Developers of a Wisconsin Avenue office building, who began work on a controversial access road Monday night after a court decision in their favor, found themselves confronted by angry neighborhood residents yesterday who stopped the work by blocking the builders' equipment.
After the rather genteel confrontation, in which a protester sat squarely in front of a front-end loader and chatted amiably with project officials, the builders found themselves facing another obstacle: A D.C. Superior Court ruling Monday night allowing the project to go ahead was stayed by the D.C. Court of Appeals, which blocked all work for seven days.
At issue is an access road that the developers, Donohoe Construction Co. and the Holladay Corp., want to build behind their nearly completed five-story office building at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Opponents of the road, which would extend a city street through a grassy entrance to Glover-Archbold Park, formed a group called the Tenley and Cleveland Park Emergency Committee and have fought the project for more than 18 months.
The court battle over the project went on all day. In the morning, Superior Court Judge A. Franklin Burgess modified the order he had issued the previous evening allowing construction. His new ruling allowed the developers to proceed, but without damaging any trees. Later, the D.C. appeals court issued its stay blocking all work for seven days.
As the news changed during the day, so did the mood of the few demonstrators who remained in the disputed area. But the atmosphere was always cordial.
When developer Bob Donohoe walked down the slight hill separating his property from the proposed roadway, he was met by demonstrators Phil Mendelson and Peter Espenschied.
"We are entitled to grade the road," Donohoe said.
"Yes, but you can't disturb anything growing," Mendelson replied.
"Okay, we will not involve ourselves in the tree area," Donohoe said.
Mendelson and Espenschied looked worried at the prospect of work beginning in what they consider their neighborhood park. As Donohoe talked with a reporter, Espenschied strolled to the other end of the site and sat at the one place a front-end loader could enter the park without destroying trees.
When Donohoe, aides and D.C. police approached Espenschied, he refused to move. The front-end loader maneuvered. Donohoe and aides conferred.
Finally Terry Aiken, an official with the Holladay Corp., walked up to Mendelson. "We believe we have the absolute right to work on the road, but you and Peter are so opposed we would like to hold off for a little while," he said. "We think it wise not to send you off to the clinker."
During the hour's truce, Aiken, Donohoe and the police left the park. Before they could return, the D.C. appellate court had ruled in favor of the demonstrators.
Joel Odum, protest group president, called the 11th-hour ruling "a relief. They have given us one more chance and that is what we wanted."
Company officials were unavailable for comment on the ruling.