News & Politics

Georgetown ‘Apostles’ Rub Neighbors the Wrong Way

A group of nine students from Georgetown have set themselves up as a religious organization thanks to a zoning loophole.

The “Apostles of Peace and Unity” in their Georgetown home earlier this month. Photo by Matthew Worden.

The townhouse at 1617 35th Street in Georgetown, home to the Apostles for Peace and Unity has none of the usual trappings of a place of worship. In fact, it looks like your average $2.4-million group house inhabited by nine juniors at Georgetown University.

Six months ago, the Apostles for Peace and Unity were just that: a group of nine Georgetown students who had lived together for two years and were looking for a place off campus. They settled on a five-bedroom Victorian in July after one of their fathers, Brian O’Neill Sr., bought the home and granted his son, Brian O’Neill Jr., power of attorney. By the time classes started in August, all nine students had moved in.

Then the trouble started. The street is populated mostly by families, and many were not happy with their new neighbors—particularly with the occasional college bacchanalia.

“We’ve had student houses before, but it’s been three girls, five girls—not nine boys,” says Stefanie Bachhuber, a financial analyst who lives around the corner.

The displeasure might have resulted just in a few calls to the police for noise but for a legal snag: In Georgetown, the zoning permit limits residences to six unrelated people.

Faced with the prospect of turning three pals out on the street, the younger O’Neill discovered a solution. On October 2, the house became home to a certified religious organization, the Apostles of O’Neill, which meant DC law allowed up to 15 people to live there.

The neighbors were not amused.

“It’s clearly someone trying to be clever and outsmart the law that’s there to protect them,” says Bill Skelsey, a local Area Neighborhood Commission official.

“People thought it was an in-your-face move,” O’Neill acknowledges. Shortly after receiving their certification, the nine changed their name to Apostles for Peace and Unity in an effort to be taken more seriously. They drafted a series of altruistic declarations and say they are exploring group-volunteering opportunities.