The D.C. Zoning Commission has decided not to adopt a plan that Friendship Heights residents have sought for more than five years to protect their area from excessive commercial development.
"We're not rejecting (the contents of) the plan" Commission Chairman Walter B. Lewis said recently. "We're just the wrong body (to act on it) and it's presumptive of us to tell the (D.C. City) Council and the mayor how to plan." He said phase two of the proposed sectional development plan is not within the commission's purview because it does not deal with zoning.
The final commission action last week followed a bearing in October, at which commission members had indicated they would not adopt the plan.
John Engel, president of the 1,300-member Friendship Neighborhood Coalition in Northwest Washington, said the Zoning Commission's failure to adopt the overall plan means citizens "will have to face developers in fire fights on a case-by-case, lot-by-lot basis."
At the annual FNC membership meeting recently, Engel said that without a specific plan for commercial development compatible with neighborhood interests, "the void in planning" will result in poecemeal growth that is likely to favor developers.
Engel added that failure by the commission to act on phase two of the Friendship Heights plan has "implications for other parts of the city like Tenley Circle. Adams-Morgan and Anacostia," where citizens also are working on area development plans. Without commission adoption, he said, guidelines in such plans have less force.
Ben Gilbert, director of the D.C. Municipal Office, which has worked with residents and developers in drawing up the phase two proposal, agreed that without adoption the plan "won't have as much clout ." But he said a document "summarizing and synthesizing" the goals and the background of the plan will be placed on public record and sent to the mayor's office, the Zoning Commission and other agencies.
"We want to give the plan as much status, color and force" as possible, Gilbert said, adding that it will be used as a reference and guide in further development of Friendship Heights.
Friendship Heights includes the intersection at Wisconsin and Western avenues, a valuable and prestigious commercial district where construction for a future Metro shop is underway. Residents in surrounding neighborhoods in Maryland and the District have fought for several years against unchecked growth that would bring more traffic, noise and air pollution into the already busy area.
In 1973, residents proposed a two-part sectional developement plan to ensure balanced expansion that would not destroy community life in the area. Phase one sought to "downzone" heavily commercial areas to include both residential and business zoning and was adopted by the Zonning Commission in 1974.
No agreement was reached on phase two, which deals with elements such as buffer zones between homes and commercial properties, green spaces, traffic patterns and density. A phase two plan drawn up by the D.C. Municipal Planning Office in January was opposed by residents because they felt it favored developers. Recently, the office devised a plan more acceptable to residents because the sections considered pro-developer were "softened," said Engel.
In deciding not to act on phase two, Lewis pointed out that the Zoning Commission already had acted on the zoning elements in the plan, but that making decisions on "parks and bikeways was completely beyond the purview of the commission."
At the FNC meeting, Engel told residents that "the future is going to be a challenge in ascertaining what developers will do. We will be have to be very dilligent" in watching individual actions by commercial interest.
The group cheered when Polly Bloedorn, the Maryland chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Friendship Heights, reported that Maryland residents have won all 12 suits brought by developers to challenge the down-zoning provided by the sectional development. "The last suit was withdrawn by the developers" in October, she said.
On other area issues, FNC members learned that:
Appeals have been filed to remove the Class B wine and beer license from Rodman's Drug Store and the liquor license from the Godfather, a neighborhood bar.
A brief has been filed in the Court of Appeals opposing further expansion of Safeway and its parking lot at 4840 42nd St. NW.
The number of out-of-city cars parking on Friendship Heights streets has been reduced from a daily average of 713 in 1976 to 293 in 1978 as a result of the residential parking permit program.