A team of developers tried to persuade the District zoning commission yesterday to approve plans for a $90 million hotel, office and retail complex near Wisconsin and Western avenues NW, south of the new Friendship Heights subway station and across from Mazza Gallerie.
Residents of the Friendship Heights area, which straddles the boundary between the District and Montgomery County, complained that the new development was too tall and too big and would increase the already heavy flow of traffic through the intersection and into their surrounding well-kept and expensive residential neighborhoods.
The arguments came as the zoning commission began hearings on a request from the Donohoe Construction Co. and the Chevy Chase Land Co., the developers, to rezone a two-acre triangular tract to allow the proposed 10-story building that would include offices, a 200-room hotel, three levels of shops and 650 underground parking spaces.
The current zoning allows buildings about half the size of the proposed one on the site, which is bordered by Wisconsin Avenue, Military Road and Belt Road NW.
William Vose, spokesman for the Donohoe Co., the principal contractors in the project, opened the debate by telling the five-member commission that the project would "generate $5 million in additional city revenues . . . provide 1,600 jobs" and create an impressive west side "gateway" to Washington at its border with Montgomery.
"There is a demand for retail space in the area," Vose said. "That location gives us a great opportunity to complete the intersection," he said. Vose was referring to a 13-story office building that has been built atop the subway station, by the Chevy Chase Land Co., in Montgomery County.
In the adjacent block two high-rise buildings are planned on the current parking lot of the Woodward & Lothrop department store, also in Montgomery County. A short distance to the north on Wisconsin Avenue, two high-rise condominiums are being built just outside Chevy Chase.
But a half-dozen lawyers and civic leaders representing various community groups in the area took vigorous issue with the developers.
"The bottom line is that the project covers far too much and would surely create traffic congestion," said attorney Frances E. Francis, a spokeswoman for a citizens group called the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition. "The combination of the bulk size of the project and traffic would do in all of the residential qualities of our neighborhood," she said.
Stephen Posniak, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from the Friendship Heights area said, "We don't oppose development there. Our basic concern is that we don't think it is necessary for there to be a rezoning."
Developers and residents from the surrounding neighborhoods have battled over the size and amount of new development in Friendship Heights for more than 15 years. In 1974 the city finally adopted a new master plan to guide development in the area. 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.
Nate Gross, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of Planning, said the city generally supported the project but that it should be slightly smaller. Gross testified that the city could benefit from the construction project because the site "is underutilized." CAPTION: Map, Development sites dot area around land eyed by Donohoe Construction and Chevy Chase land companies. By Brad Wye -- The Washington Post; Picture, Model of proposed $90 million hotel, office, and retail complex slated for site near Wisconsin and Western avenues. By F. Harlen Hambright