Two local developers have proposed building a $90 million hotel, office and retail complex at Wisconsin and Western avenues NW, south of the new Friendship Heights subway station and across from Mazza Gallerie.
The new development would consist of an eight- to 10-story building, half of which would be occupied by a 200-room hotel. Office space would occupy the other half, with an atrium in the middle.
The building also would include three levels of shops and 650 underground parking spaces.
The developers, the Donohoe Construction Co. and the Chevy Chase Land Co., have filed a request with the D.C. Zoning Commission to rezone the two-acre site to allow the building, which would be the tallest in the Northwest neighborhood.
Current zoning allows at most a six-story building on the site.
Some residents who live in the residential community of expensive single-family detached houses and who oppose the evolution of Friendship Heights into a downtown-like urban center have organized to fight the rezoning request.
When the area last was rezoned in 1974, community opposition led to a plan that allowed only low-rise development on the District side and pushed all high-rise development up Wisconsin to Montgomery County.
The proposed development is part of a building boomlet that has been triggered by the arrival of Metro service to Friendship Heights, which straddles the Washington-Montgomery County boundary.
A 13-story office building, another development by the Chevy Chase Land Co., is nearing completion atop the subway station.
In the next block, the Quadrangle Development Corp. plans to build a six-story twin-tower office building on the Woodward & Lothrop parking lot, according to Robert Metz, the attorney for the developer and the department store.
Two years ago, Quadrangle abandoned plans to build a 273-room hotel on the site, to avoid a lengthy court battle with residents, said Metz.
The Donohoe project is the first proposed for the District side of Western Avenue.
William Vose, a Donohoe official, said the height of the proposed building was in keeping with the area when compared with some of the buildings on the Maryland side.
"We feel that this is a very good place and it's going to offer so much," Vose said. He added, "I think most people will find it acceptable. Most will find it a showplace, and when friends come to visit they will be glad to show it off."
The proposed building would replace two low-rise branches of National Savings and Trust and First American Bank.
Virginia Sager Spevak, president of the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, said residents are not against all development but oppose the Donohoe project.
"It was just clearly not acceptable to the people at all," said Spevak, who is also chairman of a new ad hoc committee organized to negotiate with Donohoe. "It was simply just too big for the site."
She added, "There's a strong need for residential space. We don't need any more luxurious shops. We have enough . . . . Friendship Heights should never be a downtown urban center, which is what it seems they are trying to turn it into."
Stephen Posniak, the advisory neighborhood commissioner from the area where the development would be located, said, "This is a frontal attack on the zoning as put in place by the Friendship Heights Sectional Development Plan."
Donohoe representatives tried to blunt residents' opposition by meeting with residents to explain their development plans prior to filing the rezoning application.
"I was heartened by the people there," said Whayne Quinn, attorney for the developers, referring to a recent meeting with residents who live behind the site of the proposed project on 43rd Street NW.
"They had good ideas about access. They liked the idea about tying into Metro and they wanted some input as to how the atrium activities would be conducted," Quinn added.
The development proposal calls for using the atrium for entertainment and exhibits.
But Spevak said, "The developer and the neighborhood seem to be very far apart. I don't see how there can be much talking right now."
Spevak added, "Final decisions have not been made, but somebody told me they have looked into a law firm to represent us. The citizens are not going to sit still on this one."
The Donohoe Co., which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, was the codeveloper of Georgetown Park, a shopping mall, and Federal Center Plaza, an office building project in Southwest, plus a number of other developments.
The Chevy Chase Land Co., which is 90 years old, has extensive holdings in in Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase.
The city zoning commission is expected to determine in February if the proposal merits a public hearing.