A majority of the D.C. Zoning Commission appears headed toward approval of the massive Techworld trade mart for high-tech products across the street from the city's Convention Center, but not without requiring developer Giuseppe Cecchi to make a variety of changes in the design of the complex.
Three of the commission's five members -- Chairman Maybelle T. Bennett, Lindsley Williams and Patricia N. Mathews -- voiced their support for the project during a hearing yesterday.
But they, as well as the commission's other two members, Architect of the Capitol George M. White and National Park Service official John G. Parsons, variously objected to the size of the proposal, a planned six-story bridge over Eighth Street NW and other features.
The commission discussed the controversial complex, which has the enthusiastic support of Mayor Marion Barry, for more than four hours, but took no action, opting instead to continue its debate Thursday afternoon. The $240-million project, which also would include a 910-room Ramada Inn, would be built on the two blocks bounded by Seventh, Ninth, I and K streets NW.
Despite some reservations about the planned 130-foot height of the project, Bennett said, "The promise of this project far outweighs the price we may have to pay. I would be loath to see a project like this not get off the ground."
Williams said, "It should go forward and it should go forward now," while Mathews said the Zoning Commission "ought to find a way . . . to come to terms with this project and then encourage the developer to live with them also."
Cecchi, the developer of the Watergate complex, has contended he needs the six-story passageway bridge starting 65 feet off the ground to connect the two wings of Techworld in order to make the project financially feasible. In addition, he is seeking to build 165,000 more square feet of space in the complex than current zoning would permit.
During one break in the hearing, Cecchi said he was "surprised they're saying we're not willing to compromise when we've already cut two bridges to one, changed the facade" and widened the original proposal for the pedestrian access through the middle of the project along what is now Eighth Street.
After the meeting, Cecchi said he would not submit further compromises before the meeting on Thursday.
"We'll just let it lie and see what their decision will be," he said.
The Smithsonian Institution, the D.C. Preservation League and other groups have vocally protested Cecchi's plans at Zoning Commission hearings that started in November, particularly his plan for the passageway bridge.
These groups claim that the bridge would destroy the Eighth Street vista envisioned in the original L'Enfant plan for development of the nation's capital. The vista now extends from the University of the District of Columbia's Carnegie Library on K Street to the National Museum of American Art on G Street.
White, thumping the dais with his hand, said, "I find it unconscionable that we would destroy the urban design of this city for 30 pieces of silver."
Parsons said that if Techworld includes the bridge it would be "a signal to the development community that we are willing to accept mega-block assemblages" of property for large-scale construction.