It appeared to be a lively, afternoon social. More than 15 neighbors attended the gathering at Trinity College. They sat in a lounge on comfortable chairs beneath ornate canvasses depicting Renaissance religious scenes.
Sipping sparkling red and white wine and nibbling tiny cubes of cheese, they chatted amiably for the better part of 90 minutes.
The Northeast residents were invited by the college to discuss Trinity's sale of a densely wooded, 25-acre tract of land at Michigan Avenue and North Capitol Street NE. The land, located across the street from the college, was purchased for $3 million by Gerard M. LaVay and Richard J. Donohoe who plan to build 534 moderately priced, two and three-bedroom townhouses on it. Residents said they worried about the effect this would have on their community.
They asked Trinity's president, Sister Rose Ann Fleming, what factors the shool's board of trustees had considered in selling the land.
Had they seen a model of the proposed plans? Did they consider factors - such as traffic, shopping, schools, increased property taxes, sewage disposal - residents said would radically affect them?
"All the developers want is money, money, money!" exclaimed Frank E. Braxton Sr., a member of the Edgewood Civic Commission.
"I'm not crazy about it at all," added a resident whose home will face the development. She said she was worried about water problems.
"If there's 500 townhouses in there and even half of them have two children. They'll have to build a new school," said Emil Piscitelli.
Piscitelli said that he also felt the development would eventually affect the area's property values and taxes.
"As a younger person it's not going to bother me," he said. "I can sell my house, probably make money on it and go someplace else. They (elderly persons) don't want to leave. But how could they afford (higher) taxes?"
The Brookland Civic Association supports development, said Robert Artist, president of the group and a Ward 5 candidate for the city council. He said the civic association includes 700 families.
"We welcome that type of development," Artist said in a telephone interview."We're thinking about the economic growth of the area. Knowing the past experience of Donohoe's work, (we believe) he'll put in a quality development."
Fleming, Trinity's president for the past three years, said she was aware that "developers' reputation, in theory, is they're only interested in money." But the Donohoe firm has been in Washington 100 years, and Lavay is a "well-known and respected architect," she said. "They have reputations to maintain."
The developers told Trinity's trustees that their proposed plans had been approved by the municipal planning office, she said. No, the trustees hadn't seen the plans, she added.
The developers also said they would "do the best they can" to keep the trees, Fleming said. In addition, she traveled throughout the metropolitan area and to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to see the style of homes the developers were known for. They were very nice "Georgian" style houses, she said.
Construction would be completed in pieces over a period of three to five years. The firm was well-established financially and could complete the project, she said.
At one time, the school had considered expanding. This was no longer a concern and they didn't want to enter a joint real esate venture with someone, she explained. Selling became the best alternative.
"We've sold the land, but we've sold it knowing the developers would have good intentions and the (present residential) zoning would remain."
"A lot of (the agreement) is word of honor?" asked an incredulous resident. "You're just trusting them to do right?"
Fleming said Trinity obtained a real estate lawyer to work on the agreement with them. Besides, she said, the developers seemed to be honest people.
"I wonder how good their word is?" another resident said.
Other residents expressed similar sentiments between their sips of wine.