More than a dozen projects ranging from office buildings to apartment houses are either under construction or on the drawing boards for a two-mile stretch of Wisconsin Avenue from the upper reaches of Georgetown to Friendship Heights.
Within the next few years this stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, now largely a collection of high-rise apartment buildings and stores in two- and three-story buildings, is expected to gain more than a million square feet of shops, office and hotel space, a 10-screen movie theater complex, a Chinese cultural center and nearly 500 new housing units.
Faced with the surge in development, the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Committee is sponsoring a community meeting tonight to discuss all the development projects. The committee is a citizen watchdog group composed of residents of the suburban-like neighborhoods that flank both sides of Wisconsin Avenue.
Ruth Dixon, the committee chairman, said the group has invited developers and city planners because " . . . the commercial corridor backs right into our residential neighborhoods. There is no buffer zone."
She hopes the meeting, which will be at St. Mary's Armenian Church, 4125 Fessenden St. NW, will provide residents with an overview of the proposed development along the avenue.
"You can fight the devil you know. It's the devil you don't know that you can't fight," said Dixon.
"Kirk White, an attorney representing one of the companies with development plans in Friendship Heights, said, "Most developers want to be good neighbors. They're interested in listening to community concerns. The main problem right now is the fear of the unknown."
The projects now under construction or nearing completion include an apartment building and offices facing each other at Wisconsin and W Street, apartments at McLean Gardens, and an office building that will house a Taiwanese Cultural Center at Wisconsin and Van Ness Street.
But much of the developer interest centers on Friendship Heights, where three developers have office and retail projects planned for the same block, known as square 1661, along Wisconsin between Western Avenue and Jenifer Street across from Mazza Gallerie.
The city's zoning commission is currently holding hearings on a request by the Donohoe Co. and the Chevy Chase Land Co., to rezone a two-acre parcel at Wisconsin and Western to allow construction of a 10-story building that would include offices, a 200-room hotel, three levels of shops and 650 underground parking spaces.
The Miller Co., which built the Connecticut Connection in downtown, plans to develop the adjacent parcel with a mixed development of offices, stores and a third developer has similar plans for the block's corner parcel.
"Wisconsin Avenue is a great area for retail development," said Stuart Miller, senior vice president of the Miller Co. "Especially square 1661, which is considered by the city the gateway to the retail enterprise zone."
City planners, residents, and local developers attribute the wave of development, after a 10-year hiatus, to the opening of the subway line out Wisconsin Avenue, lower interest rates, the greater availability of money and and the adoption of the city's new master plan.
That plan calls for a reduction in the height, size and bulk of new buildings along Wisconsin Avenue at areas such as Tenley Circle, near the subway station and near McLean Gardens around Wisconsin and Newark.
But the reductions are only proposals until they are formally adopted by the city's zoning commission and it is unclear when they will occur. In the meantime, developers can build on the current zoning, which allow larger and taller buildings.
"I believe that developers are moving ahead with plans they had in the works or in the backs of their mind before the city moves with on any existing zoning changes," said Alvin McNeal, the city's chief of long-range planning.
Along Wisconsin Avenue "there will be some substantial reductions in the development that could occur under the present zoning," he said.
Georgetown Day School received city approval recently to build a new high school on a five-acre tract at 42nd and Davenport streets, one block from Wisconsin.
Further south Ted Pedas, owner of the Circle Theatre chain, has already began construction of a 10-screen movie house on the site of the old Sears parking lot, adjacent to the Tenley Circle Metro stop. The theater is scheduled to open next spring.
A block south, American University plans to purchase the eight-acre former site of the Immaculata School at Wisconsin and Nebraska avenues for use as an auxiliary campus.
At Wisconsin and Windom Place, McDonald's plans a new outlet with a sidewalk cafe at the former address of Windsor McKay, a restaurant and bar that closed. And across the street a 7-Eleven will replace the Gulf station.
A five-story office building that will include a Chinese cultural center, is under construction at Van Ness and Wisconsin.
The Holladay Corp. is making plans to replace the Johnson Flower Center, long a community landmark at Wisconsin and Upton Street, with an office and retail complex.
The Washington Home For Incurables intends to tear down an existing 178-bed facility and build a new 189-bed, 140,000-square-foot facility on the southeast corner of Upton Street.
At McLean Gardens, 360 new apartments are under construction. Because they are city-financed, 20 percent of the units must be rented to low- and moderate-income families while the remainder will be rented on the private market.
Just above Georgetown, the American Investment and Management Co. is proposing an 80-unit condominium apartment building at 2141 Wisconsin Ave.
Residents living near Wisconsin Avenue are concerned that the changing landscape will bring more traffic to their quiet streets and attract even more development.
Patricia Wamsley, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing several of these neighborhoods including Cathedral Heights, Cleveland Park and McLean Gardens, said the new developments could "wall off communities with high-rise construction."
Matthew Watson, an attorney for the Friendship Heights ANC that is opposing the rezoning request at Wisconsin and Western, said, "These people aren't antidevelopment. They just feel that it should be done on a smaller scale. Commercial development has a tendency to spread into residential areas. It rarely moves the other way around."