Greater Greater Washington

Who benefits from the Secret Safeway's community benefits agreement?

As part of a deal to build a replacement for the Tenleytown Safeway, residents are looking for the right public benefit to ask for. But the rare opportunity to get a big donation is bringing out narrow interests.


Photo from ANC 3E.

At the February ANC 3E meeting, Steve Strazzella of developer Bozzuto presented the latest iteration of a 5-year-old plan to redevelop the so-called "Secret Safeway," located at 42nd and Davenport streets NW. Bozzuto plans a block-long, brick building with 4 stories of apartments atop a 65,000 square foot supermarket and two levels of parking.

The project is a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which gives an owner more flexibility with a property's zoning if community representatives and the DC Zoning Commission agree to it. There are basically two ways a PUD contributes to a neighborhood: through public benefits, or amenities within the project itself. But it's unclear who will benefit from what the community's asked for.

The proposal has some benefits all by itself

Safeway originally needed a PUD because it wanted a new supermarket bigger than what could fit on the part of the site zoned for commercial use. In response to community pressure, the company agreed to build the store as part of a mixed-use development that is often the foundation of a more vibrant, walkable neighborhood.

In many ways, the proposed building is good on its own. What is currently an ugly one-story building that turns its back on the street and has acres of impermeable parking lots would be replaced with a new store, 200 rental apartments and extensive green roofs, all a quarter-mile from the Tenleytown Metro station and a half-mile from the Friendship Heights Metro.


Current Safeway site showing potential parcels.

Bozzuto has hired a new architect for the project, Maurice Walters, who also designed the Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market in Brookland. The developer wasn't willing to share any images, but as before, the apartments will range from studios to three-bedroom units, perfect for an area known for its family-friendliness.

The plan will absorb the adjacent WMATA chiller plant, allowing the building to have an inviting, street-friendly facade for the entire block. A loading dock in the rear will be fully enclosed, hiding loading activities from public view.

Neighbors unsure what the public benefit should be

At the ANC meeting, the neighbors largely supported the project. No one opposed it outright. For his part, Strazzella came to the commission ready to negotiate. Owners of the adjacent rowhouses worried that the proposed building would block their sunlight, but already the building was lower than previous iterations. Residents were divided on whether the building had too many parking spaces, and whether residents should be able to get parking permits.

Everyone generally agreed that Bozzuto should close a slip lane that lets southbound drivers speed off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 42nd Street. Instead, traffic would have to slow down and turn right, reducing cut-through traffic without sacrificing connectivity. In its place, there would be a small park just outside the entrance to the new store.

Beyond these points, discussion broke down. In a preemptive gesture, Bozzuto came with plans for a 4,000 square foot community building to occupy a corner of the lot on Ellicott Street. The building would hold meeting space, but it was unknown who would own it. While the main building featured quality design, the community building was bland and uninspired.

In the subsequent discussion, one woman said it would be better used as a park. Another said it should become a new house. Commissioner Sam Serebin insisted that it should be an outdoor pool. The commissioners agreed to talk it out, but Strazzella indicated that Bozzuto wanted to file with the Zoning Commission within 60 days.

To me, the community building makes little sense. There's no clear need for this kind of functional space. More importantly, there's no reason for this kind of building to be placed on a solidly residential street. But at the meeting, it felt like everyone agreed that the ANC had to extract something from the developer.

How do you decide what a community benefit is?

Part of the problem is that there is no framework to decide what's appropriate at this site. The Upper Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Study would have identified community needs and combined them into a menu of amenities. In that scenario, either the developer or the ANC could see whether the benefit would be appropriate. In the absence of that or any plan, the public is left grasping for any chances it gets.

