The redevelopment of a scruffy block at Wisconsin and Western avenues shifts into high gear next month when the D.C. Zoning Commission opens hearings on the second of three large commercial developments near the intersection.
A few months ago the zoning commission rezoned a two-acre tract on the southeastern corner of the intersection to allow the Donohoe Cos. and the Chevy Chase Land Co. to build a $90 million hotel, office and retail complex.
In February the zoning commission will hold further hearings on the Donohoe project to determine the height and size of the buildings, which the developers have proposed making eight to 10 stories.
On January 23, the zoning commission will take up a proposal to rezone the block's middle two-acre tract, owned by the Miller Cos., which also developed Connecticut Connection downtown.
The proposed project will have "seven floors of office space and three floors of retail space," said J. Kirkwood White, attorney for the law firm of Linowes and Blocher, which represents Miller.
"We've presented two housing options to the zoning commission," White said. "One option is to build 16 town houses facing 43rd Street. The second is to build 129 apartment units . . . . The neighbors want town houses and the [D.C.] planning office wants apartments."
Last week the commission received a rezoning application for the third parcel in the block, located across from Mazza Gallerie and the Friendship Heights Metro station.
The three developments are proposed for a block that now contains mostly parking lots. The block is bounded by Wisconsin and Western avenues, Military Road, 43rd and Jenifer streets NW.
An underground roadway would link the three developments, to ease traffic congestion in Friendship Heights, one of the most traffic-laden communities in the area.
"Together, I would assume that these three projects are going to cost $200 to $250 million to build," said Whayne Quinn, an attorney for the law firm of Wilkes, Artis, Hedrick and Lane, which represents two of the developers on the block.
All three projects "will have an underground thoroughfare that will act as a spine for traffic entering the projects," Quinn said.
The underground roadway would be separate from the Metro tunnel system, and "would keep traffic from exiting onto Military Road . . . . There would be exits onto Jenifer Street and Wisconsin Avenue," said Quinn.
The roadway was proposed after citizens complained the complex would cause traffic congestion.
But the internal roadway has not quelled opposition from surrounding homeowners, who have complained to the zoning commission that the three developments would lead to tall buildings that would overshadow their suburban-like neighborhood and add to the mass of cars on its narrow streets.
Last year residents and members of the Friendship Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) formed the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, which met several times with the developers.
The coalition has asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to overturn the decision to rezone the land held by the Donohoe Cos.
"I think the [Zoning Commission] decision was ill-advised and shortsighted," said Matthew Watson, a former D.C. auditor who is the attorney for the coalition.
"There are a number of developments proposed for the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Cumulatively, they will kill the Friendship Heights neighborhood," added Michael Dunham, a member of both the ANC and the coalition.
Last week the Zoning Commission received an application from Abrams and Associates, which wants to build on the southernmost end of the block at Jenifer Street.
No public hearings have been scheduled for that project, which includes a nine-story building with two floors of stores and the rest office space. Quinn represents Donohoe and Abrams and Associates.