One can scarcely imagine a stranger cast of players -- a couple of mystery Arab investors, a D.C. City Council member and a corporation in the Netherlands Antilles. But now they're all involved in the latest fight over the commercialization of Georgetown.
The Arabs, whose names have not been revealed, think the southeast corner of the intersection at Wisconsin Avenue and Reservoir Road NW would make a perfect spot for a small, 41-room luxury hotel. They hired a Georgetown architect, William Cochran, who developed preliminary plans that also include two retail stores, a bar, a coffee shop and underground parking for 23 cars.
Cochran, as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Georgetown, has often opposed further development in the already congested community.
But when he sprung his proposal on Georgetown residents in the past few days, there was an immediate outcry from neighbors of the proposed hotel. Some said they felt Cochran had betrayed them and others simply said they don't want more traffic-generating development in their back yard.
Leading the opposition was normally mild-mannered D.C. Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), who lives on Reservoir Road, a half-block to the rear of the proposed hotel. But she was so angered by the plans that she refused to talk to Cochran about it.
"He dropped a note in my mailbox and asked me to call," Shackleton said. "I didn't and he called me. I said, 'What would I have to say to you?' and so I hung up.
"I'm somewhat surprised," she said of Cochran. "Here's this guy who goes on about saving Georgetown. This would damage it very much."
For his part, Cochran said he was miffed by the reaction the plan has drawn.
"I'm a little disappointed," he said. "I've spent a number of years in service to the community and always listen when someone calls at 10:30 on Sunday night about not having a parking sticker. Even when I called her, she hung up the phone on me."
Cochran called the plans "just concept. There's been no decision" to go ahead with the development.
But he said city officials have told him the planned hotel "is well within the zoning" regulations for the site, now occupied by three stucco, brick and wood buildings that have apartments and vacant stores in them.
Cochran said the buildings would be "extensively renovated" and new construction added to the rear.
"It's not a Holiday Inn," he said. "I have opposed development that is in excess of existing zoning."
Cochran explained his plan at a meeting of the Citizens Association of Georgetown on Monday night, but declined to identify the investors behind it.
"I said they're Arabs, confirming their worst fears," he said, divulging only that the investors have formed the Aramus Corp. in the Netherlands Antilles. Officials could not be reached in the West Indies nation.
Yesterday, Cochran said there are other investors as well, but that "I don't know who half of them are."
Shackleton described the proposal as "completely out of scale for the area. One of the worst problems would be the traffic. To have a parking garage would absolutely block everything. The whole neighborhood is very upset."
One of Shackleton's neighbors, retired attorney Alexander B. Hawes, complained that the additional development to the rear of the existing buildings "would mean the elimination of open space," even though only the tops of trees can now be seen from Reservoir Road from behind a six-foot-high brick wall.
The Georgetown citizens' group has passed a resolution against the project, as has the Georgetown Architectural Review Board, an advisory panel to the Commission of Fine Arts. The commission, the arbiter for architectural design in Georgetown and the federal parts of Washington, is scheduled to consider the proposal this morning.