Monday, April 09, 2007

DC Examiner covers 5220 Wisc. Proposal

Two key D.C. Council members are staking opposing positions on the impact of a mixed-use, transit-oriented development slated for Friendship Heights, a split indicative of the divide in the community over the controversial project.

The proposed seven-story Akridge development at 5220 Wisconsin Ave. NW, with its 70 condominium units and 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail feeding into the south entrance of the Friendship Heights Metrorail station, is an ideal example of smart growth, supporters say.

Or, critics argue, the project is overdevelopment at its worst — far too dense and out of proportion with an already traffic-clogged community.

Akridge presented its case to the D.C. Zoning Commission last month. On Thursday, it’s the opponent’s turn.

“We are putting so much effort into this because we think, if the zoning commission pushes back against Akridge, it’ll send a message to developers who are interested in much larger pieces of land to ‘Hey, take it easy,’ ” said Janet Bachman with the Alliance for Rational Development, a community coalition founded to oppose the development.

The arguments for and against the project, slated for the unsightly home of a used car lot, were spelled out by Ward 3 Council Member Mary Cheh and at-large Council Member Kwame Brown in respective letters to the zoning commission. Cheh supports it; Brown stands opposed.

Brown, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said the project does not conform to the character of the community, is far too dense for the neighborhood and is “grossly out of scale with adjacent structures.”

The development, he wrote, would have “serious adverse effects on traffic, parking, and the safety and quality of life of nearby residents.”

“Good transit-oriented development does not occur at the expense of neighborhoods,” he wrote in the March 29 letter.

Cheh described the project as “forward-thinking” and environmentally friendly, with features that reduce energy and water use. Akridge, she wrote, is expected to include six affordable units, contribute more than $600,000 to community organizations and revamp a Pepco substation that borders the property.

“What is clear is that this project will economically and visually enhance the corridor, encourage the use of public transportation by its close proximity to the Metro, and simultaneously benefit the community through its contributions,” Cheh wrote in her Jan. 23 letter.

The District’s Office of Planning, the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club, former Ward 3 Council Member Kathy Patterson and the community group Ward 3 Vision all support the project. The local advisory neighborhood commission, Tenleytown Neighbors Association and 500 Friendship Heights residents are opposed.

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