A D.C. Municipal Planting Office recommendation for a 50 percent increase in retail developments in Friendship Heights yesterday reopened the decade-old debate between developers and local residents.
Neighborhood activists claimed they will be strangled by pollution and trampled by traffic if there is more construction around the intersection of Wisconsia and Western avenues.
Developers retorted that the city, is throwing away jobs and tax revenues by limiting growth of the most designable commercial area in the District of Columbia.
With spontaneous speeches and preprinted testimony, both barraged the D.C. Zoning Commission at a hearing on the sectional development plan recommended by Ben W. Gilbert, director of the Municipal Planning Office.
Gibert's recommendation brought back the neighborhood opposition that five years age lead to restrictions on commercial and residential development in the Friendship Heights area under a plan called "The Good Book."
That plan called for 536,000 square feet of retail stores in the neighborhood, but Gilbert said there is already 75,000 square feet of retail space there now; 814,000 square feet would be permitted by present zoning.
He said more than 1 million square feet of retail space would be permitted under planned unit development provisions recommended by the planning office.
Norman M. Glasgow, an attorney for developers, and a parade of his clients said that 1 million square feet isn't enough, and asked that the whole neighborhood be rezoned for more development.
The present Metro bus storage lot, the Lord & Taylor parking lot behind the Mazza Gallerie, and the large tract on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue north of Jennifer Street all should be permitted to have largescale retail and office developments, they urged.
A representative of H.S.L.-D.C., the company that owns the Mazza Gallerie building, called on the zoning commission to permit a building 13 feet tall on the parking lot behind it. The Gallerie itself - which was described as "a fortress" by neighbor - is 60 feet high.
Pooh-poohing local residents complaints about traffic, Glasgow said development of the area should be based on the thousands of people who will be able to get there by subway when Metro opens in 1982.
Echoing developer Oliver T. Carr Jr., Glasgow said the broad interests of the city should not be overridden by neighborhood objections.
"You can't go to every neighborhood and ask them what they want," said Glasgow, urging the zoning commission not to listen to "a group of citizens who want to put a wall around their neighborhood."
A wall, or at least a barrier of trees and greenery between quiet residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, was advocated by several representatives of the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition and other community groups.
They complained that Giblert's planning office had rewritten restrictions on development in the neighborhood so as to make them meaningless. A provision that once required green space of "at least" 40 feet to shield commerical developments, now calls for an open area of "up to" 40 feet, complained local resident Helen Wood.
Another protester, Karl Mautner, accused the planning office of using "rubber words" to open the area for "a headlong gold rush" by developers.
Pointing out that their neighborhood has been reported to have the worst air pollution in the city - a contention questioned yesterday - the locals said the air quality would worsen and traffic and parking would be impossible under the planning office scheme.
John Engel, president of the 1.000-member Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, warned that traffic is the limiting factor in developing the area, and urged that no development be permitted on Wisconsin below Harrison Street.
He said the Municipal Planning Office threw out requirements that developers provide one parking space for every dwelling unit and now will permit three houses or apartments for every parking space in the neighborhood.
The traffic situation will be worsened, he said, by the city's plan to substitute retail stores, which generate a lot of traffic, for residential units that produce little.
George Avery, counsel for the neighborhood group, warned of "higher, blockier, more massive structures placed in the midst of our low-density residential neighborhood."
Because the plan does not require phasing of development, the neighborhood could be thrown into a turmoil by simultaneous construction of the Metro station and new commercial buildings, Avery said.
Accusing the city of "Manhattanizing" Friendship Heights, Margaret McDermott, Vice President of the neighborhood coalition, said the development proposed would pour 6,000 cars an hour through the neighborhood during rush hours.
She said that is almost 50 percent more traffic than can be handled by the streets, which are already among the most congested in the city.