Jim Dougherty, a government lawyer and local conservation activist, acknowledged that it was not the most rugged of camping expeditions. But then again, how often does the Sierra Club set up camp off Wisconsin Avenue between a shopping mall, a Roy Rogers restaurant and a Pepco station?
"We've got our beach chairs right here," said Dougherty, who helped arrange yesterday's "camp-in" protest by more than 100 people who are opposed to the large office-theater complex under construction at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW. "In case it rains, Metro's only three blocks away. At least we don't have extension cords and VCRs."
Yesterday's rally, on city-owned property off Van Ness Street near Wisconsin, was organized by the Sierra Club and the Tenley and Cleveland Park Emergency Committee. The groups are protesting the office project and a proposed road that will cut across the city property where they are camping. The development has become a key political issue in Ward 3.
About 30 protesters said they would camp every day until Sunday to make their points.
"I have to go to work during the day," said Eric Anderson, a Sierra Club activist who works in McLean as a software engineer. "I'll have to get up a bit early to catch a shower at home on Capitol Hill before going to work." Glancing at the traffic jam nearby on Van Ness Street, Anderson added: "It's not exactly the Shenandoah Valley."
Critics of the Wisconsin development have turned their attention to the proposed roadway because it is one of the last legal recourses they have against the complex. If the developers are prevented from building the road, which would help divert traffic from the already congested Van Ness, they would have difficulty arranging street access to their project.
The city has granted the developers, the Donohoe Cos. and Holladay Corp., a permit to build the road. Last week residents asked a D.C. Superior Court judge to prohibit the city from allowing the roadwork.
The protesters say they oppose the planned road because the property is adjacent to the north end of Glover-Archbold Park, a wooded federal parkland.
Sierra Club members said it was the first time in memory that the city has allowed camping on city property. Under a negotiated agreement, the Sierra Club had to say it would bear insurance liability.
Protesters criticized Mayor Marion Barry yesterday for what they say is his bias for the developers. Last week, the mayor calmed some of them by promising a new multiple-level city review of large office projects. They were not appeased, however, because Barry's executive order does not apply to the Wisconsin project. "The mayor says to us, 'I'm with you, but my hands are tied,' " said Phil Mendelson, a local activist. "He's been saying that for months, and he's been issuing building and road permits."
One of the movement's stars, Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, appeared for yesterday's demonstration.
"I'm a neighbor, and I think this is a wonderful idea," said Joan Mondale. "Wisconsin Avenue is going to look just like Bethesda."
Four candidates for a council seat in Ward 3 alsoattended, each opposing the complex.
Ward 3 Council candidate Mary Draper Janney announced she was camping with the others.
"I've got my tent, and my sleeping bag, and my aspirin," she said.