ANC 3E negotiated an meticulous PUD for the Babe's Billiards redevelopment nearby by focusing on the benefits and negative impacts of the project. This is a much bigger project, so there's more opportunity to toss around big-ticket items. But rather than seeing the PUD process as a mere transaction between a developer and the public, both parties should view it as a chance to build a neighborhood together.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He writes on architecture and Russia at цarьchitect

Comments

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Is there a sector plan for the area that already communicates what the community wants at that site?

by Michael Perkins on Mar 14, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Nope.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 14, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins

The lack of a sector plan is a long sordid tale of NIMBYism that still chills OP from even considering it. It was fought by two OP directors ago, but Harriet wouldn't even consider addressing it.

One thing Neil left out was the notion the ANC was considering amenities that would only be open to the immediate neighbors rather than residents from anywhere in Ward 3. Like having the swimming pool open only to those who live within a few blocks.

The fact this was even floated in ANC discussions is appalling to me and would likely be illegal anyway. Buying off immediate neighbors, who have been saying nice things but still want the project smaller, is not what the PUD process is about.

by fongfong on Mar 14, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

Good post but we should be advocating to get rid of the amenity process altogether. These community amenities are not 'donations.' They are paid for by the developer, who passes the cost along to the tenants, either through higher rents or condo prices, to future residents. Already, DC has some of the nation's least affordable housing and this only adds to the expense. Additionally, negotiating with the ANCs over what package of amenities adds time to the development process, which also adds to the cost.

If something really is a public benefit, such as a pool, or field, that cost should be shared amongst all taxpayers. If developers are seeking to amend the zoning for a particular parcel, then inclusionary zoning is enough of public amenity.

by 202_cyclist on Mar 14, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

"Everyone generally agreed that Bozzuto should close a slip lane that lets southbound drivers speed off of Wisconsin Avenue onto 42nd Street. "

Hey I use that "slip lane" and I obey the speed limit at that location.

Is this road owned by Safeway some how? Why would Bozzuto or the local home owners have the right to close it?

by lee in dc on Mar 14, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

I agree that contributions to community organizations are generally not the kind of community benefit that is required for exceeding zoning under a PUD. (BTW, the law is very clear that the project itself can rarely be considered a community benefit. Otherwise, every developer would claim that the PUD is itself the benefit, which is hard in the economically booming, non-supermarket desert of Ward 3!).

Appropriate community benefits might be non-profit theater or arts space (rather small condo PUDs have done this), paying to put wires underground in the commercial district around the PUD, etc. It is interesting that the Cathedral Commons PUD just south of the Safeway managed to get through approvals without any community benefit component whatsoever -- basically jacksugar. Perhaps Giant spread around some of the grease for which it's known.

by Jasper2 on Mar 14, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

I largely agree, 202, with a caveat. The process envisions some tradeoffs that are of benefit to the developer, like like a smaller setback on one side. It's not unreasonable to link that to a requirement to provide a community space with seating and a fountain, for example.

by Crickey7 on Mar 14, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

Lee,

Apparently you can still get on 42nd street. You'll just have to make a right turn down where traffic turning from 42nd onto wisconsin are turning.

by drumz on Mar 14, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

It was good to meet you last Saturday, Neil. Keep up the good work! What sorts of community benefits would you yourself envision here?

@202_cyclist

These community amenities are not 'donations.' They are paid for by the developer, who passes the cost along to the tenants, either through higher rents or condo prices, to future residents. Already, DC has some of the nation's least affordable housing and this only adds to the expense. Additionally, negotiating with the ANCs over what package of amenities adds time to the development process, which also adds to the cost.

This is, as we say, 'not a bug but a feature.' The residents of this area by and large would not want anything considered "affordable housing" to spring up in their backyards, beyond a handful of set-aside units.

by Dizzy on Mar 14, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

A correction: residents were not divide over whether the new building should be RPP-less. Everybody favored that.

by John Tenally on Mar 14, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

Again, the clock is ticking. Cerebus is going to sell off most Safeway real estate holdings like this. No guarantee the new owners will play ball.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

The purpose of the zoning variation is to allow for denser use of the land than originally planned. The PUD should mitigate that as much as possible, but to some extent I think maybe the zoning was wrong or out of date. So, I might ask for a bike share station to reduce traffic and that's it.

But a community room that no one wants or needs is stupid. I say dog park or house. One more house is one small step to more affordable housing.

by David C on Mar 14, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

@ Charlie

I've not heard that. Since they already own and operate Albertsons and reportedly have not sold real estate for that company, why here? Not that I will ever shop there, but that is an area where a food store makes money.

by fongfong on Mar 14, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

Will I still be able to get into 42nd street?

by Marcus on Mar 14, 2014 6:21 pm • linkreport

I thought the Secret Safeway was the old tiny Town House Safeway just north of Dupont that closed a few years ago?

by Joey on Mar 14, 2014 6:33 pm • linkreport

@joey: that was the Super Secret Safeway (and now Glen's, which is great). This one's merely "secret," and it looks like it will remain so.

by Payton Chung on Mar 15, 2014 2:25 am • linkreport

This is one of DC’s most stable and functional neighborhoods and when this Safeway was built the neighborhood demanded that the parking lot not face the street and the building be as hidden as possible. Yet only 15 some odd years later the private school next to it was allowed to be more visible and massive. The prejudice against commercial activity in this neighborhood is present in every discussion. Be that as it may, I hope the pressure stays on to manage commerce and do what is right for the neighborhood. Countless people caring for generations is what makes a great neighborhood, hands down.

by AndrewJ on Mar 15, 2014 8:06 am • linkreport

The whole notion of current residents being able to control what residents do and what residents do not get RPP is ridiculous.

"Welcome to the apartment, but your neighbors had to extract something so while you are a part of the neighborhood, your neighbors have decided that no one who lives in this apartment will ever have a permit to park."

How this kind of garbage stands up in court is beyond any objective comprehension. It's the new NIMBY -- NIMPS (Not in my parking space.)

This sense of ownership of public street parking is something that people in DC tolerate.

And for those who think this is diversity clearly do not think that parents of kinds may ever need a car.

by Mike R on Mar 15, 2014 8:30 am • linkreport

Mike R--

If buildings are going to be built without parking or "parking lite", then the buyers/tenants are going to get a benefit in the form of lower prices, n'est pas? So they are getting a great benefit for the minor inconvenience of no RPP. And, because most of the new residents will be new urbanists who have no need to own their own vehicles, it isn't much of an inconvenience to them. Of course, in the event that all of this rosy scenario is wrong, RPP restrictions do have a way of encouraging residents of the parking-less projects to take transit and penalizing developers who seek to avoid costs by basically shifting them onto the back of the public.

by Jasper2 on Mar 15, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

@jasper2

"Welcome to the neighborhood, oh we don't want youy here if you plan on being a full part of the hood and have put the restriction in you that you may never own a car." Ridiculous if you ask me.

Do you require every new house to have new parking? Of course not. Why? Because once again people discriminate against apartment dwellers. Double (NIMBY driven) standards. How sad.

by Mike R on Mar 15, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

@jasper2

Ooops, hit send to soon. If the city would require underground parking for these units I would understand it, but to say "this apartment gets permits and this does not," I imagine will eventually be tossed by someone with the desire to sue the city for unequal treatment. Or are you proposing a lower tax rate for them since they can't use the street?

by Mike R on Mar 15, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

The current zoning code does require off-street parking for detached single family residences, and so would the new one. Arlington has denied RPP to most apartment buildings, so it's not atypical.

Either way, street parking is long established as not a right: any building built on a commercial street is not eligible to receive RPP.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 15, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Neil

Got it. So the property owners get what they want while the renters suffer. Thanks for the clarification.

by Mike R on Mar 15, 2014 4:33 pm • linkreport

It's just not true that any building built on a commercial street is not eligible to receive RPPs. And the Safeway isn't on a commercial street -- it's on 42nd Street (not Wisconsin Avenue).

