THE LONG-AWAITED rebirth of neglected and riot-ravaged Columbia Heights is in danger of being further delayed, if not sidetracked, by community protests and infighting over development plans approved by the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA). Supporters of the unsuccessful developer, Forest City Enterprises, have filed suit to prevent the RLA's decisions from taking effect. Mayor Anthony Williams and Ward One council member Jim Graham, who represents Columbia Heights, are trying to move the opposing parties toward common ground. For the sake of urban renewal in Columbia Heights, we hope they succeed.
Despite years of broken promises by downtown leaders, many longtime Columbia Heights residents feel strongly about their Northwest D.C. community. They have been joined in their enthusiasm by newcomers to the area, especially homeowners. But the reaction of some residents to the RLA decision is worrisome. Suspicion has replaced trust, and language with divisive racial and class-war overtones has unfortunately crept into the dispute.
Supporters of the more comprehensive Forest City project have good reason to feel disappointed. They devoted years to a community planning process that led them to back the Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises proposal. But the kind of community discord evident in Columbia Heights today works to the detriment of a city that desperately needs to attract private investment for neighborhood development.
Columbia Heights preservationists, developers and residents on both sides of the issue should meet and work through their differences. A restored historic Tivoli Theater with performance space and a first-class supermarket in the vicinity of the Columbia Heights Metro station are not irreconcilable. Both facilities, along with strong and viable businesses, would do wonders for that too-long-blighted neighborhood. The mayor and Mr. Graham must show the way.