A D.C. Home Where Poodles Can Roam?

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

Developers often are cursed for erecting buildings that are too tall, too sprawling or too ugly.

Jack Merwin has found a less traditional way to stoke heartburn in the tempered climes of Northwest Washington: turning a vacant back-alley lot into a private Shangri-La for dogs.

That is, any dog whose owner is willing to pay $10 an hour to Merwin's daughter, Paige, 13, who, when she's not aspiring to a career in the WNBA, hopes to serve as the park's manager and resident pooch-sitter.

"Would you like to have your dog exercised, off leash, for an hour every weekday?" Paige asked in a recent posting for her services on the Chevy Chase e-mail discussion group.

This was not her father's first choice for the lush, if disheveled, parcel hidden behind a couple of dozen handsome homes along Reno Road and Chevy Chase Parkway. Merwin bought the 7,200-square-foot lot two years ago, confident that it would be a perfect setting for a new house that could fetch top dollar.

But the neighbors were passionate about maintaining the greenery and helped persuade District zoning officials to deny Merwin the required permits. They have offered to buy the lot, hopeful that it could be a Shangri-La for humans. But they have not met Merwin's price. So now the developer, after having floated the idea of building 12 garages on the property, envisions a fenced-in private dog park. Some in the community are a bit dubious about Merwin's intentions. They question whether he's foisting the prospect of barking dogs and whatever fetid things they leave behind to scare the neighbors into coming up with more cash to buy the parcel.

Cris Fromboluti, an advisory neighborhood commissioner whose district includes the site, said he suspects that the developer is using his daughter as a prop.

"Obviously, her father put her up to it," Fromboluti said. "The guy is a monster. He's trying to get them into a flutter so they'll pay him."

"The next thing they're going to do," he added, "is put a garbage transfer station there."

Merwin said he came up with the idea for the park with his daughter, who already dog sits for a couple of clients in the neighborhood in addition to caring for her family's two bulldogs, Shih Tzu and three cats.

"I'm not trying to pressure anyone or blackmail anyone," Merwin said. "If I had something else to do with the property, I would. My daughter walks dogs, and I've got this lot. It goes together like peanut butter and chocolate."

Paige, an eighth-grader at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School, said she's excited by the idea of providing a service "that would make it easier for neighbors to let their dogs have some enjoyment, to help them become more socialized."

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