While the current code does require off-street parking for all new single family homes, the proposed new code would require off-street parking only for SFHs that have alley access.

I agree that the anti-RPP idea is a bad one -- it's not equitable and it won't last. The only scenario in which most of the residents of the new apartments wouldn't own cars would be if AU bought the building (or negotiated a master lease) and it became an off-campus dorm.

by BTDT on Mar 16, 2014 10:03 am • linkreport

@BTDT

Wouldn't a rule that requires off street parking mean that there would need to be a piece of sidewalk lost to provide access to said parking?

by Mike R on Mar 16, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

If there's alley access, off-street parking doesn't require an additional curb cut. Where there is NOT alley access, curb cuts are required. I don't think loss of sidewalk is an accurate characterization of a curb cut for a SFH -- there's still a sidewalk, it's level with the rest of the sidewalk, and there's probably a total of 5 minutes a day max when a car crosses that bit of sidewalk. There is, however, a corresponding loss of curbside parking (which is 24/7). Presumably that's why OP is making the alley access/no alley access distinction in the new code.

A curb cut for a driveway (on a street where curbside parking is allowed and is scarce) only makes sense from a public policy standpoint if two or more cars will be using the driveway. Otherwise you're eliminating one public space to provide one private space. Totally annoying when someone gets a curb cut and then routinely parks car #2 on the street. If I ran the zoo, I'd probably deny RPPs to houses that have curb cuts on a you've-already-claimed-your-share-of-public-parking-space theory.

by BTDT on Mar 16, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

@BTDT

I imagine the only thing people here will agree on is that parking rules and regulations in DC are a complete and utter mess. It's good that neighborhoods are working out solutions that work for them. But when that management comes down to which specific apartments will be able to park and which will will not.

Would it shock anyone if we discovered that the overwhelming majority of those in support of restricting apartments are single family home dwellers.

Further, here's another brilliant parking thing in DC. In neighborhoods where there are parking restrictions the system allows for visitor passes to be given out. Who gets the passes? Everyone with a registered vehicle. The people who ALREADY take up a space are the ones who get the visitor passes. It takes me weeks of hounding DDOT for one because I do not own a vehicle in the city. Makes about as much sense as, well, telling specific people in a neighborhood that they cannot park in their neighborhood.

by Mike R on Mar 16, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

I think the anti-Arlington approach on RPPs shows how hypocritical the myopic little twit/new urbanist view is on off-street parking: Eliminate it because people don't need cars! And developers will cut the prices of condos and apartments, making housing more affordable! But suggest restricting RPP to encourage transit use and force the developers to put their money where their mouths are, and of, the howls. We have to have street parking for our cars (we never drive)! It's discrimination! Well, maybe developers will just pocket the savings and not cut prices after all

by Amy on Mar 16, 2014 3:19 pm • linkreport

A: before you bring in Arlington's approach please research what the actual rules are because there are a number of exemptions and its something that must be proactively sought out, its not automatic.

For whatever reason I get a "page not found" when I click the link to the rules on the Arlington County website. But I've read it a few times before because it gets brought up a lot.

B: denying RPP to new residents of a certain building may certainly be politically necessary (and frankly, I can live with that) but it's not a very efficient solution. It can help preserve the status quo of street parking on a given block but if the status quo is already bad then it's hard to see how that step alone will make things better.

C: and generally, if you move to somewhere without parking (whether it the building was built in 1900 or 2014) it's kind of expected that it's on you to figure out your parking situation and understand that the street in front of your house may change.

C1: so in that case, its expected that people will balk that all new buildings without parking must be denied RPP when old buildings without parking get RPP. RPP itself is meant to prevent commuters from parking near metro and using it to get downtown. It's not meant as a program to keep residential parking easy for a set number of residents.

D: but this comes up every time any sort of parking issue is discussed.

by drumz on Mar 16, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

Arlington does not have a general rule banning RPPs for new buildings, in general, or as a standard quid pro quo for being parking free.

