More than 40 pickets protesting the Wisconsin Avenue building boom waylaid D.C. Mayor Marion Barry last night, but Barry disarmed the opposition by persuading pickets to lay down their signs and follow him into a neighborhood bar, where he announced steps to control large-scale development in the area.
The picket signs read "Save Wisconsin Avenue" and "Vote Barry Out," but leaders of the protest, who learned yesterday afternoon that Barry would issue an executive order regulating future development, asked angry rank-and-filers not to chant challenging slogans at the mayor and his entourage.
Once inside the Newsroom Cafe, the protesters found themselves among dozens of Barry supporters gathered for a Ward 3 rally.
Many Tenleytown and Friendship Heights residents have criticized Barry because they believe his administration favors developers at the expense of neighborhoods.
Barry's order, which officials said likely will be signed by Friday, could temporarily defuse a political problem in Ward 3 for his campaign for a third term.
The temporary order would mandate new levels of review by the city's Office of Planning for most proposed commercial projects citywide of more than 50,000 square feet, excluding those downtown and on federal property.
"I think it's good news that we intend to take control of the development process," Barry said.
Barry said the order, still being studied by the city corporation counsel's office, was prompted in part by protests over an office- theater project, now under construction at 4000 Wisconsin Ave.
The order would not affect that development or three high-rise office-retail projects proposed for the avenue near Western Avenue.
Fred Greene, the planning office's director, said the order was "interim" and would remain in place at least until after the zoning commission acts on a pending city study of Wisconsin Avenue traffic. The study is expected next month.
The order would provide extra levels of city review and would include projects that developers have an automatic right to build under current zoning.
Carol Currie, a leader of a Wisconsin Avenue area residents group, welcomed the action because it could slow development at a time when residents fear a spurt in building permits in Ward 3.
The order also would require that residents be notified of proposed projects -- something protesters have said the city did inconsistently
In a statement apparently intended to allay concern of developers, Greene said, "This is not a development moratorium. We're not denying any development. We're saying a certain level of development requires a certain level of review."
The city planning office has had this power only over large projects.