"You name it, we've had it," 62-year-old Forrest Cromwell says about the Dupont Circle neighbourhood where he has lived since 1957. "Plenty crime, plenty noise. Rock 'n' roll music all night. Strange people coming to the door."
Those days have ended, however, replaced by what Cromwell sees as a new kind of nuisance. "Hear the noise?" he asks a visitor, nodding cranes for construction of a new office building nearby. "It's pretty dismal. Don't like it at all. The house cracks-the noise-and it keeps the sun out. We lose a lot of the sun and light now."
There are others around Dupont Circle who hear the and sit on benches in the park on the circle and watch downtown move farther and farther uptown. Instead of the lovely Victorian homes that used to be just down the street, many of them find themselves staring at the fourth floor of an eight-story building.
A number of them, who say they fear the eroding of the community they have known, have joined together to form a coalition to fight for zoning changes.
What's happening to Dupont Circle said one elderly resident, is "criminal."
They are opposed in their efforts by some property owners and businessman who feel that having office buildings nearby isn't at all dismal. They have vacant land in the area and do not like the idea of being restricted in whit they can do with it, and feel that down-zoning will stifle the city's economic development.
That, in the simplest of terms, is what the three days of hearings before the District of Columbia's Zoning Commission that begin today are all about. If approvel, the changes that the coalition wants could drastically affect the look of Dupont Circle for years to come by limiting the height and density and use of buildings.
Steve Sher, executive director of the city's zoning secretariat, calls the citizen rezoning plan "one of the most far-reaching proposals the zoning commission has had to deal with, in terms of complexity."
The area proposed for rezoning lies between M, 15th and 23rd streets NW and M Street and Florida Avenue NW. It includes several major thorough-fares, including parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts avenues, and 16th Street, as well as a number of quiet residential side streets.
The Dupont CIrcle Coalition consists of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, plus several other organizations representing a mixture of races, comprised mainly of home owners, and old-line, traditional groups. They include the North Dupont Community Association, the Midway Civic Association, the Dupont Circle Property Owners' Associated, the Society for the Prevention of N Street, and the T Street Block Club.
The rezoning plan they have come up with after years of work would map zoning changes in many areas of the neighbourhood. For example, in some areas where buildings 90 feet high now are allowed, the coalition would like to see heights limited to about 60 feet.
And where some high rise office and apartment buildings now are allowed, the rezoning plan would permit medium density apartment building. Some buildings in some areas would be permitted for conversion to professional and diplomatic uses. On some of the somewhat shabby commercial strips, the coalition would like to see two or three story commercial and residental buildings.
In other words, explained Advisory Neighbourhood Commissioner George Wheeler, "We hope to establish through the zoning process the fact that a residential area can exist on the edge of downtown and not be gobbled up by office sprawl." We want it so that a pedestrian who stops in at a sidewalk cafe can see something pleasant across the street."
To understand the preservation interest among many Dupont Circle residents one needs to understand the history of the area.
It was Dupont Circle where the late 19th century merchant princes built homes that rivaled Newport, R.I., for palaes of the super rich. It was Dupont Circle , where, the story goes, Andrew Mellon had an apartment and was first introduced to art by Lord Duveen, who lived a floor above.
Years later, it was Dupont Circle where "Mama" Cave lived. Mama, a 1967 Washington Post article reported quite seriously, had a 63rd birthday party and invited 30 of her children to the party. The story dutifully noted that she was "the adopted parent of many of the Circle's hippies and sort of a hippie herself" and had "fed, clothed and performed other motherly dutiesfor many of the local flower children."
In the 1960s there were the constant battles between those who wanted to use the grass on the circle came in constant conflict with those who only wanted to look at it, pointed out Dale Hudelson, a writer who is a spokesman for the citizens coalition.
those were the days when nannies and mothers wheeled babies in carriages and exchanged the latest gossip in the park. Then long-time Circle residents would write letters to federal officials complaining that Dupont Circle was a "pig's pen" that needed to be rid of litter, liquor, narcotics, prositution, promiscuity and beatniks. A time when it was not unusual to see hundreds of people in the park at mid-night on a Saturday.
Now on a weekday one can find men in three-piece business suits on their lunch breaks and people of all ahes and races in the park.
"There's a mixture there now," said Hudelson. "It's fun, relaxed, mellow."
The atea outside the circle itself is a mixture, too, crowded with small shops, restaurants from the chic to the seedy, art galleries, clubs, and bookstores. Near Dupont Circle, you can buy a sandwich at the Hank Panky delicatessen at 17th and P streets NW or go to the many restaurants that serve Indian vegetarian food.
The mixture of people, places and things has made Dupont Circle a very popular and very expensive place to live. There are "perfectly ordinary six-bedroom town houses" in the ares selling for $220,000, Hudelson noted.
Hudelson himself bought his Church Street home in 1973 for $58,000. It's easily worth at least $150,000 now, he said. One Hillyer Place resident said a nearby house that sold for $245,000 is on the market again for $315,000.
It's the favorite residental and entertainment area for a large number of Washington's gays as well.
It is also the neighborhood where Alice Roosevelt Longworth lives.
Residents point out that Dupont Circle has been stable, both racially and economically, for 30 years. Its 20,000 population is about 42 percent white and 34 percent black.
The current zoning struggle began several yezrs ago when a down-at-the-heels old four-story apartment building, called the Columbine-and owned by the Salvation Army, was sold to developers who planned to build a high-rise building in its place, recalled Hudelson.
The Dupont Circle residents decided they didn't want a high rise in their midst. They planned carefully executed protests-using people like ministers and housewives with children in their demonstrations.
They didn't keep the Columbine from being demolished, but they won a partial victory of sports.
Now, Hudelson noted, "When you walk by that site you won't see a high rise. What you will see are new condominium town houses."
More important, out of that fight over the Columbine grew a feeling "that you can't fight this case by case," Hudelson added. And out of that realization sprang the effort to get their community rezoned before it was too late.
A number of residents and businessmen think a drastic rezoning planned for the Dupont Circle area is not the answer. They say that much of the housing can be preserved using other, less damaging alternatives.
And, Norman M. Glasgow, a zoning attorney who is representing many individuals and businesses who oppose the changes, contends that the citizens coalition fighting for downzoning is a "small elitist group that are upper middle-income who have displaced long-term residents" and who want to keep out "all natural growth."
Their plan, if enacted, will erode the city's tax base, and have a devastatingly adverse impact on real estate taxes, jobs, housing and transit revenues (there is Metro station at 20th and Q streets NW), and will make it more difficult to attract national trade associations to Washington, Glasgow said.
A number of attorneys are scheduled to argue before the zoning commission this afternoon that the hearings should not be held.
Coalition members say they are optimistic and are not worried about all the high-powered legal talent opposing them.
The hearings, Hudelson emphasized, "are nor just about the circle. They are very much about what kind of city the government wants. . .All they can do is babble about the law. We're talking about living-keeping a place that's decent for living. The trend is with us. And if the plan is rejected, we aren't going to go away. We've got staying power."