Negotiations between Tenleytown neighborhood activists and two Washington office development firms to move a controversial access road that cuts across the entrance to Glover-Archbold Park have collapsed after several meetings, with both sides vowing not to return to the bargaining table.
The snag also has left some Northwest Washington neighborhood activists involved in the talks harshly critical of D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke and council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3), who traditionally support controlled-development movements in the city. Clarke and Nathanson pressed the residents to accept a deal made by The Donohoe Construction Corp. and Holladay Corp., the developers of a much-criticized new office building at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. and the adjacent access road, the neighbors said.
Debate over the new road has brewed in the neighborhood for two years, culminating in summer when six activists were arrested for trying to block construction of the road, which was built on land once used for recreation by area residents.
Donohoe and Holladay offered to move the road 35 feet onto an adjoining piece of property owned by the two firms, but only if the neighborhood dropped a lawsuit pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals concerning the office tower at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. In addition, the firms sought neighborhood support for a proposed new office building at 4100 Wisconsin Ave. to house WUSA-TV (Channel 9), a structure residents charge would be too massive for the bustling Northwest enclave.
Neighborhood leaders, however, hope to have part of the already constructed building at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. scaled back in size. And they are seeking a ruling that the District's comprehensive plan was violated when the city approved the new office building.
"We want this to be resolved in court. We're not going to accept the developers' offer," said Joel Odum, president of the Tenley and Cleveland Park Emergency Committee and a member of the neighborhood's negotiating team.
Odum criticized Clarke in particular for trying to get the residents to drop their lawsuit in return for having the access road moved. "If he believes in the comprehensive plan like he says he does, then he ought to act that way," Odum said.
However, some community activists, who fear such public criticism of the political leaders could damage their slow-growth cause, believe otherwise. "We're really very thankful that Clarke set up this" negotiating process, said Peggy Robin, a Cleveland Park Advisory Neighborhood Commission member. "He did the best he could under the circumstances."
Clarke and Nathanson said they pressed the activists to accept the developer's offer because they see little chance that the residents will win their lawsuits over the new building and the access road. Accepting the offer "would have been the most palatable alternative," Nathanson said. Clarke defended his role in the negotiations, which he organized to settle the road dispute. "We did come down hard on the developers. We pushed both sides," he said.
Whayne Quin, a lawyer for the developers, said he did not think the neighborhood activists "have much of a case" in the two pending lawsuits.