she stated.

“We will see what happens – I have my feelers out again for funding – however, we made some hopeful contacts last time around.  We just ran out of time.”

By way of background, there were originally six bidders on The Maples. The circa 1798 property, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was before a bankruptcy judge after the Friendship House organization vacated the property in 2008, after more than 70 years providing childcare and social services  to  families in need. It is now boarded up, and has many, many maintenance issues and will require costly repairs and renovations, especially since work must be in accordance with historic preservation guidelines.

The nonprofit DC Preservation League announced June 2 that the property, once home to Francis Scott Key, has joined its 2009 “most endangered places.”


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