Develop Georgetown? Not before citizens' groups have you for breakfast. Develop Friendship Heights? Not without eight years of zoning battles. Dig up Tenley Circle for a subway? Not unless the impact on every tulip for blocks around is considered.
So it has gone along Wisconsin Avenue NW. In the last 15 years, development has become a way of life along the city's major western corridor. But large development or small, attractive buildings or monsters - none of it has been planned or built without a hassle.
Until now, in Friendship.
In the two blocks just south of Wisconsin and Van Ness street NW - an area known as Friendship - three different companies are in the process of investing $30 million in new buildings.
The buildings, and their occupants, will bring substantial changes to Friendship. An additional 950 employes will be working in the area by next spring. Their salaries will total at least $1.5 million a year.
But the changes in Friendship will barely be visible. Any they are proceeding without any complaints.
At 3900 Wisconsin, the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) is reconstructing the interior of the Tudor-style building that was formerly the headquarters of the Equitable Life-Insurance Company. But the building's exterior, and its grounds, will remain almost exactly the way they have been since they were built in 1958.
At 4015 Wisconsin, almost directly across the street, the U.S. Postal Service is building a new Friendship post office. Like the old post office, the new one will be dark red brick and two-story. But unlike the old office - a dingy structure with concrete "grounds" - the new post office will have shrubs and a lawn.
At 4110 Wisconsin, what used to be the most popular Hot Shoppes restaurant in the city became a Phineasprime rib restaurant on April 25. But the owner, the Marriott Corporation, has retained the building's non-neon exterior, and has built a rock garden in front.
FNMA's investment is the greatest among the three companies. Now headquartered in seven floors of leased space on 15th Street NW, FNMA will move its entire operation to Friendship within a year.
FNMA spent $13.1 million to buy the land and existing building. it will spend another $15.7 million on renovations, and on construction of a new parking lot and office building behind the existing building. Formerly a federal agency, FNMA guarantees and underwrites mortgage loans. It has more than $30 billion in assets.
THe FNMA complex will house about 600 employes. Computer operations and executive offices will be in the new office building. Loan accounting operations, administration and mortgage programs will be housed in the renovated Tudor building.
FNMA was chosen as the purchaser of the site by Equitable because it was the one prospective purchaser that agreed not to tear down the embassy-like building or extend the structure to the edge of the street.
The renovated building sits about 200 feet back from Wisconsin Avenue, behind a brick wall. The front door is reached by a horseshoe-shaped, cobblestone driveway. Discreet signs reading "No Ball Playing" are stuck in the spacious front lawn. A wrought-iron weathervane sits on top of a central spire.
The package may seem like a very atypical office, but "we were commited to stay in the District of Columbia. It was with the encouragement of the District of Columbia government that we purchased the building," said James Murray, FNMA's general counsel.
In the case of Postal Service, necessity came before beauty. The Friendship post office, one of the city's busiest, had ong ago outgrown its old quarters.
The new building will cost $2.5 million to construct and will open just before Labor Day. It will have 44,800 square feet of space spread over 2.35 acres. It will be the main postal distribution facility for all of zip code 20016, and parts of 20007 and 20008.
According to George Conrad, a customer relations supervisor, a key feature of the new building will be a 24-hour self-service postal center in the lobby. Stamps and postcards will be sold in machines there, and boxholders will have access to their boxes at all times. Previously, stamp sales and access to boxes were possible only during business hours.
In addition, the new facility will have a customer parking lot and ramps and handrails fro handicapped customers. The old post office hand neither.
At Phineas Prime Rib and Pub, any resemblance to the old Hot Shoppes is strictly accidental.
Where the old Hot Shoppes was simple and functional, Phineas is decorated in the style of an old English pub. Where the old Hot Shoppes served nothing that cost more than $4, Phineas' entrees, strictly roast beef and lobster, range in price from $8.95 to $11.95 Where the Hot Shoppes served three meals, Phineas will be open for dinner only.
Jim Eshelman, Phineas' manager, acknowledged that the style of his restaurant will represent a major change from the Hot Shoppes, which closed last July. "But we feel that we'll have a majority neighborhood trade, just like they did," Eshelman said.
He added that dozens of neighborhood residents dropped in to take a look at the restaurant during renovation. "They couldn't wait for us to open," Eshelman said.
The neighborhood is not entirely enthralled, however.
Tom Stone, associate pastor of the National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW, said the change to Phineas "is a change to a higher-price pocketbook. I wonder where I'm going to go to lunch now."
And a teacher at the nearby Sidwell Friends School, who declined to have her name published, worried that Sidwell students will now go exclusively for lunch and snacks to a Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant next door. "At least the Hot Shoppes gave them a chance to eat something nourishing," she said.
Others in the community noted that the influx of employes and customers as a result of the Friendship construction will put added pressure on already overburdened Van Ness Street.
Van Ness is the only direct link through Friendship or Cleveland park between Nebraska, Wisconsin and Connecticut avenue. But Van Ness is only two lanes wide.
Between Nebraska and Wisconsin, and just west of Connecticut, it does not have curbs or sidewalks. Nor do the signal lights at the intersection of Van Ness and Wisconsin have a left-turn phase. Delays and backups are common.
According to the D.C. Department of Transportation, there are no plans to upgrade Van Ness or its intersections with Nebraska, Wisconsin or Connecticut.
So traffic is the major potential hassle in the "new" Friendship. But as one resident of Upton Street put it, "You live with traffic problems all the time in a city. I'm just glad that all this construction is not going to turn our neighborhood into Crystal City."