Citizens of the Friendship Heights area say that, despite several victories in the past, they are not optimistic about winning their complex, five-year battle to curb commerical over-development that could destroy the residential character of their neighborhood.
The main issue centers upon further development near the intersdction of Wisconsin and Western Avenues, one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the nation and already the sit of many prestigious department stores, office buildings and a future Metro stop.
At the annual membership meeting last week of the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, members recounted the history of their fight to see that development is compatible with residential interests and expressed the fear that creeping commercialism and heavier traffic on already congested streets would lower private property values and increase air and noise pollution.
Many held out little hope that the District Zoning Commission, which is scheduled to hold hearings in December on phase two of the Friendship sectional development plan, will rule in favor of the residents.
In a letter to community residents, FNC president John Engel referred to "the relentless pressures (on the D.C. government) of heavily financed commercial interests seeking to 'develop' Friendship Heights to the maximum."
He added that the zoning commision "is currently being bombarded with proposals for greater construction by developer who talk of increased tax revenues but ignore the real though tangible costs of such action" to the neighborhood in terms of more pollution and lower property values.
The FNC was formed in 1972 in opposition to a plan for development at Wisconsin and Western Avenues drawn up by architect Vlastil Koubek. The plan, according to Engel, called for commercial expansion that would have been larger than "two Rosslyns and three Crystal Cities combined," bringing 50,000 people into the area daily. Western and Wisconsin Avenue would have been widened at "taxpayers' expense" to eight or 10 lanes, he said.
The Koubek plan was defeated and with the assistance of the National Capital Planning Commission, the FNC drew up the two-part sectional development plan. The first part called for "downzoning" of the heavily commercial areas in Friendship Heights to both residential and commercial zoning.
This part was approved by the zoning commission in February 1974 and was considered a "big victory" by the FNC, according to past president Helen Woods.
A hearing was held in December 1975 on the second part of the sectional development plan which involved non-zoning elements like the intensity of development, buffer zones between commercial and residential areas and traffic patterns. No decision was reached on this part, and a year later the D.C. municipal planning office came up with a new plan on the non-zoning elements that dissatisfied both residents and developers.
To reach an agreement, the zoning commission earlier this year began holding workshops with developers and residents to hammer out the second section.
"But we became concerned about the trend of the commissioners' thinking," explained FNC member George Avery, indicating that the commission favored the developers. He added that the FNC felt the workshop procedures were inappropriate and last summer filed a motion to halt the workshops.
The workshops did stop and a new draft on part two by the municipal planning office will be the subject of the December hearings.
On other fronts, FNC members had these reports:
FNC counsel Coleman Bird said that a zoning commission decision on challenges fron two commercial interests and the Washington Clinic to the downzoning portion of the development plan is pending. "I don't see any grounds for optimism based on the zoning commission's past performance," he said.
A decision on new zoning for the proposed expansion of the Safeway Store at 4840 42nd St., NW is expected form the D.C. board of zoning adjustments Dec. 6. FNC representatives testified before the BZA last week, expressing concern about the "domino effect" if the Safeway expands onto the now residentially zoned vacant lot adjacent to it.
Aidan Jones, an attorney who attended the hearings, said the "BZA seemed more concerned about having a big grocery store than our neighborhood." He said the BZA, made up largely of architects, has a "development bent. It wants the business of developers."
Jones added that "we need a different city government" if citizen interests are to be protected.
In one of the meeting's brighter moments, Virginia Spevak said the future of the Friendship Heights resident permit parking program was enhanced by the Supreme Court's ruling last week in favor of Arlington citizen who sought to ban commuter parking on residential streets.
She also said that in talks with Metro authorities she was told that blasting damage from subway construction at Wisconsin and Western Avenues would be "unlikely" although some disruption could occur from trucks. There would be less trouble, she added, at Tenley Circle at the southern edge of the Friendship area.
Spevak had kind words about the D.C. department of transportation, saying they "were adamant about not widening (residential) roads" like Military or Reno to accommodate more traffic in the face of increased commercial development. In some cases, she said, the "system doeswork" in response to citizens.