A blue ribbon citizens advisory committee proposed new guidelines yesterday for development in downtown Washington, including a transformation of F Street NW, once the city's main shopping area, into a corridor dominated by office buildings.
The report of the 85-member panel, issued after nearly a year of study, proposed similar development along Seventh Street NW, another major commercial corridor until the 1968 riots.
The plan, a first step toward completion of a master development and land-use plan for the city in general and downtown in particular, anticipates five major department stores along F Street between Ninth and 15th streets NW, two of which are already there.
But other retail development on the strip would be limited to the ground floors or underground levels of office structures.
The report by the Mayor's Downtown Committee also proposed creation of a powerful new agency--part public and part private--to oversee development between the Capitol and the White House.
The agency would have its own trash collection, police, and transportation systems and also would be empowered to offer businesses incentives for locating or building downtown and also to bring businesses together for joint development projects.
The report recommends that the agency have broad powers over planning in the area to coordinate such things as zoning, architectural design and historic preservation.
Barry said yesterday, however, that the exact powers of the new panel are uncertain, because many of those outlined now rest with other agencies, such as the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Office of Planning and Development, the Fine Arts Commission and National Historic Trust. A change in the city charter would be necessary to give those powers to the new agency, Barry said.
"This is not a plan lightly designed," Barry said as he unveiled the plan at his monthly press conference. "It is a sophisticated, complex effort taking into consideration the broadest range of considerations and factors."
Luther H. Hodges Jr., chief executive officer of the National Bank of Washington and chairman of the downtown committee, said the group worked with the goal of creating a downtown area that would attract people at night as well as during the work day.
"Many cynics and critics of the private sector look at the cranes in the air over the downtown and say the city doesn't need a plan and added bureaucracy for developing downtown," Hodges said. "But we wanted a plan for development to avoid sterile office-complex development that might come over time without some structure."
Hodges specifically cited plans in the panel's proposals for several hotels and restaurants in the downtown area, which he said would provide many city residents with entry-level and blue-collar jobs. Hodges said those hotels and restaurants might not be located downtown without some incentive and plan for them to be there.
The plan will be reviewed by city agencies and community groups and can then be implemented, with or without changes. The City Council has no role in the adoption of the plan.
Although the City Council will not review the downtown plan separately, it will examine it as part of the city's long awaited comprehensive plan for land use and development, which was supposed to be completed years ago but has still not been finished.
Yesterday's report drew immediate criticism from city planning activists.
"F Street is the city's traditional retail strip," said Ann Hughes Hargrove, a member of the downtown committee who said she opposes much of the plan. "There is plenty of space for office building development in this city. There's no need to spread them out all over downtown.
"All this plan does is allow developers to speculate downtown because now the whole thing is up for grabs," Hargrove added. "Without zoning against office buildings in any area now, developers can build wherever they want to and they are going to build office buildings and more office buildings to make the most profits."
Carol Currie, head of the Citizens Planning Coalition, said, "My understanding is that the report is a complete sham of an attempt to create a downtown that isn't the same as K Street."
John Woodson, another committee member and planning activist, said he does not oppose the plan but feels it should have included stronger language against development of a downtown with more office space.
"The argument against this report," said Woodson, "is that it creates a downtown that is no better than K and L Street now, and they are grand canyons at night with nothing going on but wildlife--and by that I mean crime."