Frequently Asked Questions
We have received a lot of questions about this proposed facility that we answer below.
If you have questions about this development plan that we do not address, please feel free to contact us. Thank you!
How is the lot zoned and what does Sunrise propose to put on it?
The lot is zoned for a single-family detached home (R-1-B). That is the same zoning as all the other residential, single-family lots in the neighborhood. Sunrise proposes to put a commercial 121-person facility on this site with 75 staff and with all the truck traffic a 24-hour operation entails. Additionally, there would be a 250-seat church located in the same building on the site. The entire facility would be one building with two separate entities occupying the building.
How much of the development is a for-profit business (Sunrise), and how much would be for the church? What is the relationship between the two entities?
Sunrise's senior facility would occupy 85% of the building, with the church occupying a mere 15% of the building. According to current plans, the building in total is 80,000 square feet of which the church would occupy 12,000 square feet.
Yet, Sunrise is proposing to have the building occupy 58% of the lot, citing the 60% that churches are allowed to occupy. 58% is, of course, just shy of the the 60% lot occupancy allowed to churches. But even if this assisted living facility is granted the exception to locate here at all, such a facility is only allowed 40% lot occupancy.
Sunrise, de facto, is using the mantle of the church, to take advantage of what a church would be allowed on the lot. This is not acceptable.
Sunrise and the church have stated that they are not in a joint venture. Any Sunrise activity or services are separate and apart from the church. Currently, the church owns the land. It is unclear under what conditions Sunrise would buy the land or enter into some other legal relationship with the church. Sunrise has stated that at some point after construction, if there is construction, they will divide the building into two “condos” and each entity would occupy one.
How is zoning different for a church versus an assisted living facility?
Places of worship have always been given great respect in zoning regulations. Places of worship can locate as a 'matter of right' even in residential areas and can occupy a larger amount of the lot than a residence (60% versus 40%).
An assisted living facility, by contrast, has no right to locate in a residential area. In 2016, when the zoning regulations were amended, a SPECIAL EXCEPTION was added to allow a “continuing care retirement community” to locate in a residential community but only under special circumstances where it would not create objectionable conditions for the neighbors.
To contrast the site in question with other senior living facilities in Northwest Washington, the following all have trees, grass, and plenty of green space between their buildings and nearby homes: Lisner, Ingleside, Friendship Terrace, Forrest Hills (formerly Methodist) Home. Additionally, all are NOT in residentially-zoned areas except one. The one that is located in an R-1-B zoned neighborhood has been there since 1966.
So, there is no rationale to allow Sunrise at 3920 Alton to build immediately adjacent to family homes on a residentially-zone lot – this is per se objectionable.
Would a project that could be built as a "matter of right" be “worse” than the proposed Sunrise development?
Some have said that the neighbors should accept the proposed Sunrise facility because a project that could be built by the church or another buyer of the lot as a "matter of right" - that is without approvals for variances or exceptions - could be worse.
No, it would not. This is typical developer rhetoric to get a neighborhood to support an outsized development project. The implication is: "You better agree to this because it could get worse."
The proposal by Sunrise calls for the facility to occupy 58% of the lot with the building towering four stories over the surrounding single-family homes.
A church could, as a matter of right in the residential zone, occupy 60% of the lot with no more than three stories - but only a church, not a for-profit facility.
There is no - zero, none at all - 'matter of right' construction for an assisted living facility in a residential neighborhood.
The right approach to development should be to honor zoning. People buy their homes in reliance on zoning and this zoning should be honored.
How close will the facility to the adjacent National Park Service land?
The original plans presented last year to the ANC included a mandatory 8-foot setback from the boundary to the land owned by the National Park Service. This is the property facing Tenley Circle.
The Zoning Regulations for the District require an 8-foot side yard setback. Sunrise Sunrise is now requesting to eliminate this side yard setback so they can build the facility directly on the property line shared with federal land. In addition, Sunrise and the Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church plans include two doors that open directly onto the federal land which they want to landscape to make their front yard.
How close is the proposed Sunrise building to the five homes that share a property line with the facility?
