The city won.
Georgetown separatism is defeated.
But even some of the most chauvinistic Georgetowners are glad that the seven-year-long legal battle of the Georgetown waterfront is over.
The D.C. Court of Appeals decision last Tuesday should make it clear, first of all, that city planning is a matter for citizens and planners to thresh out, not for lawyers and judges.
In other areas of the city, such as Dupont Circle or Van Ness, where the citizens kept talking - and sometimes shouting - rather than suing, they are winning important concessions. Compromises are being worked out that all interests, developers and residents can live with.
Georgetown's haughtimes and law suits yielded only hostility and frustration. Georgetwoners did not gain anything on "their" waterfront that the city's zoning regulation of February 1974 did not freely offer.
The 1974 regulations changed the previous "industrial" zoning, which might have resulted in a dense forest of highrise buildings, to a mix of commercial and residential buildings. But it allowed development projects already underway at the time to proceed. The most notable of these was a handsome and varied office and shopping complex built by Inland Steel. It includes the Foundary Restaurant.
The leaders of the Georgetown Citizen Association disapproved of this project and therefore challenged the legality of the entire new zoning regulation. They claimed that it exceeded the city's home rule authoritu.
The court ruled last Tuesday that home rule includes the right to plan and rearrange the home we rule, regardless of what tht old, colonial regime may have had in mind for it.
Whatever you may think of city government since Washington got home rule in 1975, city planning by the new municipal planning office has done remarkably well once it got into gear. Directed by ex-newsman Ben Gilbert, this city's planners had a great deal to do with saving the willard Hotel and, in other ways, making the starchy Pennysylvania Avenue redevelopment plan more friendly and relaxed. They initiated lively development in the socalled West End, Washington's midtown. They are helping to stop the march of anonymous office high-rise buildings up Connecticut Avenue and to redirect business development back down town around the proposed civic center.
The municipal planning office is also helping to save worthy historic landmark buildings with make it extremely difficult for their owners to demolish them just for easy profit. Almost certain to pass the city council, this may be the most drastic landmark legislation in the country.
District planners have further advanced a more flexible approach to zoning. It permits a developer to put together townhouses, apartments, offices and shops in any combination he considers attractive and have the entire package approved or disapproved or disapproved.This is known as "planned unit development" and has existed for three-acre packages for some time. (The Watergate complex was the first such mixed development.) It is now accepted for units as small as 15,000 square feet, or a third of an average city block.
Most important, the city planning office has worked out basic, broadranging goals and policies for the city that are now on the mayor's desk. This document deals with social and environmental issues rather thanthe usual multicolored sacks of potatoes that show what kind of building should go where. A specific map plan, says Gilbert, can be drawn up only once the city agrees with itself on what its priorities are.
In short, while Washington's city planners may be no more popular and charismatic than elsewhere, it is probably safe to say that we have one of the most enlightened municipal planning offices in the country, if for no other reason than that it is new and uncommonly responsive to the changed and more assertive attitudes of an exceptionally sophisticated citizenry.
Tere is, thank heaven, no chance and no need for a grand plan along the Georgetown waterfront as was assumed a decade or so ago. At that time it was thought the federal highway department with its unlimited funds would buy up all the land between the C&O Canal and the river, clear it of all the old warehouses and run-down industrial plants and, for the privilege of running a tremendous freeway through, over or under it, build us some sensational scheme.
Constantinos Doxiadis, the late Greek planner, proposed an "urban park" with concrete terraces and maybe cypresses baking in the sun. A Georgetown planning group proposed twonhouses tumbling down the river. Other architects, hired by the Interior Department, sketched something romantically French - a premenade wedged between the river and well-dressed, six-story apartment houses a la Ile de Cite.
But we have it with grand urban revewal schemes, which is just as well, because we are not going to get any even if we did want some. Now that the area is legally untangled, a variety of projects is shooting up like mushrooms. Some of them are quite attrative.
"When you get a lot of little projects, it can't be all bad," said Arthur Cotton Moore, whose mixed-use Canal Square and Inland Steel building seem to have set the architectural lone for the waterfront.
But there are problems.
The foremost one is the rickety, ugly old Whitehurst Freeway. It will not be replaced (no money) but must be repaired and made safe. Some planners are talking about sprucing it up, decorating it with some fretwork like the famous wrought iron Maderia Drive in Brighton, England, a dainty example of Victorian flamboyance.
There is also some thought of placing a false ceiling under the elevated freeway to give it a less manacing feeling and turn it into something of an arcade lined with shops along the north side of K Street.
Madeira Drive on the Potomac could be amusing or horrible, depending how it is done. Decorating a disastrous, but comicl, like a rhinoceros with a tiny party hat.
The best solution may still be the one advanced by Arthur Cotton Moore some years ago: Run the freeway on the ground under Key Bridge and elevate K Street aa low as possible above it. Along with light local traffic, we could have an attractive river-view walkway up there.
Another problem is the proposed "active urban park" all along the river. It is the result of an initiative by Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) and jointly planned by the municipal planning office, the National Capital Planning and Fien Arts Commissions and the highway department. It would be paid for from unused federal freeway funds under the just-passed Surface Transportation Act.
Here, too, everything depends on design.
I don't think we want a 4-acre meadow here. But neither do we want a Coney Island. We must decide just who and what will be active in this "active urban park."
In short, there is still much thinking, arguing and threshing out to be done. Georgetown citizens can be counted on to do their share - as participants, not litigants.