Residents are suing to stop this. Image from the Giant project team.

Opponents of the Wisconsin Giant project have filed a lawsuit to try to stop the project. The Wisconsin-Newark Neighbors Coalition, one of several ad-hoc groups that formed to oppose the project, has appealed the Zoning Commission’s approval of the project (PDF). Jeff Davis, founder of pro-Giant group AWARE, wrote, “This could delay the construction by an additional one to three years.”

Resident Bill wrote on the Cleveland Park listserv,

I for one am dismayed by the endless bickering and legal maneuvering that hamstrings any effort to make our neighborhood a better place. The Giant controversy is only the most recent and egregious example.

I have spent many years in countries Americans often regard as “byzantine” and “dysfunctional,” looking down on them because they can’t resolve any of their problems or resolve conflicts without people tearing each other apart. I’d say Cleveland Park in the past few years ranks with the worst of them in terms of conflict resolution, and we are a small community of generally well-educated and tolerant people with many mutual interests about what makes a neighborhood most livable.

WNNC’s opposition brief (PDF) in the Zoning Commission case outlines their objections. The neighborhood commercial overlay, which includes the Giant site, prohibits development of the scale in the project. WNNC argues that the Zoning Commission doesn’t have the authority to approve the Giant PUD in a way that conflicts with the overlay. Councilmember Phil Mendelson made a similar argument at the hearing.

The Office of Planning and the Cleveland Park ANC both have argued, as did I, that the overlay shouldn’t trump the project. In its order, the Zoning Commission claimed that it does have the authority to remove the property from the overlay. They are the ones who create overlays, and can also modify them, and make other zoning amendments. The opponents essentially appear to be arguing that the Zoning Commission has to go through a different kind of proceeding to modify the overlay, separate from the approval of the PUD, or have the Board of Zoning Adjustment grant a special exception. The Zoning Commission says that they are allowed to make map amendments in conjunction with a PUD, and this counts as a map amendment.

Ann Hamilton, a resident of the area, sent that brief to the Office of Zoning and participated in the hearing as part of WNNC. Hamilton is also running for one of the officer positions in the Cleveland Park Citizens’ Association as part of the “Unity Slate,” which has recently emerged in opposition to Davis’ “Reform Slate.” Likely seeing the writing on the wall from the rush of new members and the backlash when they postponed the elections, the present leaders aren’t running, but sources familiar with the candidates say that the Unity Slate represents the old guard’s handpicked successors.

The Unity Slate candidate for President, John Chelen, wrote about bringing the neighborhood together and creating a more inclusive and communicative CPCA, similar themes to those we heard from Davis and the Reform Slate. The key differences are in their approach to the actual issues and change in the neighborhood. From all indications so far, from the Giant to the restaurant limitations on Connecticut Avenue, the Unity Slate seems to come down on the side of opposing most change, and the Reform Slate interested in finding ways to improve the neighborhood that most residents can support.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.