This is the view out the back windows of the homes facing 39th Street, according to plans presented to the ANC 3E in December 2017. While the design of the building itself looks slightly different now, this image accurately depicts the large heavy-duty truck ramp, the 24/7 loading dock, roll-off trash container, and generator that are mere feet away from the five single-family homes abutting the property.
The slopes at the bottom of the drawing are the truck ramps that have a 13-foot drop into the underground two-level parking garage. Small children live in what have been peaceful and beautiful homes that would now be immediately next to a 4-story, 24-7 commercial facility and truck ramp. Image credit Sunrise.
See how close Sunrise draws its property line next to the homes in the images below. There are currently three versions that differ in how lose the building’s truck ramp s to the adjacent single-family homes. The December 2017 proposal moved the property line CLOSER to the neighboring homes after these neighbors refused to sell their properties to Sunrise after Sunrise pressured them to sell.
The most recent proposal presented in summer of 2018 moves the truck ramp back to the required 8-feet setback and instead eliminated the mandatory setback from the front-facing National Park Service land. We are unsure what the final design will be and what the actual setback will be of the 24/7 heavy duty truck ramp, loading dock, generator, and roll-off trash containers from the single family homes with children a few feet away.
Is the 66-foot 5-inch facade facing Yuma Street homes needed to accommodate a church sanctuary?
No, this part of the building is not solely a sanctuary at all. Zoning allows a height up to 60 feet in order to accommodate a vaulted sanctuary.
But in the Sunrise/church proposal, the church, occupying only 14% of the building, has no space on the top two floors at all. Those two top floors are used solely by Sunrise. The church would occupy the first floor and only on a very small corner space on the second floor in the building facing Yuma Street.
Thus, the massive 66+ foot facade across from the Yuma Street homes is NOT there to accommodate a sanctuary. It is for use by Sunrise.
Does Sunrise have an agreement with the National Park Service, owner of the lot abutting the proposed facility on the Tenley Circle-side?
No. Sunrise has no agreement with the National Park Service (NPS) to landscape the land, and treat it like the front lawn for Sunrise. Sunrise has offered to landscape Tenley Circle (also owned by NPS) although Sunrise seems to only want to maintain the part that would look like their front lawn, not the portions within the Circle.
What services does Sunrise provide? Does the company provide nursing or health services for seniors? How about services for low-income people?
Aren’t you all NIMBYs who stand in the way of progress? How can you be against an old people’s home?
Sunrise provides strictly room and board for seniors at approximately $120,000 per year.
According to the developer, if you want additional services, you must pay more. Sunrise provides housing, including utilities, cleaning, and laundry, meals, and you can take advantage of their shuttle bus. Additional charges are levied for help with activities of daily living (walking, bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, and medication management).. Total cost to a resident can vary greatly, based on size of unit selected and whether it is shared with another resident and how much care a resident needs.
Sunrise is not providing health or nursing services. Health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid CANNOT be used at Sunrise because no health care is being provided.
Unlike non-profit senior care facilities, Sunrise is a for-profit company. It does not serve low-income seniors. The Sunrise website states that the company offers to help seniors sell their home to raise the funds necessary to move into Sunrise. If those funds are exhausted, Sunrise will evict the resident, and provide information about possible other places that might accept the senior. In other words, Sunrise is strictly pay to stay.
In addition, Sunrise reserves the right to evict residents, including dementia patients, whether they can pay or not, if Sunrise deems the resident to have “behavioral issues.”
Great question and one that we get a lot. We are opposed to the inappropriate commercial development on a lot that is unsuitable for a facility of this size and height in an entirely residential neighborhood.
Our simple message is: Wrong site for this development.
We would welcome a Sunrise facility or better yet, an affordable retirement community that isn’t as expensively priced, in Tenleytown. We have, in fact, identified numerous commercially-zoned lots nearby that would easily accommodate a development of this size, but all were rejected by the developer.
We are opposed to THIS development as it subverts the zoning in DC, and uses the mantle of the existing church to sneak in a massive development that would not be granted were this a solely commercial project.
We would warmly welcome a new church, an affordable housing development, or one or two family homes on the site.