By Amy Doolittle
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published November 3, 2006
Development plans for Northwest neighborhoods have emerged as a key issue in the race for the Ward 3 seat on the D.C. Council between Democrat Mary M. Cheh and Republican Theresa Conroy.
In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-to-1, Mrs. Cheh has a clear advantage over Mrs. Conroy. However, she has drawn criticism for supporting a citywide development plan that calls for more housing near already dense Metro stops and major thoroughfares such as Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues.
Critics also say she supports bringing the plan before the council for hearings, instead of returning it to the community for further comment.
Her supporters say the council process will allow for community input, but opponents say testimony is not enough.
"The more I heard from Mary Cheh and the more I heard about her, the more alarmed I became," said Peter Espenchied, a Cleveland Park Democrat who now supports Mrs. Conroy. "In general, I'm a liberal, [but] I'm voting for Theresa because of this development issue."
The plan would be a map for citywide development over the next 20 years.
"I've said from the very beginning that I support transit-oriented development and increased activity along our corridors," Mrs. Cheh said. "I think there's going to be growth no matter what. So we need to grow smart. I want to preserve our neighborhood and at the same time have lively, walkable corridors."
Despite the overwhelming Democratic majority, Mrs. Conroy's supporters think she can win. They point to Democratic divisions from nine candidates in the September primary and say Mrs. Conroy can get votes from those who oppose the city's development plan.
"The development is a big issue," Mrs. Conroy said. "I testified before city council about that. Many of the neighbors want to be able to give input. ... People support me because of my development stance."
The city's Republican Party has organized fundraisers for Mrs. Conroy's campaign. Records filed Oct. 10 with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that she has $26,394 on hand, compared with $92,394 for Mrs. Cheh.
Mrs. Cheh teaches at George Washington University, one of the biggest developers in some sections of Northwest, but she said her support for the comprehensive plan and ties to school do not make her pro-development.
"There are now, and there have been for some time, for some reason, a very tiny but loud group of people who don't want to see any change," Mrs. Cheh said. "I understand on some level that they're afraid of change. And I understand on some level that they're afraid of what the city must do. But I'm hoping we can sit down and figure out how to fix that part of the corridor without the sort of shrill hysterics that they attach to me. I think it's quite reasonable and it's in the common good."
Susan Banta, a Cleveland Park resident who supports Mrs. Cheh, said she is surprised that the debate has become so heated.
"She's not calling for massive development," Mrs. Banta said. "I think that's misinformation."
Mrs. Cheh has the support of current Ward 3 Council member Kathy Patterson, a Democrat who did not run for re-election.