A plan to build a private high school and athletic field just off upper Wisconsin Avenue has split the neighborhood, gaining the support of some residents and raising the ire of others.
The two sides clashed for nine hours last week at a hearing before the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA), which must decide whether to issue the special exception that Georgetown Day School needs to build on the five-acre residentially zoned tract.
Opponents testified that the school, which would be built between between River Road, 42nd, Chesapeake and 43rd streets NW, would bring noise, litter, traffic and parking problems and would be an unwelcome intrusion into the quiet community.
Supporters testified that the school, which was founded in 1945, would be an asset to the community because of its reputation for quality education and that students, who are allowed to leave the school for lunch, would not disrupt the neighborhood. They added that the school would be preferable to commercial development on the site.
The depth of the community division over the school was highlighted at the hearing when two members of the Friendship Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commission spoke -- one in support of the school, the other in opposition. The ANC had voted 3 to 2 in March to oppose the project.
"The 3-to-2 vote represents a very strong division within the community on this issue," said Erling Hansen, the ANC vice chairman, who supports the school. ANC commissioner Michael Dunham, who spoke in opposition, agreed with that analysis.
Gladys Stern, director of Georgetown Day School for 10 years, said after the hearing, "I don't think that this school in particular will distress anybody . . . . Our adolescents will be their friends and not their enemies."
Georgetown Day School, a well-known private school with grades from prekindergarten to high school, is now in two buildings on MacArthur Boulevard NW, but there is no expansion space, according to school officials.
The new three-story brick high school would front on Davenport Street in front of the Safeway parking lot. The school would grow from 330 students to 410 and for the first time would have its own athletic field, school officials said.
Early last year it appeared that the community would welcome its new neighbor. The Friendship Heights ANC organized an ad hoc 19-member committee in to help ease the school's move into the community. But at the committee's first meeting three members spoke against the school but were told the committee was to help the school.
The three resigned and formed their own group called Concerned Citizens-Friendship Tenley (CCFT) to oppose the school.
Opponents were further irritated when the ANC posted notices saying the school owned the five-acre site known in the community as the Harry tract, which "led many residents to believe the school was a fait accompli, so why bother to fight it?" said Joseph Mascolo, temporary chairman of the CCFT.
Lewis Parker, grandson of John Harry and one of the three trustees of the Harry Family Trust, which owns the tract, said the final sale of the property "is contingent on the school getting the zoning exception . . . . If that happens the deed will be transferred to the school within three months."
Most supporters agreed with William Jordan, chairman of the ANC's ad hoc committee and a neighbohood resident.
"I think Georgetown Day School is clearly going to have an impact on the neighborhood . . . . The reason I support the school is that I prefer it to what I believe to be the likely development there; the two most likely kinds of development in my mind are high density or some sort of light commercial," Jordan said.
He added, "The ad hoc committee tried to look into all the complaints we received about the school and for the most part complaints about Georgetown Day School turned out to be without basis . . . .
"Clearly there's going to be more noise and more traffic and maybe isolated incidents of misconduct by the students there, but Georgetown Day School has shown it's very willing to work with neighbors, and I suspect they'll continue to do so."
The edge of the athletic field would be 20 feet from neighboring back yards, according to school officials, and 16 feet according to residents. The school said it would plant trees and shrubbery in the buffer area.
"With or without trees, 16 feet is not a very good buffer for a high school," said Robert Sprowls, an architect who has designed high schools. "My front door is 150 feet from the playing field . . . . School officials say they may use the field for baseball -- I can forsee baseballs being batted out into River Road or into someone's back yard."
At last week's hearing Stern said the school would have 67 parking spaces and would use its athletic field for overflow parking during school events. But a school representative said that parking would be banned if the field was wet.
James Brooks, a Safeway representative, said that the store parking lot would be used by students and parents: "Do you really think parents will park on an unlit track when they could park in a lighted [Safeway] parking lot next to the school?"