The Sheraton Park Hotel and its Woodley Park neighbors have been ordered back to the bargaining table by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment.
BZA chairman Leonard McCans told both sides to try again to reach a compromise on the number of parking spaces the hotel -- which houses the largest convention complex in the city -- should provide and to report back to the board on Feb. 27.
The original hotel was built in 1918 by Harry Wardman, who also developed the surrounding Woodley Park neighborhood.
The hotel has sicne been taken over by the ITT -- Sheraton Corporation and has booked an increasing number of conventions. Last year, Sheraton began demolishing the old hotel and replacing it with a facility with twice as much convention and exhibit space.
Under a decision made by the city's zoning board lenging in hearings before the zoning board, the hotel was required to provide 579 parking spaces. That decision is being challenged in hearings before the zoning board by a task force of Woodley Park citizens. The hotel has 1,366 rooms and suites and 167,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space.
The citizens group claim that the hotel frequently hosts meetings attended by people who are not hotel guests and should therefore have about 1,200 spaces.
The task force also contends the Sheraton Park is now a commercial convention center which, according to hotel brochures, can accomodate more than 35,000 people at once at meetings and dinners. Because it is a convention center, the hotel should not be permitted in a residential zone, the task force contends.
Because the hotel's parking facilities are inadequate, according to neighbors, people who attend hotel functions clog neighborhood streets and block alleys and driveways. Moreover, the hotel's neighbors claim that Sheraton officials, in announcing plans for the rebuilding of the hotel in 1976, said there would be parking for about 900 cars.
Whayne Quin, attorney for the hotel, said that by rearranging spaces in the parking garage, the hotel would provide 700 spaces. He added that if the BZA gave permission for some spaces smaller than regulation size, and for valet and stack parking arrangemens at certain times, the number could be raised to almost 800.
William H. Carroll, chairman of the community task force that has been negotiating with the hotel since 1976, called the hotel's offer "much too low.
"They recently had the photography show and the Touchdown Club dinner at the hotel on the same day," Carroll said in an interview. "There were 2,500 people in the ballroom and all of them drove -- and parked on our streets.
On these and other grounds, the community is appealing the city's decision to grant a building permit for the reconstruction of the hotel in a resdential neighborhood. But community leaders say they don't want the city to tear down the new $50 million hotel, which is now 90 percent completed.
"One doesn't tear down a volcano once it's erupted," said the community's lawyer, Jack Heller. "You try to conain the damage."
Quin asked the board to dismiss the citizen's appeal on the grounds that it was not filed until after Sheraton had begun construction and spent millions of dollars.
Task force leaders countered that they did not want to take legal action until they were convinced no compromise was possible. Carroll said the community lost faith in reaching a compromise last summer when the hotel showed plans that called for only 750 parking spaces -- more than 100 of them on the hotel's front lawn, in spite of an earlier representation that the park-like atmosphere of the old Sheraton would be retained.
"They could solve their problem and our problem by building a new parking garage," said Woodley park resident Lucille Buchanan. "They have room for one next to the ballroom. They say they haven't got the money, but then they hire the most expensive lawyer in town."
Quin said a new parking garage would cost about $3 million and represent a net gain of only about 40 spaces.
Carroll said the task force would continue negotiating with the hotel in good faith but called the BZA's action "very disappointing.
"The building permit was clearly issued in violation of the regulations," said Carroll, adding that the community would press its appeal to have the building permit revoked if no compromise is reached by Feb. 27.