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Adams Morgan garage court date delayed

(Published September 25, 2000)

By KATE ALEXANDER

Staff Writer

The court fight over a proposed garage and condominium complex in Adams Morgan has been postponed until December while the developer and city officials try to work out some of the concerns raised by neighborhood residents – including the development of a plan for interim parking while the project is built.

Vying for additional parking relief in Adams Morgan, a neighborhood coalition of residents and businesses sued in August to halt construction of a parking garage at the center of an ongoing firestorm. The suit was originally scheduled to be heard Sept. 20 in D.C. Superior Court

The Neighborhood Coalition for Parking Relief, an umbrella group of businesses, residents and several apartment boards in the area, argued in the request for a temporary restraining order that an environmental impact statement is necessary to proceed with construction of the garage.

The mixed-use project in the 2400 block of 18th Street NW, which was approved in 1997 after several years of community input, is slated to include 350 parking spaces, 60 condominiums and retail space. The coalition is advocating for a single-use parking garage with 540 spaces.

"We had no choice but to file this lawsuit because (the developer) said the project was not subject to revision," said Constantine Stavropoulos, president of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association, a coalition member.

"This will allow the full Adams Morgan community to voice its concerns in the context of a cost-benefit analysis…and to focus on the residential need for parking, minority employment and business closure issues," he said in a news statement.

Jim Thackaberry, project manager for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, said the lawsuit is premature because the decision about whether an environmental impact assessment is necessary has not been made yet by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. He said building permits will not be issued until that determination is made.

But developer Michael Gewirz of Potomac Investment Properties called the lawsuit a "veiled attempt to get us to build a larger garage, which I think is the wrong thing to do on this unique piece of land."

"This is a very small group of businesses who selfishly want only parking spaces -- it’s not residents," he continued. "They want more parking simply to bring more people in to use their businesses. We think the best thing for communities is not a big parking structure but something that builds on the character of Adams Morgan."

The site, which currently houses a 180-space parking lot, was purchased by the city in 1992 with funds earmarked by Congress to alleviate the parking pressure stemming from heavier bar and restaurant traffic along the 18th Street corridor.

At the time, then-mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly proposed the 540-space parking garage but the idea was rejected by the community because of the potential for over-commercialization and traffic problems, said Mike Gould, president of the Kalorama Citizens Association.

A compromise was later reached to construct a project that includes the 350-space garage as well as luxury condominiums and retail space. Gould said this solution offers the subsidiary benefits of making the neighbor "more civilized" while also addressing the parking situation.

But the coalition said residents have been ill-informed about the relatively minimal impact the project will have on that parking situation.

"We are about to have a $40-million project built here and there should be a public process about what exactly the community is gaining from this city-owned land," said Lisa Duperier, one of the organizers of the coalition. "We think there are problems and a public process will show those problems."

Duperier specifically cited as problems the net gain of 80 to 120 new parking spaces and the lack of a plan for interim parking while the structure is being built.

Councilman Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, said the final agreement for the mixed-use project was worked out with a community discussion over several years and hoped the community would be able to "find closure on this issue and proceed" to find alternative solutions to relieving the parking pressures.

Gould could not agree more.

"The community worked this out in 1997 after a very active debate," he said. "This is a very sensitive matter…to raise it again is a great mistake and very costly to the community."

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator