When John Engel talks about Friendship Heights, he describes a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes, tree-lined streets and convenient shops. He wants little stores and small offices, with parks and benches where people can linger before catching the subway downtown to work or shop.
When Norman Glasgow describes Friendship Heights, he sees it as a booming commercial center, a cluster of Washington's finest stores, drawing the affluent via the magnet of Metro to live, work and shop in the city's most desirable uptown neighborhood.
It is the same neighborhood, just a different language the two men talk. Engel is the president of the Friendship Heights Neighborhood Coalition, Glasgow the lawyer for a group of landowners and developers.
About the only thing they agree on is the focus of their debate: What should happen to the Friendship Heights shopping area, the handful of blocks along both sides of Wisconsin Avenue south of Western Avenue.
Engek wants "small shops, interesting stores, places to go that would serve the upper Northwest, but on a scale that would not attract shoppers from all over the Beltway."
Glasgow's alternative is "to develop in the fashion it was planned for, as an untown center - a prestige area with Saks. Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Woodward & Lothrop. There is no place in the metropolitan area that encompasess the style and quality of the stores there."
A development plan for the neighborhood that has been wending its way through the city bureaucracy since the days before Home Rule has finally come before the D.C. Zoning Commission. Although the issues have been debated for nearly a decade, a recent hearing produced 10 new hours of testimony.
The development plan is supposed to be the end result of a planning process that began in the early 1970s and produced a compromise called "The Gold-Book." Zoning would not be changed by the development plan, but rules for building in the neighborhood would be set once and for all.
Whatever happens to the plan, new commercial development is inevitable, both sides agree. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," says Glasgow. "And how," adds Engel.
Friendship Height is already more than the neighborhood shopping center that some local residents see. On the District sided of Western Avenue, there are 700,000 square feet of retail store space, almost 400,00 square feet of offices and another 100,000 feet of other developments.
A report by the municipal planning office shows. that existing zoning would allow construction of additional 300,000 square feet of stores (the equivalent of another Mazza Gallerie), 400,000 square feet of offices and more than 1,100 apartments on both sides of Wisconsin from Western Avenue to Fessenden Street.
Proposals by various developers call for slightly more stores, 150,000 square feet more office space, and another 200 apartments.
The developers have their eyes on three prime pieces of land - the Lord & Taylor parking lot behind Mazza Gallerie, the entire block across the street from the Gallerie, and the block between Jenifer and Harrison Streets on the west side of Wisconsin.
Each site has the potential for massive developments, projects with $100 million prices tags. Only one proposal is actually on the drawing board - Western Development's $50 million multi-use plan for the Metro bus parking lot.
The rest of that block is also ripe for construction. The only zoning change actively being discussed in the neighborhood is for the Paul Brothers auto dealership adjacent to the bus lot. Although it has been used as an auto dealership for year, the property was downzooned to residential in 1975. Paul representatives say they would like to build a new office building on the site.
No zoning change would be necessary to tura the parking lot behind Mazza Gallerie into a big shopping complex with parking underneath.
The city planning department report notes that the site could be developed as a 275,000-square-foot retail/office complex, with three floors of stores and at least two floors of offices. Although present regulations would permit only a 90-foot building on the parking lot, Gallerie owners told the zoning commission they want to build a 190-foot tower.
The third prime site - across the street from the Gallerie - is the largest of the lot and would be the most costly, complex, and desirable to develop. The four banks, three houses, and handful of other shops on the site all would be torn down and replaced by a project twice the size of the Gallerie.
Developer Oliver T. Carr Jr. is eyeing the site, which would have to be used for a planned unit development, combining offices, stores and 350 apartments. Glasgow said $100 million "would only be a start" toward developing the massive project.
These major projects are only the biggest on a shopping list assembled by Ben Gilbert, director of the Municipal Planning Office. Other Friendship Heights developments include.
Extension of the Lord & Taylor parking deck to replace spaces lost if the store's ground-level parking is used for a new building.
50 townshouses atop a deck over the parking lot behind Gawlor Funeral Home, the Cinema Theatre and Rodman's Drug Store.
An office and retail building on the site of the BP gas station at Wisconsin and Jennifer.
New commercial buildings replacing a pair of older structures in the block on the west side of Wisconsin between Garrison and Fessenden streets.
Twenty townshouses plus a small commercial building on the east side of Wisconsin between Garrison and Fessenden.