Arlingtons RPP systems is different from DC. Most of Arlington does not have RPP, and the zones are small. Anyone who does not live in an RPP zone is not eligible, and that is most of Arlington. The areas where Arlington has targeted new dense development are in commercial zones, which are not in RPP zones, and no buildings, old or new, are RPP eligible (but generally these blocks have no old residential buildings.) IIUC Arlington is looking at something more like a tradeoff thing for buildings in more residential areas (for which they have not previously allowed parking free or parking lite buildings, IIUC) Currently that happens by special exception, IIUC.

For the main urbanist goals, its probably fine to deny RPPs to new buildings. But there may be legal problems doing that, and its possible to see it as unfair even if it does not interfere in urbanist goals.

None of that has anything much to do with the question of who pockets the benefits, which has a lot to do with how competitive the development business - if it is competitive, the benefits could accrue to buyers/renters, or conceivably to land owners. Clearly many residents of new buildings own cars, though a few do not, and I suspect residents of new buildings with less parking often have fewer cars per household than residents of single family homes do.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2014 7:54 pm • linkreport

I stand corrected about Arlington, but the parcels that abut 42nd are zoned commercial.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 16, 2014 8:32 pm • linkreport

I think the question comes down to this - do we see density and people (specifically those with cars) as a negative externality and if so, who should pay for that?

Personally, I don't think density is a negative externality, but I do agree with those who want more mandatory parking or no RPP for new residents that people who want to park their car on the street exert a negative externality? I just disagree that new people should be the ones who pay for it.

I don't think we should require landowners to supply parking any more than I think we should require them to supply balloon animals (except maybe handicap parking). If a building does not want to supply parking then they should not have to. If that means there is more competition for scarce parking, then we just need to raise the price of parking. Why should existing residents expect that the current very cheap on-street parking situation be maintained - in their favor - for ever? Should we also tell residents at a new apartment that unless it builds its own breakfast restaurant that residents of the building will not be allowed to go to other ones in the neighborhood? (we wouldn't want any existing locals to be inconvenienced). No.

by David C on Mar 16, 2014 8:50 pm • linkreport

@Neil: “any building built on a commercial street is not eligible to receive RPP”

This is simply not true in DC. If you check the RPP database on the DDOT web-site, you will see quite a few commercially zoned blocks in the database for addresses that are eligible for RPPs. While part of the Safeway site is zoned commercial, there is nothing in the DDOT regulations that would prevent residents on that block from petitioning for RPPs. The requirements are listed in the petition form.

@Mike R: All residents who live at addresses in the DDOT RPP database are eligible for visitor parking permits, whether or not they own a car. And there is only one VPP per address, even if the household has more than one car registered in DC.

by OtherMike on Mar 16, 2014 9:00 pm • linkreport

"Why should existing residents expect that the current very cheap on-street parking situation be maintained - in their favor - for ever? "

because they, are either A. folks maintaining the long time cultural heritage of DC and shouldnt be victimized by change and rich folks coming in or B. Were early pioneers who began the transformation process, and deserve respect for that C. Some other reason that makes clear that the sense of entitlement to cheap parking space is not an entitlement, and is justified.

Thats why I like the idea of discussing a white market in RPP's. Let the old residents (actually residents of old buildings) get RPPs for the current nominal amount. Let no one else get an RPP from the city. Then let the residents of new buildings (or maybe even ANYONE - a suburbanite, a business, a resident of an old building who wants more RPP's) bid for them and buy them from the folks who have them.

Economic theory suggests that the same people would end up parking cars, as if the District were to auction RPP's. Only difference, the cash goes to the residents of old buildings rather than to the District. If everyone decides that the residents of old buildings deserve recompense, than this should be uncontroversial - and will give them cash, which is flexible, rather than a cheap RPP, which some (esp the carfree) may not value.

