The Montgomery County Planning Board's approval of a 14-story office tower in Friendship Heights is expected to spark more lawsuits to join the six already filed by Chevy Chase residents opposed to construction of the complex.
Last week the board approved by a 4-to-1 vote plans for the office tower, which will be built over a future Metro bus garage and subway station at the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues.
Attorney Roger Titus, who represents several groups of citizens opposed to the plans said his clients will "probably take further legal action."
The corner, where the subway station is expected to open in 1983, is "a cornerstone to Friendship Heights and we want to see something we'll be proud of, not something jammed in the maximum benefit of the developer and a minium benefit to the citizens of Friendship Heights," said Roland Schuman, chairman of the Friendship Height Coordinating Committee.
Several years ago, Schuman's group fought a zoning case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in a successful attempt to slow down developement in the expensive neighborhood bording the District of Columbia.
The complex of offices and shops planned at Wisconsin and Western avenues is to be built by Chevy Chase Land Co. which, in exchange for air rights having the Metro facilities, is donating part of the land for the Metro project.
"These people are very litigious," commented Charles Dalrymple, referring to the citizens' groups. Dalrymple, who represents Metro and Chevy Chase Land, added, "We're not pleased but there's nothing we can do."
Protesting area residents want a smaller building and contend that present plans will create a traffic hazard around Wisconsin Circle. They maintain the area is already too congested by shoppers driving to Woodward and Lothrop, Mazza Gallerie and the Chevy Chase Shopping Center.
"We may as well rename (Wisconsin Circle) Wisconsin Circus. There'll be a seven-ring circus there," said William Mohler, one of the citizens' group leaders. "It infuriates me. I live there and I use it, my wife uses it and my kids use it. I've seen people hit there."
Planning board members said they hope to persuade the County Council to fund an underground passage to the complex from the Woodward and Lothrop department store to help pedestrians safely cross busy Wisconsin Avenue.
Residents also object to air pollution problems they say could result from the development. At last week's meeting, a county environmental planner said dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and other toxic substance from the diesel bus engines would accumulate in the enclosed station areas.
Planners recommended ventilating the first two floors of the building as well as the bus station, and piping poluted air 80 to 100 feet away from the site.
"Right into my window," sighed Toby Alterman, an area resident.
Citizens have fought the project at every step since it was first proposed last spring. They filed lawsuits after the planning board approved preliminary plans for the multimillion dollar project in June and August.
The suits claim the planning board violated its own procedures when it gave preliminary approval to the project without having detailed traffic plans. Planners had agreed to permit the developers to submit the plans at a later date.
Roger Titus, the citizens' attorney, claims the zoning laws are "vague" about appeal procedures for zoning decisions.
In addition to traffic patterns, residents from the Coordinating Committee of Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase Village criticized details like the height of street lights and the color of the sidewalks planned by the project.
"I don't think you want to see any kind of development there," said Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson. "How is this urban environmetn more unsafe than the one 3,600,000 citizens (of the Washington metropolitan area) encounter daily?"
Hanson and other board members openly expressed impatience with repeated citizen protests throughout the three-hour session at the planning board's Silver Spring headquarters.
One planning board member, exasperated with the drawn-out proceedings, satirized the meeting in a three-page mock press release circulated afterward: "The Montgomery County Planning Board today approved the world's first perfect site plan in the Friendship Heights area. The plan is the product of 40 years of intensive review by the planning board, the applicant's architect, and 4,000 citizens, their lawyers and volunteer experts. The environment created by this building, said planning board chairman Royce Hanson, is significantly better than anything found in the tempory zone."
Planning board member Betty Anne Krahke, who headed the Friendship Heights group when it first objected to the building proposal, last week provided the one dissenting vote.
After casting her vote, Krahnke, who was appointed to the board last summer, said she was not opposed to the building but wanted more detailed plans.
"I really hope this building is a benefit to the community," she said.