The Iron Fist Of Cleveland Park's Politburo
A classic Only-In-Washington story is shaping up in Cleveland Park, where Not In My Backyard zealots have managed for years to stymie plans to upgrade a pathetic 1950s supermarket for fear that people might actually drive to it and use it.
A relative handful of residents have been able to turn their opposition to Giant's expansion plans for its shop on Wisconsin Avenue NW into a virtual roadblock--and that has so frustrated supporters of the plan that some of those supporters decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Recently, they signed up as members of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, with an eye on turning around that group's opposition to much-needed development.
Now the neighborhood group is pushing back, hard. Its president, George Idelson, sent out this message on the local listserv Tuesday: "The Cleveland Park Citizens Association welcomes the many new members who have joined in recent weeks. This is a president's dream come true and we look forward to their active participation."
Except that he welcomes nothing of the sort. Idelson goes on to accuse the new members of attempting a coup--and he therefore invokes "emergency" measures to postpone an election for officers of the neighborhood association, protecting the anti-development stance of the group.
Idelson writes that the new members were putting together a "competing, unnamed slate" and conducting a campaign that "has been fueled by false charges that the Association opposes all change and development. It has distorted our position on the Giant development and makes the wild claim that the Association is responsible for store vacancies on Connecticut Avenue. The campaign was orchestrated was demonstrated by some 60 bundled applications received by certified mail just before the specified cut-off date, by anonymous leaflets, and by private emails urging residents to join CPCA to 'stage a coup.'"
"Demonizing an association and encouraging a chaotic election is hardly normal. This is Cleveland Park, not some third world country," Idelson writes. "This is clearly an emergency. In the interim, we will seek ways to mend this tear in our neighborhood fabric."
Needless to say, this edict has met with a firestorm of protest from Cleveland Parkers. "If fearing electoral defeat is cause enough to delay an election, we may have never had elections in 1992, 2000, 2004, or 2006," writes Peter Brusoe. "The key to democracy is to allow voice, discussion and perhaps even contention."
A resident named Gina throws the organization's own words back at it, noting that the association web site suggests the group's purpose is to allow residents to "make your voice heard and help preserve and improve our neighborhood."
The battle that has consumed the Northwest Washington neighborhood for so many years is, believe it or not, about a small, lousy supermarket in a block-long mid-century brick building that Giant long ago realized was insufficient to serve local needs. Giant first proposed a replacement that seemed too suburban in design, but over a preposterously extended period of negotiation and revision, the proposal gained support from many in the area.
The latest wrinkle in the saga comes as Cleveland Park loses its Magruder's market, adding to the area's supply of empty storefronts--most of them sitting vacant because of neighbors' opposition to the restaurants and nightspots that would logically fill those empty spaces.
This one's far from over, but when the NIMBYs start waging their battles through Soviet means, it can't be long before the forces of progress prevail.
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