D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, expressing a desire to preserve neighborhood commercial areas, called yesterday for a reduction in the size and bulk of future construction along upper Connecticut Avenue.
Activists from the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park neighborhoods hailed Barry's stand, set forth in a 72-page report to the D.C. Zoning Commission, because it echoed a number of their proposals to discourage large-scale development.
The report by the city's Office of Planning must be considered by the Zoning Commission, which is scheduled to take it up tomorrow. The commission is considering pending applications by neighborhood groups to downzone retail areas in Woodley Park and Cleveland Park.
Upper Connecticut Avenue is composed mostly of large apartment buildings, with a few retail areas in between. It has not seen the real estate speculation or boom in office construction that Wisconsin Avenue has witnessed.
Developer representatives condemned Barry's stand, contending that it limits the rights of property owners and could discourage construction of housing along retail strips that are on top of Metrorail stations.
The planning office report endorsed a special zoning plan resembling the February downzoning of about 12 blocks of nearby Wisconsin Avenue. Developers had bitterly denounced that action as well, with at least one calling it "zoning by plebiscite."
Barry and city officials initially opposed the Wisconsin Avenue downzoning but supported it only weeks before November's elections as Barry forces realized that they faced extreme opposition in Ward 3, in part because of a building boom there.
Whayne Quin, a lawyer representing some Connecticut Avenue property owners, said the Wisconsin Avenue action and Barry's new recommendation on Connecticut Avenue are part of "a trend toward taking action according to the number of votes" instead of according to objective planning principles.
Barry ordered the Office of Planning to undertake the Connecticut Avenue study a year ago, a few weeks before the election, to the delight of neighborhood activists.
In its report, the planning office endorsed a concept called zoning "overlay" that is used in cities such as San Francisco to preserve retail areas in residential neighborhoods. It maintains current zoning but imposes an overlay of special limits.
Under the Connecticut Avenue plan developed for Barry by the planning office, future development around the Woodley Park Metrorail station would be limited to 55 feet in height instead of the 65 feet allowed under current zoning.
In the Cleveland Park retail area, current zoning permits buildings as high as 50 feet. The new plan would limit a future complex to twice the height of the existing buildings around it. Most structures there are about 20 feet high, so the plan could limit development to about 40 feet.
One of the few development proposals for that area involves building an office-retail complex on the site of the old, empty Park and Shop shopping center. The developer, Patricia Holland, said she believes that she could undertake her proposal even under the plan's restrictions.
But she added that she would "hate to see the city do anything that prevents smartening up that neighborhood."
Fred Greene, the city's planning chief, said that other provisions of the plan -- such as requiring developers to have ground-level retail facilities and limiting the concentration of bars and restaurants in a neighborhood -- would help ensure that "new development is compatible with old zoning . . . . This is a very balanced approach."
"There's a lot to like about the Office of Planning's recommendations," said Charles Warr, president of the Woodley Park Community Association, who added that his group would continue with its downzoning application.