For neighbors of Washington National Cathedral, living near the historic landmark has long meant more than just a view of the monumental Gothic-style building.
It has meant increased traffic, competition for parking with daily cathedral visitors whose cars didn't fit in the cathedral parking spaces, and rows of tour buses idling on the street outside.
But those parts of life in the neighborhood, longstanding sources of tension between the cathedral and its neighbors, could change, cathedral officials and neighborhood leaders hope, with plans for two construction projects meant to ease traffic flow and parking crunches.
Plans for a four-level, 430-car underground garage below the cathedral's north lawn and an underground lane for tour buses to pick up and discharge passengers recently cleared the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board. The area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which represents Cleveland Park and Woodley Park, approved the plans last month, despite concerns from some Woodley Road residents about putting one of two planned entrances and exits to the garage on their street.
"The neighbors are not really happy about having the exit to a major parking garage," said ANC member Nancy Nord, who lives in Massachusetts Avenue Heights and represents residents on two sides of the cathedral. "We have to make sure the Wisconsin Avenue entrance and exit is the primary one."
But retired major general Stephen T. Rippe, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation, which runs the cathedral, said having an entrance and exit on Woodley Road would actually reduce traffic on the street because drivers would not travel all the way to Wisconsin Avenue to enter the lot. The main entrance will still be on Wisconsin Avenue, he added.
Construction on the two projects is scheduled to begin next May. Both are expected to take about 15 months, but Rippe said cathedral foundation officials hope they can be concluded by August 2006 to avoid conflicting with the school year of the four schools on the cathedral grounds: St. Albans School, National Cathedral School, Beauvoir elementary school and the College of Preachers.
Some above-ground parking spaces would be lost to the new projects, but the garage would increase the cathedral's overall parking capacity to about 850. The 525 spots now above ground leave about 300 cars per day scrambling for parking in the area, particularly during April through July, the cathedral's busiest months, Rippe said.
The underground bus lane will allow tour buses to discharge and take on passengers below ground, rather than at the Wisconsin Avenue location. At its peak, Rippe said, the cathedral was receiving about 85 tour buses a day, prompting complaints from neighbors that buses were double- or triple-parked and idling noisily on Wisconsin Avenue. For the past three years, the cathedral has required tour buses to make reservations to drop off passengers in Wisconsin Avenue's east curb lane, limiting the capacity for buses to about 55 per day, Rippe said.
The city is also reconfiguring the bus exit lane so all buses will exit onto Wisconsin Avenue. Cathedral foundation officials are applying for city help in financing the $30 million cost. The city allows nonprofits pursuing projects that are deemed to be beneficial to the city to use the government's ability to issue tax-exempt bonds with low interest rates.
Rippe said cathedral officials decided they couldn't afford not to do it.
"It is such an irritant to the community, I think we lose a lot of goodwill that we've already garnered," Rippe said. "And it was, quite frankly, affecting our mission."