- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

Residents and community leaders in upper Northwest yesterday protested against a developer’s proposal to build what they call an oversized housing complex, saying it will attract traffic, ruin the neighborhood aesthetic and endanger pedestrians.

Dozens of demonstrators converged on the former car-dealership lot of Friendship Motors at 5220 Wisconsin Avenue to rail against the John Akridge Development Co.’s proposal for a seven-story residential building.

The Alliance for Rational Development, a coalition of residents, said the building is too high and too dense. The group proposed scaling it back to a five-story building to retain the character of Wisconsin Avenue and the residential neighborhoods adjacent to it.

“The property probably does need to be redeveloped, and everybody recognizes that,” said Paul Fekete, 49, who has lived in the neighborhood for 21 years, “but what’s been proposed here is a development that is far too excessive of the zoning in this area…. They’re trying to jam in a building that is much larger than what’s appropriate for this site.”

Opponents said approval would set a bad precedent for future development proposals to bypass zoning regulations and construct buildings that tower over nearby neighborhoods.

“If they’re allowed to just completely bust the zoning laws, the buildings are going to get even higher and bigger,” said Carolyn Sherman, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area.

Akridge applied to the city in June to build the complex on the 22,500-square foot property. The proposal calls for the building to contain between 55 and 70 condominiums and about 13,200 square feet of retail and service space on the street level.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday at the headquarters of the D.C. Office of Zoning, 441 Fourth Street NW, Suite 220.

Residents have taken umbrage with a number of issues concerning the proposal, especially the building’s height and density. The building also will occupy 100 percent of the lot, which they said eliminates green space.

The protesters also expressed disappointment with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who they said has been noncommittal after promising during his mayoral campaign that he would not back any development proposal not supported by local advisory neighborhood commissioners.

“When he was campaigning, he made a lot of neighborhood-friendly statements, so we’re asking him to be true to those campaign promises,” Miss Sherman said.

The protesters said Akridge has ignored the opposition.

“We asked them to get in touch with some community organizations that were not in favor of the project, to see if they could come to some common ground,” Miss Sherman said. “They refused — twice, in writing — to contact any organizations that were not on their side.”

Mary Margaret Hiller, a spokeswoman for Akridge, said the company has held numerous meetings with neighborhood residents. She said the building proposal has been backed by neighborhood group Ward 3 Vision and the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We stand by the project and believe it stands on its merits,” Miss Hiller said.

Allie Hajian, a member of Ward 3 Vision, said the building’s proximity to the Friendship Heights Metro station will encourage public transit and make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

“I personally think this is a great project that Akridge is proposing,” Miss Hajian said.

“It’s a very forward-thinking building,” she said. “It’s exactly the type of growth and development that doesn’t contribute in a negative way to traffic and parking problems.”

Local homeowner Jane Waldman disagreed, saying that trains are usually at capacity by the time they reach the station and that the proposal will do little to alleviate the area’s traffic crush.

“They’re shoehorning this building into approximately half an acre,” Miss Waldman said. “Nobody’s saying this car dealership should stay, but what is being proposed is too big, too tall, and 100 percent lot occupancy — bottom line.”

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