- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

Developers, politics, small-business owners, a grocery chain, one-man protester L. Napoleon Cooper and residents of the Reed-Cooke neighborhood have collided in the 1600 block of Kalorama Road in Northwest.

Peter Lyden and the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association have fought the good fight against the able legal team that represents food retailer Harris Teeter, which opened in late April after three years of wrangling that shows no signs of abating.

The fight remains unresolved because of the curious decision of a former zoning administrator to grant Harris Teeter permission to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption.

His was a decision that seemed to contradict the alcohol provision in the Reed-Cooke overlay, which was drafted by Mr. Lyden and the neighborhood association before being implemented in 1991. Section 1401.1 of the overlay seems fairly clear: “The following uses shall be prohibited … off-premises alcoholic beverage sales.”

Bill Crews, the former administrator, read the word “prohibited” and found an exception in it, ruling that the selling of beer and wine are “incidental” to a supermarket´s gross receipts and thus eligible to be sold. Not surprisingly, Mr. Lyden and the neighborhood association define the word “prohibited” differently from the former administrator.

“We wrote it in such a way that no meant no,” Mr. Lyden said. “With the selling of alcohol, put it up on 18th Street or Columbia Road. That was the intent of [the overlay]. It was written to protect residents in the neighborhood, to prevent heavy commercial and industrial uses.”

A grocery store in a 39,000-square-foot building hardly complements the high-density and residential character of the neighborhood, which already has two small grocers within a stone´s throw from Harris Teeter, in addition to a Safeway on Columbia Road.

Harris Teeter took up residence in the old building known as the Citadel, a one-time roller rink and bowling alley that eventually was used as a motion picture center. Scenes from both “The Pelican Brief” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” were shot there.

Before the executives of Harris Teeter green-lighted the project, residents suggested the building could be turned into a recreation center. Mr. Lyden thought the location might interest a developer looking to erect town houses after razing the building. There were all sorts of ideas, but none that included a grocery chain whose delivery trucks must navigate the narrow streets of the neighborhood to stock the store. “We are not against the idea of a grocery store,” Mr. Lyden said. “We can use one, but one that fits with the neighborhood around it.” For now, Mr. Lyden and the neighborhood association are awaiting a written order from the Board of Zoning Adjustment in response to their appeal.

Mr. Lyden, a retired civil servant who serves as the treasurer of the neighborhood association, is cautiously optimistic the zoning board will see it his way. He figures he has the English dictionary on his side.

Mr. Lyden moved to the neighborhood 30 years ago, when “I was the stupidest guy in the world, because I was going to get robbed and shot.” Starting with the housing explosion in 1999, Mr. Lyden soon became “the smartest guy in the world,” as property values began to shoot up, upscale condominiums were built and the neighborhood began to shed its criminal element.

The two small grocers near the larger Harris Teeter are not apt to benefit from the neighborhood´s transformation if a significant portion of their customer base is lured to the bright, spiffy supermarket in its midst.

That prospect brought Mr. Cooper to the patch of sidewalk in front of Harris Teeter, to call into question the closed-door maneuvering that facilitated the completion of the land-use deal and to wonder about the relationship between developers Douglas Jemal and Faison Development and D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

Mr. Cooper is in the process of completing a complaint against 10 defendants. He says he hopes to file the complaint with D.C. Superior Court by Friday.

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