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Ward 3 development riles residents

(Published March 13, 2000)

By SAM STRIKE

Staff Writer

Residents of Ward 3 are assembling to protest a number of proposed developments that they fear will change the character, zoning, and traffic patterns in their neighborhoods. Development executives and city officials have been meeting with citizens concerning projects in Cleveland Park, Tenleytown and Chevy Chase.

There are more than 50 proposed and developing projects in the ward. Residents in Northwest Washington worry that three pressing construction undertakings could bring renovations and rent increases to new Starwood tenants on Connecticut Avenue near the Uptown Theater; condominiums in an area zoned for single family homes near the Fresh Fields in Tenleytown; and unfettered trucks and machinery along residential areas of Military Road.

The chief executive officer of Starwood Urban Investments fielded questions from Cleveland Park residents who are concerned that its purchase of a row of commercial buildings on the west side of the 3500 block of Connecticut Avenue NW will disturb the neighborhood and run out present tenants.

About 150 people attended the March 4 meeting during which CEO John Richmond said that Starwood plans to make renovations to the interiors of the buildings, but will not lower rent for those tenants who will not be able to afford it, even if they are favored by the community.

Gregory New, president of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, said he’s concerned, but not too worried, about what Starwood will do with its newly acquired three-story brick buildings.

Because the area is historically designated, and there is a commercial zoning overlay, there are constraints on what the company can do. New said that he doesn’t want any more restaurants, and that under the zoning overlay, they cannot account for more than 25 percent of the area.

And of course there’s the fear of chain stores. "They don’t seem to have a terrible reputation" for bringing in national chain stores, New said. "But citizens there are sensitive to what might be."

Starwood is aware of the limited parking in the area, he said. The location is ideal only for walking and public transportation, meaning whatever occupies that space is not going to draw a crowd from the suburbs.

Any plan will have to get approval from the preservation office of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, unless there are going to be any structural changes, he said. In that case, the society’s Architectural Review Committee would have to weigh in.

"The area may need face lift," he said. "But we don’t want the community to get a heart transplant."

Members of the Ward Three Democratic Committee recently voted to oppose an upzoning proposed for the plot of land on the west side of Albemarle Street at Nebraska Avenue NW. Housing developer Holladay Corp. wants to build a condominium on the Tenleytown land that is zoned for four houses in a neighborhood of single family homes.

The zoning commission would have to rezone the parcel from single family to multifamily housing, and "it’s a pretty congested intersection already," said Ann Loikow, a Cleveland Park resident who sits on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C.

The committee has been examining, and sometimes opposing, about 50 proposed projects in the ward, and is asking that development be handled "comprehensively," said Thorn Pozen, chairman of the committee.

"Development issues need to be looked at on a ward-wide basis as opposed to a neighborhood perspective," he said.

The committee is one of the few groups with a ward-wide reach that meet on a regular basis, Pozen said. It can have an impact because large projects need government approval either through the Historic Preservation Review Board or the Board of Zoning Adjustment, both of which hold public hearings.

One practice the committee is decrying is spot zoning – changing the zoning of one particular lot for one developer. This "poor policy" is disfavored by both community and courts across the country, Pozen said, and it goes against the idea of ward-wide decisions.

The committee has established a sub-committee to deal with zoning and development issues. It will meet March 21 at St. Luke’s Church, Calvert Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW, at 7:30 p.m. to give a report of what’s been happening and a recommendation of future actions.

Residents along Military Road are bracing for three "serious, significant, and intense" development projects in Friendship Heights, said Anne M. Renshaw, chairman of ANC 3G and a 25-year resident of the Chevy Chase area.

"When Friendship Heights finishes, it could easily resemble Rosslyn," she said.

The three parcel land development on the Montgomery County side of Western and Wisconsin avenues will include numerous high-rise apartments, offices, storefronts, and a hotel. The plans are already in various approval stages, and Renshaw and others are working to lessen the traffic and environmental impact that the construction vehicles will have on their street and surrounding area.

In a letter to Ward 3 Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson, Renshaw asked her to secure a truck weight restriction for Military Road. The State of Maryland has imposed a five-ton weight restriction on Connecticut Avenue NW from Chevy Chase Circle to the Capitol Beltway that restricts double-wheeled vehicles, including dirt hauling trucks, from using that road, according to Renshaw’s Feb. 29 letter. Renshaw said that her street will be used by trucks traveling to and from land fills in Prince George’s County and that the already-horrendous traffic, shaking of houses and speeding will only worsen with such a large construction project.

Renshaw said she doesn’t want to see a repeat of the incident several years where an overloaded dump truck tipped over and crushed the driver of a car on Military Road.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator