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Terrible Aldi design shows need for new parking zoning

Carver-Langston is a dense, urban neighborhood, and is about to benefit greatly from the H Street-Benning Road streetcar, which will run across the entire southern edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, commercial developers still seem to think they are located in a far-flung suburb, miles from the city.


Photo by Joe+Jeanette Archie on Flickr.

Along with the increase in transit options for the over 5,500 residents of the neighborhood, a new grocery option is on its way. Aldi will be opening a new store in the neighborhood, but the design and layout show absolutely zero creativity or understanding of how to build in a transit-friendly, walkable area.

Much of the entire southwest corner of the neighborhood is commercial in nature, but has been laid out in a suburban style. This isn't just inappropriate for this part of the city, it's clearly a waste of prime real estate.

Here's the preliminary site plan for the new Aldi store:

As you can see, the store, which will be located at the southeast corner of 17th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, will not address the street. Rather, a majority of the lot will be an asphalt parking lot, which is almost identical to the standard plan that Aldi provides to developers (PDF):

It doesn't have to be this way. Aldi's European operations have shown that they can operate stores that fit into an urban environment:


Image from Google Maps.

This store, located in Frankfurt, Germany, is at the junction of multiple streetcar lines and shares a building that includes other uses (which appear to be offices) above the ground floor. Bicycle parking in front (and a U-Bahn station below) add to the transportation options available to shoppers (of course, access by foot is a given).

Why couldn't a store like this be built in Carver Langston? There's little incentive to do so. Sure, this isn't the central business district of the city, but there's no reason that we shouldn't prioritize every parcel of limited commercial land in DC to serve a higher purpose. More property taxes could come from a multi-story building that has office space in addition to a grocery store. Income tax could come from residents living above such a store. Instead, the city has settled for the lowest common denominator.

How can we make sure things like this don't happen again? A first step is to make sure that the Zoning Commission passes the parking regulations from the zoning update. The Commission extended the period when they'll be accepting testimony, so there is still time to send in a letter stating your agreement that we need to prioritize non-automotive growth within the city.

Submit your comments to the Zoning Commission by fax or email. Emailed comments must be signed and sent as a PDF of not more than 10 pages. Send your signed PDF to: zcsubmissions@dc.gov. Written testimony must be received before 3 pm on Monday, December 20th.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

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If nothing else, at least get the store along the street and put the parking lot in back.

by Froggie on Dec 15, 2010 9:06 am • linkreport

I agree with you in theory Geoff (that the zoning code needs updating), and admit that I haven't studied the location thoroughly, but are you arguing for more signage and windows facing the intersection or to rotate the main entry? I would imagine either Aldi or the developer/traffic planner has done a study as to the catchment area of the new Aldi and perhaps they determined most of the customers will not be using public transport or walking but indeed driving. You are correct that this is not in the central business district and therefore street presence isn't as critical, but suggesting office space or apartments be built atop just for the sake of maximizing the site use may not make fiscal sense if the bigger building stands empty. The Aldi stores I have seen or been to in Europe also respond to the neighborhood they are in. The Frankfurt example is a great one, but I've also seen freestanding Aldi stores behind a surface parking lot in more suburban Germany. I think some sort of interaction with the traffic intersection would benefit the store, but the addition of multiple stores of offices or renters doesn't seem right there.

by JP on Dec 15, 2010 9:10 am • linkreport

what the f is carver-langston?

by amethystdeceiver on Dec 15, 2010 9:20 am • linkreport

Retailers and commercial developers go where the incomes are. The quality of their projects are determined by what the neighborhood can support and what kind of disposable income they have which shouldn't be a surprise. Obviously a grocer, a business model carrying the lowest profit margins of any isn't going to do what say....Safeway did in Georgetown (Adjusted Gross Income of 186K per year per zipcode data) if they aren't going to make their money back.

In this case, according to zipcode data the AGI is 48K a year in Carver Langston. Incomes alone prohibit anyone (without it being underwritten by the city gov) from doing anything remotely mixed use.

