National Harbor Isn't Ignoring Its Neighbors

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George's County, a new addition to the Gaylord Hotels chain in D.C., boasts an 18-story glass atrium, multi-level indoor gardens, and a rooftop lounge.
By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Irma Bogan was looking at some dead azaleas in her back yard the other day. "Too much dust, too much dirt," she said, as if delivering a eulogy. During the construction of National Harbor, which abuts her Riverbend neighborhood in Fort Washington, a thick layer of red dust had covered homes, gardens and cars.

A neighbor, Ray Stanback, recalled that he was mowing the lawn not long ago when his mouth began to fill with grit. "It was a dust storm from the construction site," he said. "It gets into everything. Even if you keep your doors and windows closed, it gets all in your house."

That might have been the end of the dust story: Corporate giant makes a mess during five years of construction and leaves neighbors with dead flowers and grit in their teeth. But this one had a twist.

"When we complained, National Harbor sent a team over to powerwash our homes," Zeno St. Cyr, president of the Riverbend Citizens Association, told me recently. "They picked up the trash and dampened the dirt to keep the dust down."

And when they heard about Bogan's dead azaleas, they made arrangements to bring her new plants and to plant trees along her backyard fence. "It was a nice gesture," said Bogan, a retired environmental scientist who has lived for 34 years in Riverbend with her husband Robert, a retired aerospace engineer.

So it would seem that National Harbor has the makings of a good neighbor. For a development promising to bring a greater sense of style and elegance to Prince George's, that would be essential.

But as National Harbor grows, more problems with its closest neighbors are sure to result. How those get resolved may offer clues about whether the promise of the harbor is realized or ultimately broken.

Take the ongoing issue with noise.

The harbor's centerpiece, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, has a loading dock and laundry facility that abuts Riverbend. Neighbors are serenaded night and day with the backup beeps of delivery trucks and the background drone of industrial laundry exhaust fans.

And with Gaylord's grand opening set for Friday, the din has reached a fever pitch.

"We're being driven crazy by the noise," Deborah Boddie told me during a recent visit to her house. Last week, the Riverbend Citizens Association began circulating a draft of a letter that calls on Gaylord to shut down the laundry and to "immediately desist from disrupting the neighborhood . . . until a permanent abatement of the intolerable noise level is achieved."

If the nuisance was being caused by an ordinary neighbor -- say, the guy who mows his lawn on Sunday morning or lets his dog bark through the night -- you could probably just pick a bone with him across the backyard fence. But would such a down-home approach work when your neighbor has just invested hundreds of millions in a 2,000-room house that includes 110 lavish suites?


John Jenkins, a Gaylord vice president and hotel manager, responded to the noise complaints in a letter to residents sent yesterday.

"Gaylord takes great pride in being a good community citizen and we are very sorry to hear this has been an inconvenience for you," Jenkins wrote. "Upon hearing your concerns . . . we immediately began researching ways for how the system can be modified, and we are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible."

Of course, a letter by itself doesn't solve the problem, but St. Cyr is hopeful. "The problem with the noise is confounding, especially since everybody believed that things would quiet down once construction of the hotel was completed," St. Cyr told me. "But I want to be fair and emphasize that whenever a problem has been brought to the attention of Gaylord or National Harbor, they have not ignored us and have worked very diligently to correct the concern."

Boddie, a lawyer, said she'll consider the noise problem solved only after she stops hearing it. Meanwhile, the development was causing another annoyance for her.

"Excuse me, we're lost," said a woman on the passenger side of a car that had stopped in front of her house. "We're looking for National Harbor."

In a routine Boddie and other residents say they're now doing as many as a dozen times a day, she began giving directions to the Harbor's entrance. It was as if she'd become an unpaid Harbor hostess.

"OnStar says this is our destination," the driver said, then added with a wry smile: "You got room for us?"

"No," Boddie replied. "But we'll sell you the place."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company