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Grant Circle:
Residents Warily Eye
Going Green

By Stephen C. Fehr
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 07, 1992

James I. Williams and his wife, Loretta, moved in 1958 to their row house south of Grant Circle in Northwest Washington, where they raised four children and grew vegetables in a backyard garden.

All they wanted, Williams said, was to return home to North Carolina after he retires from his job as a truck driver; that day will come in three years. Then came Metro last year with a plan to build the subway beneath New Hampshire Avenue in the Petworth neighborhood, where the Williamses live.

"I'm caught in a crunch," Williams said. "I'd like to sell my home in three years, but they might be in the middle of construction. I'm concerned the value of the house will decrease and I might have trouble selling it."

Housing prices are expected to rise when Metro's Green Line is completed in 1999 between the U Street-Cardozo and Fort Totten stations. Until then, the subway is creating considerable anxiety along the three-mile route in neighborhoods such as Grant Circle.

When Metro arrives, the effect on a neighborhood can be significant. First come decisions about which residences and businesses to tear down to make way for the subway; from 93 to 223 properties in Northwest may be taken by the Green Line construction.

The planned route follows 14th Street, Park Road, Monroe Street and New Hampshire Avenue before curving east under Rock Creek Cemetery to Fort Totten.

Next is construction—scheduled to begin in 1994—and the noise, traffic and dust that accompany construction of tunnels, tracks and stations.

When the subway is completed, traffic patterns and bus routes change, but the reward for the years of pain is that residents are connected to a regional rail system while their property usually becomes more valuable.

"People at open houses will ask me, 'Is this close to Metro?' so people are already becoming interested," said Denise Champion-Jones, a real estate agent at Long&Foster Real Estate Inc. who sells many homes in the Petworth and Columbia Heights sections, through which the Green Line will run.

During the seven years in which the subway is expected to be built, however, there will be a human toll exacted, and that is what worries many residents the most. The Grant Circle neighborhood is a good laboratory to examine the changes taking place in people's lives because of Metro.

Grant Circle—intersected by New Hampshire Avenue, Fifth Street and Illinois Avenue—was built in the early 1900s as the center of the Petworth section, considered a "streetcar suburb" then. The 1.8 acre-park, within Grant Circle, is lined with 50-year-old trees, hedges and benches, and is anchored by two churches, Petworth United Methodist and St. Gabriel's. There is no statue of Civil War general and former president Ulysses S. Grant.

The neighborhood of two-story brick row houses built from 1910 to 1920 is home to working people, families and senior citizens who love where they live.

Many of the houses trace their functional, simple design to the Arts and Crafts movement, which flourished in the United States in the early 1900s until World War I.

"It's such a house of character," John P. Goodloe said of his two-story, four-bedroom home, built in 1913 in the 4200 block of New Hampshire Avenue. "Consider the era it was built—it was not just thrown together. The area is stable, and is ideal because of the splendid transportation situation."

In recent years Goodloe and other residents have worried more about crime. The circle has no lights, providing cover at night for drug dealers. Thugs break into cars parked on the street.

Now, with Metro, there are additional fears. Transit officials originally proposed wiping out 10 homes between Upshur Street and the circle to build a fan shaft and power station for the Georgia Avenue-Petworth subway stop at New Hampshire and Georgia avenues.

The neighbors protested and Metro backed down, saying it would build the fan shaft and power station at the circle, which will leave a scar there but won't destroy any homes. Still, residents are apprehensive about the potential damage to their neighborhood during construction.

Benjamin L. Spaulding, 81, who has lived in the 4100 block of New Hampshire Avenue for 41 years, said when the street was widened to six lanes from four lanes in 1958, the city took seven feet from the front yards of residents and made them walk and drive on muddy wooden planks for months.

That experience and the disruption from Metro construction suffered by residents and businesses in the Shaw and U Street areas between 1988 and 1990 has made Spaulding and many other residents skeptical.

"The impact on that community was severe and unwarranted," Spaulding said. "It is possible for a repeat occurrence. No one seems to ride herd on Metro."

During construction of the Green Line in the Shaw and U Street areas, Metro said its problems with the contractor led to unsafe open pits in the street, dust, mud and broken glass.

The contractor was fired and sued Metro in an expensive, protracted case that remains unresolved. The stations opened last year behind schedule, and the problems left ill will between the residents of those neighborhoods and the transit agency.

Metro construction chief Tracy C. Tucker said: "We realize, given the experience at U Street and Shaw, why people are concerned. But that's not going to be repeated. We're going to have a first-class project."

Metro plans to build a road to detour traffic away from the construction area, use concrete mats instead of wood mats over which cars will travel, penalize the builder for delays and enforce cleanup of the area.

The transit agency has hired a community relations specialist to work with the residents in the areas affected by the Green Line construction. Metro also will help residents relocate.

Home prices near Grant Circle range between $80,000 and $160,000. The Petworth section has one of the most active real estate markets in the city, real estate experts said, although fewer homes are being sold throughout the region because of the recession.

In 1990, 112 homes were sold in the Petworth area, compared with 84 last year. Most sold for less than $150,000; the median price in the District is $156,000. There are 222 homes on the market in that area.

One resident of Grant Circle who is considering selling his home is Thomas Ashcraft, an artist who lives with his wife, Georgia Deal, also an artist, and the couple's 18-month-old daughter, Kady.

They moved into their 76-year-old home about five years ago, paying about $80,000 for the two-story, three-bedroom home and renovating much of it. The home is worth twice that amount now.

Their decision to leave has more to do with wanting more room than with Metro or the crime threat, Ashcraft said.

Ashcraft, Deal and Kady are white, yet it is a sign of the character of the predominantly black neighborhood that they have been accepted.

In fact, Ashcraft said, the controversy over Metro united the neighborhood as never before. Residents got to know one another through numerous meetings. A Grant Circle Neighborhood Association is forming to monitor the Metro construction.

"It's given me a sense of community and identity," Ashcraft said. "It's made a nice bond between all of us."

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