The second issue where there is a huge discrepency is what you are calling "dense" neighborhood. Considering Aldi is building on an empty grass lot, across the street from an even larger empty grass lot, adjacent to a Safeway strip center that H&R can't for the life of them keep leased, and is surrounded by stick after stick of suburban style 2 story townhouses, dense is the last thing I would be calling this neighbrohood.

Zero metro accesibility and a 1 line street car that when built will go back and forth along H street.

Just because a place is located inside the beltway, doesn't make it dense. I could take you to dozens of neighborhoods outside the beltway that are far denser than this.

So inconclusion, neither the density nor the demographics warrant or support the kind of development you want.

Perhaps in 20-30 years if and when the citywide streetcar network is developed and H Street and its environs have been transformed into another "Clarendon" with the demographics and incomes to boot, then fine I would agree with you and help demand all the mixed use Whole Foods and multi-story retail the city can get. Until then, I would say the neighborhood is lucky any retailer or developer wants to spend money there at all.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 9:21 am • linkreport

JP: Of course, in a suburban area, this store might be appropriate, but Carver is not a suburban neighborhood. Let me give another example, since you're coming from Capitol Hill. The Safeway at Kentucky and 14th is similar. It's in the middle of a neighborhood that does not have parking lots, and should be redeveloped to address the street.

I know I get defensive about things in Ward 5, and I don't want to be combative here, but just because we're across the Florida Avenue/Benning Road line, things don't become suburban here.

I wouldn't recommend offices at this site. The Frankfurt store is certainly a different beast, but there's no reason that apartments above this store would remain empty. A large apartment building is under construction just across the street, so developers have clearly already decided that there is a market for that kind of thing here.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 9:21 am • linkreport

amethystdeceiver: Carver Langston is a neighborhood in Northeast Washington DC. Here is the Wikipedia entry for it.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

Exactly right.

More sloppy Shoupian thinking.

Look, even if you accept the no-offstreet parking requirements of the proposed zoning code, applying that rule here doesn't get you the result you want. And most of the complaints don't have to do with parking.

Let's be clear also: Aldi is for poor people. They offer cut rate prices, which is great, and most likely people would rather have a working grocery store rather than nitpicking details like fonts and/or parking. (Whole Foods in Clarendon, which is a very different neighborhood, seems to survive with 3 parking lots).

And again, not a perfect comparison, but people want Grocery stores so much that sainted Arlington made a deal for for trader joes.

But applying the new zoning laws to the new space:

1. Parking minimum: From you previous article: "n neighborhood commercial corridors or low-density residential areas without good transit, commercial, institutional, or multi-family residential buildings would still need to provide some parking. But any area with good transit service, or high-density areas, would have no requirements"

Does this apply to this neighboorhood? I'm not sure.

2. Parking minimums vs. what developer wants. Is there an iota of evidence that parking minimums is driving this lot -- or is it what the developer wants, because, well, it is a grocery store and people like to load up. Or maybe they are just really cheap and don't want to spend the money to do something fancy.

3. Building use: I think the core of the complaint is "Look, emerging neighborhood and we are wasting space with a parking lot." Well, true. But again, is there any side that another developer wants to come in and build a multi-use building? Demand side is important.

4. The evils of cars. The real problem with a grocery store with a surface lot -- again look at whole foods -- is it creates a lot of traffic and potential backups. Any analysis here? will the increased traffic be a problem?

5. Scaring away developers. Talking about removing government requirments on parking sounds good on paper. Yeah! Kill regulation. But what you really want is moving the lot, putting it underground, putting in bike and/or pedestrian improvements, landscaping, community concessions. That's not deregulation. Again, I suspect the primary driver here is cheapness. But again -- it's an Aldi. Do you expect something fancy?

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

As a former DC resident, and now as a resident of Germany, I am surprised and highly disappointed by Aldi's development proposal. Germany is full of Aldi's and similar grocery stores. Almost all are within walking distance of public transport or within communities where the density is able to support a grocery store, thereby not requiring automobile trips. If there is parking, it is often either street parking or parking that is discreetly placed behind the building or underground. With the amount of transit that will be available to the bring customers to the Aldi store in Carver Langston, as well as the low rate of car ownership in the area, it seems highly unnecessary to provide so much parking. Even if the store were to be brought to the front of the property and provide a street presence, I think that would be an improvement. Even if Aldi did not want to change the design, but were to replace some of the parking with greenery, such as trees, grass and some outdoor seating - think of how much more pleasant the area could be, pavement vs. grass. I can only hope that the Zoning Commission realizes the value of the new parking regulations and passes them and that Aldi will realize the value of the property and the location and decides to design what Carver Langston deserves; a urban Grocery store that puts value in the customers and sustainable modes of transportation rather than cars and pavement.

by Emily on Dec 15, 2010 9:24 am • linkreport

In three plans I've done mostly myself, for Cambridge, MD, Brunswick, GA, and the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan (draft), I recommended that on streets that normally have big box and similar retail, that the zoning regulations should be changed to require the parking be located behind the store, and that the buildings be brought up to the street. This leaves the zoning classification/use unchanged, just changing the urban design...

Shockingly, Cambridge is doing an urban design review code for Rte. 50, and the recommendation (think for streets like York Road, Reisterstown Road, Liberty Road, US40, etc.) in Baltimore County remained in the posted draft, rather than getting excised--although it would take decades for changes to work through, even if it ends up getting enacted (recent changes post-election make that change extremely unlikely).

A similar change in the code should be made here. Parking behind should be mandatory. Developers always say that retailers and their studies always say parking in front, but those are mostly for suburban and exurban locations, so I say f* it. Make the regulation across the board in the city, and developers and retailers will "cope". (But of course they will press the City Council and the Mayor and other officials to not agree to the change.)

Plus, instead of matter of right development approvals being for projects that meet the minimum land use zoning requirements, it should be flipped, so that matter of right approvals only happen for projects that propose the maximum benefits, e.g., mixed use, parking behind, pro-transit, etc.

JP -- your point about that site not being ready for mixed use is a bit short sighted. With the changes in the neighborhood, the retail district, new development, and eventual improvements along Bladensburg Road, plus a streetcar, the long term prognosis for the area is much different than it has been over the past.

But GH -- you're right that developers/retailers are the last people pushing the envelope for positive change in the built environment. That's why you're getting an Aldi, not a Wegman's...

by Richard Layman on Dec 15, 2010 9:28 am • linkreport

I think the OP is right to question why the Aldi building won't front to the street. However, in this location I think it's going overboard to demand a downscale grocer with only 17K SF footprint building housing ontop. Such a demand may very well be enough to kill the project from Aldi's perspective.

by Paul on Dec 15, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

Again, to dissuade all those who believe that this neighborhood is some kind of dumping ground for the uber-poor and destitute, please take note of the 250+ unit luxury apartment building that is going up across the street.

There is demand for housing here. If the developer who owns this parcel were to build it, they would make money.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

"There is demand for housing here. If the developer who owns this parcel were to build it, they would make money."

Apparently the developer disagrees with you. And I suspect they know more than you do about making money.....

The idea of regulations forcing surface parking to be in back, or even (gasp) requiring underground parking is brilliant.

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 9:53 am • linkreport

This is awful. The ANC should NEVER allow this to happen. Forward thinking, pepole. This should be built with a well-planned, underground parking or parking above the store (a la the Col. Heights Giant).

@ freely: "The second issue where there is a huge discrepency is what you are calling "dense" neighborhood. Considering Aldi is building on an empty grass lot, across the street from an even larger empty grass lot, adjacent to a Safeway strip center that H&R can't for the life of them keep leased, and is surrounded by stick after stick of suburban style 2 story townhouses, dense is the last thing I would be calling this neighbrohood."

-The same thing could have been said of the empty lots & fields that once was Columbia Heights. A perfect example of how a well-planned grocery store can spark some remarkable development around it. Once the Giant moved forward, everything else followed. Could you imagine what would have been had that Giant been designed like the Aldi?

by JTinMVT on Dec 15, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

charlie: I would wager that the developer of this site is merely risk-averse, and not very progressive thinking.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

Geoff- I didn't mean to suggest Ward 5 was suburban, but it's certainly not dense commercial either. And I do not agree that the Safeway at 14th and Kentucky has to be redeveloped to address the street. True there aren't other large parking lots like it on the Hill, but note the parking lot is often full and needed. While an exception to the general rule of development on the Hill, it serves the community since not everyone walks to it (and there aren't a lot of bus lines directly adjacent to the site). And, added density in an already dense residential area isn't always a welcomed change.

My bigger point is that increased density is not always appropriate and should be looked at more site-specifically. I do think some sort of street presence should be included in the design though (more than a freestanding light-up sign).

@Richard...not short-sighted but realistic. The building is to open in 2011? Are they should orient the building to a streetcar line that won't open for another year and may not bring people to its door en masse for another 2 years?

@charlie...Aldi is not just for poor people. That is a disturbing and ignorant comment. We shop at an Aldi often because we appreciate the lower prices (i.e. saving money in a down economy) and while I would never say we are rich I wouldn't classify us as the working poor either. There's an Aldi in Stafford (yes, wild suburbia) that is frequented by all sorts of people.

by JP on Dec 15, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

charlie -- the issue isn't whether or not the developer would make money as much as it is what the developer is comfortable and familiar with doing.

The big problem for cities is that developers don't know much about/aren't comfortable with urban vs. suburban types of development, especially mixed use, which admittedly, is harder to do, costs more, and takes longer to have positive returns. OTOH, the returns overall are higher.

cf. http://www.cleinberger.com/docs/By_CL/Need_For_Alternative_Places.pdf

The general problem is coordinating development and land use so that value is maximized. The zoning code isn't set up to do that. Especially in areas where land values and perceptions are changing. Cleveland's Business Revitalization District Overlays calls for an additional level of design review in such circumstances, but it isn't enough to do this kind of change.

Charlie, I do wonder where you live, and what your experiences are working on these kinds of issues, especially with regard to urban neighborhoods and places generally, and revitalizing neighborhoods specifically. That being said, it's a hell of a lot easier doing it in DC than in weak real estate markets like Baltimore or Pittsburgh or Detroit or St. Louis...

by Richard Layman on Dec 15, 2010 10:01 am • linkreport

>> "There is demand for housing here. If the developer who owns this parcel were to build it, they would make money."

If you want to go after the developer who owns the land to build housing fine. But framing the lack of housing as a shortcoming of Aldi's is missing the mark for me.

by Paul on Dec 15, 2010 10:05 am • linkreport

@jtinmvt,

Again, completely different situation. One neighborhood is not equal to another.

And for the record, Target was the anchor in the DCUSA developement and Giant wouldn't sign on the line to build there until after Target did. Giant actually walked away from the table twice when it looked like Target was wavering.

Also, Columbia Heights was even then, of greater density than Carver Langston is now and more importantly directly on top of a metro station.

Lastly and MOST importantly, the District Tax payers had to kick in 43 million dollars of subsidies to get the whole thing started and that was during a period where cheap money was growing on trees and developers were starving for risky projects. DCUSA would not be there today had it not been for the District tax payer underwriting the whole thing, especially since the bottom fell out of the credit market.

So sure, IF Carver Langston was on top of a major metro line and IF the District gov decides to throw 43 million at the deal, fine...you "may" get some minimal level of success.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

@JP, please. Drive through any podunk town in PA, MI or OH and there are plenty of Aldis. Glad you enjoy them. I've heard they have good produce.

@RichardLayman; And I'm not an expert on urban redevelopment. However, I am pretty good at looking at regulations and realizing the result you want (housing and/or office space) has nothing to do with the proposed regulation (parking minimums)

Risk is an economic concept. Some people are willing to take a chance and make more money, others are willing to stick to the tried and true and get their expected return. What you are talking about is NOT risk. You're quite right that it is just inertia and applying the same model everywhere. But what does that interia have to do with parking minimums?

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

JP (and Charlie) -- yes I think that developers should work to embrace the future, not just today.

The best example may be the Kinkos across from Eastern Market Metro. Now, who in the early 2000s would say that it was dumb to build a site next to the Metro, that it was risky? Not many people. Even so, the developer refused to build a two story building. The second story is fake. This was despite all the lobbying, CHRS's recommendation, etc.

Afterwards, the developer realized he was wrong, that there was a market for a second floor. But the way the building was constructed, creating a real second floor was not possible, because of lack of an entry point.

So the building he did around the corner, he did make the second floor "real" and monetizable.

I expect something similar with the space around Bladensburg and MD Aves. It will take awhile sure. But it will happen. The thing is that eventually the Aldi will just get torn down and the site rebuilt because of the value of intensification. But it probably won't happen for about 22 years... (figuring that there is a 5 year lease with 3 5 year renewable options)

Temporary or short term uses have a much longer time frame than typical residents of a neighborhood, 20-25 years vs. 5-7 years. But for each of these projects, the ability to truly revitalize a neighborhood is delayed, not speeded up, through projects such as these.

E.g., compare the difference on H St. between Family Dollar and Joe Englert.

by Richard Layman on Dec 15, 2010 10:09 am • linkreport

Charlie -- you write

@RichardLayman; And I'm not an expert on urban redevelopment. However, I am pretty good at looking at regulations and realizing the result you want (housing and/or office space) has nothing to do with the proposed regulation (parking minimums)

I absolutely agree.

And it's covered in the things I wrote in response to the entry, if not necessarily in this entry overall.

by Richard Layman on Dec 15, 2010 10:11 am • linkreport

@ Richard: +10

by JTinMVT on Dec 15, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman; right, I think we are actually agreeing.

We are talking about the "developer". I remember reading somewhere that Aldi's does it own development -- i.e. they might have bought the land and are doing this on their own.

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

@charlie...I am sure there are plenty of Safeways, Giants, Food Lions, Piggly Wigglys, and whatever else in podunk towns. There are Aldi locations in Chicago, Alexandria, etc. as well. Not exactly podunk. Maybe you should venture into one and have a look around.

by JP on Dec 15, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

I didn't know about Aldi doing its own thing. But they have a very specific model for what they do (a la Leinberger) and in the US they likely will never change.

WRT this general thread, most people don't seem to understand how I think/approach things in my blog etc. The basic thing is that I focus on outcomes, which I argue with planning and zoning, are supposed to yield improved quality of life, investment climate, economic development, etc.

So when these kinds of outcomes don't obtain, and they don't systematically obtain, it's a clear message that there are (serious) flaws in the processes designed to produce planning and zoning outcomes.

So I look backwards at the processes and make recommendations for changes to make the processes work the way we say we want them to work. (E.g., in my writings about Walmart, calling for an additional level of review for retail stores of 75K s.f., and for retail developments of say 150,000+ s.f.)

Anyway, this thread makes me ask some questions that I will pose in my own blog later today or tomorrow.

(Note to people commenting on Aldi stores in Europe, especially Germany. They have a completely different set of building regulations to deal with, that almost "require" acting urbanistically. We don't have such a regime here. Which is the problem.)

by Richard Layman on Dec 15, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman; the Aldi information is based on some half-remembered Business Week article years ago. So very much hearsay.

There are two logical problems in the OP. One, Aldi's proposal is bad, Two, the solution is the removal of parking minimums.

I'd say both are wrong. Aldi's proposal might be the best you can get here. Grocery stores are different and bring other benefits. But even if you accept that the proposal is bad, the proposed remedy does nothing to solve the problem.

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

Wow, I guess I wasnt paying too much attention to the Aldi since I am on the west end of H, but I really thought it would be going in the existing vacant spaces in the Hechinger center, like where National Wholesale Liquidators used to be located. Man, really a lost opportunity for more density there.

by eric on Dec 15, 2010 10:42 am • linkreport

Charlie: I didn't propose that parking minimum regulations would fix the problems with design at this site. My apologies that it came across to you that way. The proposed zoning regulations include rules that would ban parking in front of buildings. That's the part that would be most relevant here.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

Chris Leinberger has a great phrase about developments like this - you need to structure the regulations so that doing the right this is easy.

This development is not the "right" thing. It's a suburban model. It is, however, the path of least resistance. Doing the right thing (the dense, urban, mixed use kind of development) requires more time and thought, but it also requires jumping through more hoops with the current zoning code.

Perhaps Geoffrey focuses too much on parking requirements alone, but the larger issue is that Aldi is following the path of least resistance within the regulatory structure. The path of least resistance produces crappy outcomes. Ergo, we should change the dominant path for urban development to make the default outcome better.

Sidebar to JP: While the notion that more density isn't always appropriate is a nice statement and might be true in some cases, I can't really think of a single place in DC where more density wouldn't be appropriate. Likewise, you certainly shouldn't measure "more" density (as in the increase over the current conditions) from a baseline of an empty lot. If the starting point is vacant land (i.e zero density), more density is always appropriate. Always.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

It does address I St.
Where does the loading dock go in your design?
If the building is at the corner, people are then entering the store from opposite sides- which is bad design for a grocery store.

We have to look at the total project cost here, anything above 1 story may not be feasible for this kind of project in the area at this time. I've been involved in planning for some larger store layouts, and even this amount of parking seems on the low end for me. Adding places with too little parking is a disaster for the surrounding neighborhood, traffic flow. It's obviously not vastly too much parking, and should be a net improvement for the area.

by static on Dec 15, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

@Geoffrey Hatchard; No need to apologize. Obviously I was interested enough to read it. But yes, not having anything in there saying "Section 1506 requiring parking in back" rather is self-defeating, no?

I hate surface lots too. But what I'm trying to warn against is Shoupian mess than parking minimums create surface lots in cities, when there may be other factor (demand, zoning, inertia, need) driving them.

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

I am also on the west side of H and have not been following too closely...

Do we really want another H St. AutoZone type complex in the middle of a potentially high foot traffic area? I honestly had no idea there was a Safeway up there for a long time, if it had been closer to the street, there is no way that I could have missed it...

by chuck on Dec 15, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Lots of people mentioning Aldi's stores in Europe, which runs pretty contrary to my experiences with the chain over there -- their stores are almost always located on "pad sites" in low-rent areas on the outskirts of town. The chain reportedly has a "portfolio" of about half a dozen different store designs that it can select from for any given site, and avoid having to develop another set of architectural drawings. This also allows them to build a store from scratch in a matter of months.

Not sure why they're being toted out as a bastion of good urban design. IMO, they are one of Europe's worst offenders.

by andrew on Dec 15, 2010 11:23 am • linkreport

They charge more than $1/gallon less for milk than other stores. But most of their meats are soaked in 12% solution of NaCl.

by JimT on Dec 15, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

But framing the lack of housing as a shortcoming of Aldi's is missing the mark for me.

You're missing it because that's not what he said.

by Angela Merkle on Dec 15, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

@Charlie - the podunk towns in MI I have known my whole life (older than dirt) have a single grocery store owned locally, not national or international chain stores. In fact, many of the not-so-podunk towns that I know still have locally owned grocers in addition to the chains.

by Tina on Dec 15, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=aldi

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised that there's so much consternation over such a small setback. Pedestrian's aren't hiking across a concrete canyon. They only walk across a lane of parking, and they're in the store. Even if the store were right up against the sidewalk, it's not like you'd get much more than a blank wall anyway. It's not going to have the whole foods / museum of modern art look.

