It's a familiar script. A fast-food chain announces plans to open a store in a largely residential neighborhood. Alarmed residents circulate petitions. Elected officials write anguished letters. But, most of the time, the store opens anyway.
The scenario is being played out now in North Cleveland Park, in the case of a Burger King going up at 4422 Connecticut Ave. NW. A strong, organized citizen group is fighting to halt construction, which began in March and paused only briefly when the opposition drew the court system into the fight.
The proposed Burger King would be the first national fast-food restaurant out Connecituct Avenue, an area of middle-class, stately apartment houses; private homes for $125,000 and up, and full-service restaurants that tend to serve coq au vin, not cheeseburgers.
"We're worried that Connecticut Avenue is going to become another Route 1 -- with alternating McDonalds," Frank Higgins, North Cleveland Park's Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, explained. "Mostly, though, people are simply angry that they weren't consulted.
"I've got old ladies calling me up who want to go demonstrate," he adds to illustrate the scope of the battle. "They don't do that every day. They're mad."
The source of their anger plans 158 seats on four levels, plus, an especially hot item, drive-through service. It's owner, BB&H Joint Ventures, a Bethesda franchisee of the Miami-based Burger King chain, expects to open in August.
BB&H anticipates more than 1,000 customers a day, the largest share students at the nearby University of the District of Columbia. Company officials estimate the store will gross more than $750,000 a year, about 25 per cent more than the average fast-food outlet.
"But not if we have anything to say about it," enjoins Ron Shiflett, 27, another of the area's Advisory Neighborhood commissioners. "And let me tell you, we've got a lot to say about it."
Under the leadership of Shiflett, a crewcut legislative assistant to Sen. James McClure (D-Idado), and Higgins, a silver-haired K Street investment executive, The Burger Battle has been waged for five months.
Backing up their complaints about increased traffic, litter and crime, neighborhood residents raised more than $2,500 toward legal fees, and sued BB&H in the D.C. Court of Appeals to block construction. The suit is pending.
They organized a committee of area residents and businessmen and won a 30-day revocation of BB&H's building permit. District government granted the revocation in March because of a clerical error that kept the ANC from learning of BB&H's plans before construction began. The permit since has been reinstated, an appeal has failed and construction has resumed.
The committee has also lobbied major landlords along Connecticut Avenue to agree not to lease space to other fast-food places. The committee won such an agreement from Prudential Insurance, which plans to build a $21 million office complex at Connecticut and Yuma Street next year. The building will contain 47,250 square feet of ground-level retail space, logical territory for fast-foodery.
To Higgins, the chief drawbacks of the proposed Burger King are the prospect of unsavory loiterers and of traffic.
"Let's face it," he says. "Fast-food restaurants tend to breed the kind of loitering ground that produces not necessarily the most wholesome kind of people.This is a great neighborhood, with decent people. We don't want that here."
BB&H expects half its customers to use the drive-through lane, Higgins notes.
"That's be bad enough," he says. "But immediately to the north, on the same side of the street, you've got a busy car wash and one of the cheapest gas stations in the city where there are always lines and cars going in and out."
"It's going to be pedestrian polo out there.
"And it's going to be especially bad because of who lives in the neighborhood. Have you been in Van Ness Center (a nearby 1,524-unit apartment complex) lately? They aren't exactly kiddies in there."
Natalie Glassman, who lives at 4545 Connecticut Ave. NW., a block from the Burger King site, is upset about the litter prospect. "This whole neighborhood is going to become a sea of hamburger wrappers," she said. "I'm just sick about it."
"You know who goes to fast-food restaurants," asks her companion, Mildred Kantrowitz, of 3001 Veazey Terrace NW. "Drunks and kids and low-class people. People who can't afford to cook or eat in a nicer place."
Meanwhile, because the proposed Burger King site plans only 26 parking spaces, including those reserved for employes, nearby business owners are worried about overflow.
"I know damn well where a lot of those customers of theirs are going to park," Richard Coloney, manager of the Connecticut Inn, a motel with a 200-space lot 30 yeards from the site, predicts.
"Besides, I don't have a rodent or pest problem now, but I can imagine them bringing one. And what's it going to do for my business to have people spending $40 or $50 for a room and smelling hamburgers all day?
Robert Stumber, attorney for the committee that took BB&H to court, said the Burger King's heavy emphasis on drive-through trade will "inevitably lead to noise and refuse problems."
"People from outside the neighborhood are going to be attracted to this place, and people from outside a neighborhood are simply not as careful as people inside it. That's human nature," Stumberg said.
Although he said, "the merit of the case is clearly in our favor," Stumberg does not expect to win it. If they lose, he said, there are not further legal avenues to pursue.
Art Lister, director of operations for BB&H, said he and his partners "never anticipated any problems" with North Cleveland Park residents when they bought the Burger King site (it had been an employe parking lot) in 1977 from WJLA-TV 7.
"We couldn't conceive of it," Lister said. "It seemed to be an active commercial area with a good mix. We frankly felt that whatever we did was going to enhance the area, not detract from it."
For those reasons, "it never occurred to us to notify the community. And until they opposed us, I'd never heard of an ANC," Lister said.
He vehemently denied that pedestrians would be endangered by traffic entering and leaving his restaurant. Its design "includes a system to accommodate the kind of traffic we expect. We're going to have a fast, efficient drive-through system. We're not going to be creating any significant traffic problems."
Nor, he said, will his Burger King contribute to litter in the area.
"We don't like a Burger King cup laying in the gutter any more than people in the neighborhood, because it's bad for our business," Lister said. "Within reasonable limits, we'll police the area." As for crime and loiterers, "we'll do whatever the situation demands to keep them out.
"We're bringing something to the neighborhood that doesn't exist. It's as much to the community's advantage as they think it's to their disadvantage," Lister said.
More than 6,000 college students attend classes within a five-minute walk of the proposed store -- most at UDC, but hundreds at Howard University Law School and Trinity College as well. Wilson High School, a certain haven of burger lovers, is less than a mile to the west.
When it opens in 1982, the Prudential building is expect to house more than 3,000 employes. More than 650 people work in the Van Ness Center office building. Another 300 work in the National Bank of Washington office building, a block away.
Eighteen foreign chanceries are under construction next to the UDC campus. So is the Intelsat office building. And in December 1981, the Van Ness station, two blocks from the Burger King site, will become one terminus of Metro's Red Line. That should bring more than 20,000 commuters a day, and perhaps more, into the area.
Meanwhile, Burger King has no fast-food competition near Connecticut and Albemarle Street -- and none is expected soon.
According to company officials and analysts, neither McDonald's nor Roy Rogers, Burger King's chief competitors, had immediate plans to locate on the Connecticut Avenue corridor.
"We anticipate a long, successful business relationship with the neighborhood," Lister said.He "regrets" the "semi-hostile" attitude of Shiflett, Higgins and the citizens and business owners' committee, he said, "but we look forward to showing them that we'll run a good business."
"I'm sure of two things," Lister said. "One, if this was a town house or an office building we were putting up, they never would have objected. And two, we'll probably see a lot of the ones who don't like us now eating our hamburgers pretty soon."