A brightly colored poster in the lobby of the Washington Sheraton calls the hotel and convention center, now in the midst of major expansion and refurbishment, "the only hotel of its kind on earth."
Residents of Woodley Park, the adjacent community of about 7,500 people, have other ways of describing the 16-acre site, which until recently was called the Sheraton Park Hotel.
"Games and tricks, that's all we've seen from" Sheraton officials, said Bobbi Carroll, a member of the Woodley Park Community Association. "They say they now have the biggest convention facility on the East Coast.So why haven't they planned accordingly?"
Sheraton officials and members of the community are at odds over parking facilities on hotel property.
There are presently about 580 parking spaces in two garages and a small lot. Hotel officials say this number is sufficient to accommodate guests and staff. Woodley Park residents, who often have difficulty finding a place to park near their homes when a hotel function is taking place, say the real need is closer to 1,000 spaces.
The number of rooms in the hotel will increase from 1,421 to 1,540 as a result of expansion, "but these figures include living rooms and kitchens in suites, and other rooms that can't be rented separately without a bedroom," said John Young, senior vice president of the Sheraton Corporation.
"The level of business and the occupancy rates will not be a lot different than in the past," he continued. "We have enough parking spaces now, and the District of Columbia) zoning administrator has backed us up on this. But we're willing to look for other solutions to help out the neighborhood."
According to James Fahey, the D.C. zoning administrator, the present 580 spaces do conform with city law. A hotel must provide one parking space for every two sleeping rooms. It is not required to have additional space to accommodate guest at banquet, meeting or exhibition halls, even though users of these rooms might not be overnight guests.
A task force made up of four community groups has concluded that the solutions the Sheraton officials have offered to date are unworkable. Members of the Woodley Park Community Association (WPCA); the Cleveland Park Association; the Saint Thomas Apostle Parish Council, at 2700 Woodley Road, and the ANC-3C have worked together since 1976 -- observing traffic patterns at the hotel, studying D.C. zoning regulations and negotiating with Sheraton officials.
"Of course we would prefer that none of this traffic congest our streets at all, but we have to be realistic," said William Carroll, chairman of the task force and WPCA president. "Our premise is that the Sheraton will be used more as a convention center than as a hotel, or at least as much. And, in that case, the hotel should have between 900 and 1,100 spaces."
Until this summer, the Sheraton plan was to tear up the lawn on the Woodley Road side of the site and build a new parking lot there. The area, dotted with old trees, forms a buffer between the hotel and the Woodley Park neighborhood.
"We didn't think a residential street should have to look like a shopping center lot," said Lindsley Williams, a task-force member and outgoing chairman of ANC-3C. "We called that the 'Sheraton Park-ing,' not the 'Sheraton Park.'"
Hotel officials bowed to community pressure. They then sought a variance from the city to paint over the present parking area and make more spaces by alternating standard-sized spaces (9 by 19 feet) with smaller ones (7 by 17 feet). Valets would be hired to help park the cars during peak hours.
"Human experience makes that crazy," said Carroll. "If your're driving a Fiat and you see a space for an LTD, you're not going to pass it up and look for a smaller space. Besides, the valets wouldn't be able to handle the volume of traffic for a banquet, for example, when there would be hundreds of people arriving and leaving at the same time."
A public hearing to consider the variance for different-sized spaces was to have been held yesterday before the Bureau of Zoning Adjustment, but hotel officals requested that the hearing be postponed until December.
In a meeting with members of the task force, Young agreed that the "paintbrush appoach" was not feasible and has hired a professional traffic consultant to study alternatives.
Young says he hopes the consultant will have an alternative plan by next month. The task force is willing to wait until then, but many residents are expressing impatience with a situation that they say will be aggravated next spring with completion of the hotel and convention center.
"Our streets are full now," said Jonathan Blair, who has lived on Woodley Place since 1973. "We're underspaced and it's getting worse."
"The (Sheraton) guests will also be put out," said Bobbi Carroll. "They'll be forced to circle the streets to find a place to park, just like us. The hotel has a responsibility toward the guests and the neighborhood, and they're ignoring us both."