I think at a site like this, you can't expect a retailer to take too many other risks, especially about consumer behavior. Drivers are going to want to see where to park, and that there are places to park, especially in an area like this that is not very densely populated with high income households.

by mtp on Dec 15, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

DC should have required a little more than just Aldi's there, the lot is big enough to support Aldi and maybe an office building or something useful to the Carver langston area

by Jerome on Dec 15, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

Aldi is my favorite. Great quality at prices way below any other grocers. (They own Trader Joes's too). Aldi would be the perfect small store to have in every DC neighborhood. (They would have been a perfect alternative to IHOP at DCUSA).

Unfortunately Aldi America has this requirement of a parking lot. Makes no sense since their Trader Joe's functions well without parking.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 15, 2010 5:44 pm • linkreport

To be devils advocate here can someone give a reason why Aldi should care about parking or how the store looks ?

Does this increase revenue for them or lower the price of building the store; business is about maximizing profits how does making the store "urban" do that.

by kk on Dec 15, 2010 7:04 pm • linkreport

@JimT Why did you say NaCl instead of just saying salt?

Anyway, I went to their store in Dundalk a couple of times when I used to live there and their meat is terrible. I wouldn't buy anything else there that wasn't some brand name pre-packaged stuff really. They have same good deals but not really that great. I don't care much for Aldi's low class image in terms of local property values either. I hope they don't put the Safeway across the street out of business, I like them much better.

by Doug on Dec 15, 2010 7:36 pm • linkreport

I don't think it is unreasonable, in fact I can think of a handful of good reasons, for the building to engage the sidewalk. Why not bring it to the sidewalk but leave enough for an outdoor market. I think it also makes it safer for pedestrians, from the sidewalk and parking lot, to traverse in and out of the store. provide parking to the side and rear and enhance the sidewalk vegetation. Probably no significant cost increase, unless there is something unique about the site. Even add a rear entrance/check-out to serve the rear parking lot.

by KG on Dec 15, 2010 8:41 pm • linkreport

kk: OK, I'll bite. Aldi should care because they want to be a good corporate citizen. If every business only cared about maximizing profits (i.e., pure distilled capitalism), we would not be able to breathe our air, drink clean water, or have any other common good. Those things all get trampled without some kind of public watchdog making sure things like that are preserved for us all (that's what the part of the U.S. Constitution that says "promote the general welfare" is talking about).

Having intelligent use of urban space is something we have because we choose to have governments, instead of some type of anarchical system that places no value on externalities.

(That's my response. Anyone out there that can explain it better, have at it.)

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 15, 2010 9:37 pm • linkreport

This is a complete pipe dream and a waste of energy. Do you really, really think this would ever happen? They're going to build it just like the Safeway. There is no demand for offices in that area. Maybe 12-20 years from now. not even close now. Stupid article.

by Big D on Dec 16, 2010 11:32 am • linkreport

@Tom: Huh? Every TJ's I've ever been to has had parking, including the DC location.

by andrew on Dec 16, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

Wow, Big D, thanks for the constructive feedback.

Maybe you could submit something yourself, since you have quality feedback to share.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 16, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

Aldi has done better stores in the US. One new store in Lincoln Park, Chicago (real estate agent PDF) is in an old loft that they strangely share with Trader Joe's (upstairs, with the parking). Granted, it's an odd but cheap space in a nice neighborhood; Chico's and Patagonia share the block. It's five blocks from another Aldi, with the usual surface parking. If asked, and apparently Milwaukee and Chicago have asked, they will at least put the store by the sidewalk and the parking lot on the side.

So yes, the design should be better. However, I don't see this as an either/or between strip malls and DCUSA; a better, more easily redevelop-able site plan, with no parking between the building and sidewalk and with less parking overall, should be what zoning requires. Zoning in some U.S. downtowns does include a minimum density requirement, but requiring multi-story, mixed-use development at this site seems excessive:
- the streetcar, while it is rail, has nowhere near the passenger capacity of Metro;
- there's not a huge unmet demand for large commercial; and
- there's little financing available for such development right now.