If its absurd - and some will call it absurd - than it brings into question the privileging of the old buildings.

And lets be clear - the no RPPs to new buildings does NOT prvilege old residents really - it privileges owners of old buildings. In the case of owner occupied houses thats no difference - in the case of rental units, its a huge difference. There is plenty of reason to think that increased costs for an RPP would impacts the value of old housing that is RPP eligible, as much as limiting RPPs would impact the developers of new buildings. For some reason folks who object to enriching developers, do not object to enriching the landlords of existing rental properties (the oldest of which were built with no parking)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2014 9:21 pm • linkreport

Group A - If they're homeowners, they aren't being victimized, they're getting rich. If they're in old apartments, their apartments have parking.

Group B - Consider respect given (but not preferential parking), and see A.

Group C - No response necessary.

by David C on Mar 16, 2014 9:31 pm • linkreport

All this to show that the smaller question of who deserves RPP would be better answered by tackling (rather, getting city officials to tackle it) the larger issue of how the city can better manage the spaces it owns.

Again, RPP works like a charm for preventing VA and MD commuters from parking all day near metro stations but now that different challenges may be arising now that the city is changing.

by drumz on Mar 16, 2014 9:54 pm • linkreport

@OtherMike

Eligible? yes. But the city sends them automatically to people who already clog the streets with a car.

by Mike R on Mar 16, 2014 10:31 pm • linkreport

David, I would think that by listing both the "pioneers" of gentrification and its "victims" I made clear what I think of the substance of the argument.

But its political reality that folks who got something don't tend to give it away because someone makes econ 101 argument. The loser from change to the parking status quo are a range of existing residents, largely owner occupants but also small scale landlords. The beneficiaries of change are those who benefit from new development - essentionally owners of developable land, new residents who would move to DC, and current renters who are looking to either move into new units, or units relatively close to the new ones on the filtering ladder. Oh, and the District treasury. IOW the proponents of the status quo are almost all resident in the District (or in any other jurisdiction where these things come up - parking is becoming more of an issue in Arlco and Alex) see a tangible loss, and tend to vote in high numbers - while those for change are groups that vote in lower numbers, that don't see as tangible a gain (how many folks are in the market for class B units and have never heard of filtering?) and it includes people who do not even live in the district (folks in class B apts in Arlington and SIlver Spring) - IOW, changing the status quo, on parking is politically a massive loser - it will only happen if politicians decide revenue benefits (which can be spent on goodies that win votes) exceed the direct political hit of supporting the change.

In that context you can see my proposal to make existing residents indifferent to the change as either a serious effort to break a political logjam, or as a way to clarify the extent to which cheap RPP's are a gift.

You will note I said this should be discussed - not that it should be passed.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

Sorry, I didn't get that you were being facetious.

If the goal is to come up with a solution wherein there are no losers from the status quo, I suppose this would work. Another option is to raise the cost of an RPP as supply increases, but grandfather you in at the price you first pay.

by David C on Mar 16, 2014 11:28 pm • linkreport

The new development does actually benefit longtime residents by bringing new people to the neighorhoods, adding to the District tax base and in many cases, bringing more walkable amenities to the communities.

In the case of this Safeway proposal, the developer is offering a bigger, better store, more free parking for the neighborhood and some other items that are to be determined.

I guess, unless people want the same old crappy grocery stores and surface parking lots, the proposal seems to be an improvement.

Raise your hand if you are for status quo!

by William on Mar 17, 2014 8:00 am • linkreport

A bigger, better store is the commercial impetus for the project, and taxes to the District are a result. Neither is considered an "amenity" for purposes of added density or waiver of requirements through a PUD application. If the contrary were true, every development proposal inherently would be considered an "amenity" to justify PUD treatment, Note, moreover, that west of the park is hardly a "food desert" when it comes to grocery stores, so bigger, better boxes are likely to elicit a ho-hum from the community,

by Amy on Mar 19, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

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