The Citizens Association of Georgetown, charging that the historic neighborhood's restored Market House illegally has been permitted to become chiefly a fast-food emporium, filed suit yesterday seeking to force the city to turn it back into a market selling such traditional items as produce and poultry.
In a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court, the citizen group charged that the District government approved a proposed lease of the market's basement for a restaurant and bar despite a 1974 opinion by the city's top legal officer that this would violate a 1966 act of Congress.
The Market House, at 3276 M St. NW, is a city-owned structure built in 1865 that for many years was occupied by an automobile parts firm. The 1966 law, sought by the citizens' association, approved its restoration and operation as a public market, specifically for farm produce and specialty foods.
The building was leased in 1977 to Market House Co., a firm controlled by the Western Development Corp., a major developer in Georgetown and elsewhere. Last September, D.C. acting general services director Harold T. Henson approved a transfer of the lease to a related new firm, Market House Associates, Ltd., which plans to lease the basement to the Stouffer Corp. for a restaurant if its pending application for a liquor license is approved.
Richard deC. Hinds and Mary B. Coe, lawyers for the citizens' association, said 13 of the 16 tenants in the market are engaged wholly or partly in selling meals or snacks.
The complaint cited a 1974 opinion signed by C. Francis Murphy, then D.C. corporation counsel, advising the then-head of the city's General Services Department that "the existence of a restaurant on such property would not be permitted under the 1966 law."
Murphy, now in private law practice, represented Western Development in the recent lease transfer. He said yesterday that he did not recall the 1974 opinion, which was prepared by a staff attorney, and voluntarily has dropped out of the restaurant proposal.
Richard B. Kabat, counsel for Western Development, which also was named as a defendant in the suit, said the market is a "first-class job, and everything we have done is with the consent and approval of the District of Columbia."
D.C. Corporation Counsel Judith W. Rogers said, "I haven't seen the court papers. It's our policy not to comment on pending litigation."