The National Capital Planning Commission yesterday approved the site and plans for a new American Red Cross national headquarters to be built in Foggy Bottom, marking the likely end to an emotional, three-year battle waged by residents who say the building will bring more congestion to a neighborhood already suffering from traffic, noise and a lack of parking.
More than a dozen residents at yesterday's hearing complained that the new structure also will mean less greenery and will block views, sunlight and airflow to nearby properties, including some that will sit just 20 feet from the headquarters.
The site, at 2025 E St. NW, currently holds a four-story historic building that is home to the Washington chapter of the American Red Cross. The national Red Cross plans to expand the building to 10 stories and relocate 1,200 employees from Falls Church and Rosslyn. The building eventually could accommodate 2,000 employees, Red Cross representatives said.
The building is owned by the federal government and leased for an annual fee of $1. The Commission on Fine Arts, which must approve building on federal property here, will hold its final hearing on the Red Cross proposal Sept. 16. Charles H. Atherton, secretary of the commission, said yesterday: "I see nothing to arise at the last moment to prevent approval. We've already approved the concept of the design."
For those who have opposed the proposed headquarters every step of the way, the Planning Commission's decision was a bitter disappointment.
Sara Maddux, a Foggy Bottom resident for 23 years, accused the commission of "not holding this project to the same standards of completeness and appropriateness as you hold others."
Maddux and other opponents complained that the Red Cross did not allow the public an opportunity to participate in the process of planning and that the organization did not take into account any of their concerns.
Red Cross spokesman Michael Fulwilder presented to the commission a list of meetings between Red Cross officials and various residents. But Maddux said the meetings did not allow for open discussion and debate.
"We're offering residents the opportunity to use the building," Fulwilder said, "providing them with an opportunity to use the shuttle bus [that will take employees from Metro to the building], and the building will have good lighting and 24-hour security."
Commission member Patricia Ellwood was clearly concerned about the number of people complaining. A lawyer representing the Red Cross said that "there didn't seem to be a way to address differences in a meaningful way."
Ellwood suggested that the Red Cross try harder in the future to communicate with residents.
Maddux spoke before the meeting about the changes she has seen in her community over the years. "Seventeen apartment buildings, small restaurants and businesses have been torn down and replaced with office buildings," she said.
Speaking in a stern, upset voice, Barbara Elliott told the commission the new headquarters was a "monstrosity" and an "abomination." Elliott, a graphic artist who works from home, said she watched "45-year-old trees being ripped out of the park" during the preparation for construction. "The habitat for cardinals I watch was destroyed and the birds disappeared."