Big boxes have voluntarily behaved better in Columbia Heights and Tenleytown (and Lincoln Park) because of higher land prices -- prices they're willing to pay because dense, prosperous neighborhoods are next door and suburban alternatives are relatively inconvenient. That's not the case here: 20002 is half as dense as 20010, and Landover's big boxes are a quick drive up the road.

The Atlas Flats across Bladensburg are a very different story from something like DCUSA or even Park Place at Petworth; they're likely wood-framed, which has much lower costs than steel or concrete, and also appear to have a nice deal from HUD on financing. (That financing, and/or a chancy market, might explain why Atlas Flats has only token mixed use.)

by Payton on Dec 17, 2010 2:08 am • linkreport

Has anyone mentioned that the massive parking lot in front of Safeway in the Hechinger Mall is always half empty, if not two thirds empty? Wouldn't that fact alone seem to suggest the developers should focus less on parking and more on making it easier for area residents to walk to the store without crossing a massive under-used parking lot? I see elderly patrons and children walking to and from the Safeway in HM all the time; that neighborhood has as many patrons on foot as in cars, from my casual observation. It seems like the Aldi developers aren't very familiar with the neighborhood shopping demographics, IMO.

by spirit equality on Dec 17, 2010 9:57 pm • linkreport

As a 12 year Aldi corporate employee maybe I can shed some light: Aldi likely purchased/leased the space because no other retailers or builders (with any financial muscle) were pursuing it. Regardless of the surrounding income area, we look for land bargains and never participate in a bidding war.

Secondly, the photo up top is of an outdated model. We no longer build the ugly EIFS facing, and now have a much more architecturally pleasing prototype with (amongst other things) high ceilings and windows throughout that provide plenty of natural light.

Blogs and posts with unrealistic, NIMBY-istic views about what type of businesses should come to low income neighborhoods are nothing new. They're usually the result of pride in one's neighborhood and a lack of understanding of how businesses/politicians work or what motivates them. Also, comparing Frankfurt, Germany to DC is laughably irrelevant. Europe is much more densely populated and highly regulated. Germany is the size of Montana but has a quarter the population of the US. I could go on.

The argument that the space could be used for some better use seems moot if nobody else wants it, and the residents won't support it. I also assume that is it is zoned for a specific use and isn't fit for residential units.

There are plenty of false assumptions made about Aldi in the posts above especially regarding the quality of our products. I assure you that an enormous amount of resources are spent ensuring the quality of our food. We obtain our product from the same manufacturers that other retailers use for their private label, including upscale grocers such as Whole Foods and Wegmans. We are able to offer the lowest prices because of our trim overhead and high operational efficiency, not lower quality of product.

by Grocery Joe on Dec 18, 2010 5:00 pm • linkreport

Grocery Joe: I am the author of this article. Could you email me directly at hatchard @ ggwash . org

I have some questions I would like to ask offline, if you don't mind.

For what it's worth, I and others in the neighborhood do not have what you would call a "NIMBY" view of Aldi. I welcome the company with open arms—I am just disappointed in the lack of creativity and vision in this development.

The land is zoned C-3-A, which has the following definition in DC (emphasis mine):

Permits matter-of-right medium density development, with a density incentive for residential development within a general pattern of mixed-use development to a maximum lot occupancy of 75% for residential use and 100% for all other uses, a maximum FAR of 4.0 for residential and 2.5 FAR for other permitted uses and a maximum height of sixty-five (65) feet. Rear yard requirements are twelve (12) feet; one family detached dwellings and one family semi-detached dwellings side yard requirements are eight (8) feet.
Had Aldi chosen to add residential to this location, they could have been permitted to build more densely than is permitted for single-use commercial.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Dec 18, 2010 6:59 pm • linkreport

Haha- Schooled by the Grocer. CarverLangston is a lot like Frankfurt though. That was a good point.

by Big D on Dec 21, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

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