As Jon Woodner surveys the site that may soon be filled with his townhouses, he is smiling. The project design is "so tight that we'll have to heat up the neighborhood, drop the development in, and then let it all cool just so it'll fit," he says. "That's how beautiful it is. I love it."
Not so among its outraged Mount Pleasant neighbors. They spend frustrated hours every week hunting for parking in their already congested neighborhood, wedged between 16th Street and Rock Creek Park, and they're afraid Woodner's beloved project will mean more traffic and parking problems than the area can handle.
They also worry that the average selling price of Woodner's units -- $130,000 -- will attract mostly affluent whites and upset the balance in a neighborhood that is one of the city's best intergrated, both racially -- currently about 40 percent black, 30 percent white and 30 percent Spanish-surname -- and economically -- lawyers live next door to bus drivers.
Woodner's company, namely, The Jonathan Woodner Co., wants to build 52 townhouses in what is now a parking lot and a grove of oaks beside the Woodner Apartments, at 3636 16th St. NW.
The project-Oakwood Commons -- would increase traffic on one street that is now a cul-de-sac. The plans include an 84-space, two-level parking lot that would be built beneath two rows of townhouses. Some two dozen of the century-old oaks would have to be cut, and the project would shoeborn more than 100 people and as many automobiles onto 1.2 acres.
Since Woodner announced his plans 14 months ago, opponents have waged four petition drives against them and convened three angry neighborhood meetings and fired off dozens of letters to city officials.
Still, the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission voted 3 to 1 last month to approve the project. City Councilman David Clarke, whom many in the community expected to oppose Woodner, has taken a neutral position. "He hopes that the two sides can work this out but he hasn't seen any benefit to getting involved himself," Bob Jenkins, Clarke's legislative assistant, explained.
Most of the opposition comes from young working couples who during the past 10 years have bought Victorians and rowhouses in the neighborhood behind the Woodner on Mount Pleasant's Oak Terrace, Oak and 17th streets. They like the neighborly but secluded feeling of the area, they say.
Woodner and his architect, Jesse Weinstein, are confident their plans will be approved. Oakwood Commons awaits a Dec. 3 decision by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment. Woodner and Weinstein expects to begin construction by Thanksgiving, and to open sales by next summer.
A poised former professional race car driver, Woodner, 36, wears cowboy boots with his three-piece suits and shares a Georgetown apartment with the woman he calls "my lady," a chef at a fashionable Dupont Circle restaurant.
His father, Ian, built the Woodner Apartments 30 years ago and still helps to run them.
The younger Woodner says he "knew nothing about real estate" until 2 1/2 years ago when he began working with his father. Oakwood Commons is his first development venture. He says he finds the community's resistance to it "on one level, hard to comprehend.
"We aren't turning renters out in the streets. What we're doing is creating a development which will bring $80 million in property taxes to a city that needs it.
"Today, you've got a parking lot there surrounded by a cyclone fence and a hilly area so steep that the city couldn't even put pavement on the extension of Oak Street. That is not, I submit, a neighborhood asset."
Community opponents claim, however, that Woodner's real interest is in making a buck, not in doing what's best for Mount Pleasant.
"The thing that irritates me is the way he's pulling one structure on top of another. Nowhere else is Mount Pleasant congested and dense like that. He's a very greedy man to do that," Marti Tilton, a biochemist with the National Institutes of Health, said. She and husband George live at 3446 Oakwood Ter. NW.
"He hasn't been willing to compromise on anything that makes a difference," said Anne Waggoner, a Department of Agriculture employe who lives at 3423 Oakwood. "He's been willing to give us pachysandra instead of ivy, but that's all."
The Tiltons, Waggoner and other Woodner opponents say they will appeal a pro-Woodner BZA ruling to D.C. Superior Court, which could delay Oakwood Commons' opening until 1982.
Access to Oakwood Commons would be via 17th Street, Oakwood Terrace and Oak Street.
Alice Hussey, a Treasury Department retiree who has lived at 3451 17th St. NW since 1957, says Oakwood Commons represents danger.
"He's going to put one terrace entrance right on the curve [of 17th], where they're had so many accidents," Hussey said. "It's a steep hill, and they won't be able to see what's coming up and going down."
To Anne Waggoner, the critical problems along Oakwood Terrace is traffic.
Her street is now a block-long cul-de-sac. "Most of the cars we get here are people who are lost," she says.
But under Woodner's plan, Oakwood Terrace would be extended into Oakwood Commons. Although the change would not make Oakwood Terrace a through street, and would provide direct access to only 12 households in the new complex, Waggoner says, "I'd be afraid we couldn't let our kids play ball in the street any more."
Waggoner said she also worries that the block's 25 parking spaces will be in even greater demand than they are now. "We never move our cars after 6 p.m. because there won't be a space when we come back," she said.
Beth Monroe, a child psychologist who lives at 1622 Oak St. NW, is primarily concerned with how well Oakwood Commons will fit in with the rest of Mount Pleasant.
"The way the plans are now, it's going to be . . . a self-contained development that faces in -- that doesn't face the neighborhood," she said.
Monroe is also worried that traffic on her narrow, alley-like street may increase by 100 or more cars daily. Unless Woodner's plan are changed by the zoning board, cars from 40 of the 52 Oakwood Commons units will travel via Oak Street.
An undercurrent of tension between Mount Pleasant homeowners and the 1,100 renters in the Woodner runs through the dispute. Last winter, Woodnger chartered a bus to carry 24 tenants four blocks to attend a community hearing on his project. He was accused of trying to buy support, and of trying to seal his tenants off from the rest of the neighborhood. Woodner says he was merely doing a favor for some tenants he considers friends.
Cladys Mitchell, who chairs the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, added fuel to the fire two weeks ago when she told a zoning board hearing she was about to testify "for everyone in the neighborhood except the people in the Woodner -- they are not concerned about the immediate community."
Mitchell was hissed by Woodner renters, one of whom noted that 100 Woodner tenants have lived there since the building was opened in 1950. Mitchell was also lectured on being a responsible public official by zoning board members Connie Fortune and Walter Lewis.
Jon Woodner says he is convinced that "a sense of community will emerge from all this," and he, literally, will be around to see it. He has already sold the first three-bedroom, $230,000 Oakwood Commons unit overlooking Rock Creek Park -- to himself. CAPTION: Picture 1, Angry Mount Pleasant neighbors have rallied against proposed $3 million Oakwood Commons development. By Gary A. Cameron -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Jon Woodner, Woodner Apartments manager and Oakwood Commons developer. By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, Architect's sketch of proposed Oakwood Commons; Picture 4, George Tilton is an opposition leader. By Gary A. Cameron -- The Washington Post