Posts about Tenleytown Safeway
Responding to requests from neighbors, Safeway created an excellent mixed-use proposal to redevelop its Tenleytown store that will reinvigorate its stretch of Wisconsin Avenue. They deserve kudos from residents, not the litany of complaints the project team got at a recent ANC meeting.
In 2009, Safeway announced plans to expand this aging store. Ward3Vision, a group of residents who support more walkable and sustainable urban places, joined others in the community in urging Safeway to approach the expansion more creatively and sustainably than its original proposal.
Safeway went back to the drafting board, and partnered with Clark Realty and New Urbanist architects Torti Gallas to design a mixed-use development with a 56,000 square foot grocery store and 190 residences.
The development team has spent a lot of time engaging the community. They have created an imaginative project with reasonable density that will blend into the existing neighborhood fabric while also enlivening the street.
The plan calls for more than just replacing the timeworn Tenleytown Safeway with a new store. By adding a residential building, the project will reinvigorate this stretch of Wisconsin Avenue marked by aging commercial development and help it start to transform into a mixed-use commercial and residential district.
Unfortunately, at the March 8 ANC 3E meeting, residents lodged a litany of complaints about the height, density, and parking and traffic impacts of the project.
Some Ward 3 residents have criticized the project as being too dense for the surrounding neighborhood. But the site's location on Wisconsin Avenue, between the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights Metro stations and served by high-frequency bus lines, makes it very appropriate for transit-oriented, slightly denser development.
Growth like what Safeway proposes will bring increased foot traffic and customers to stores and restaurants, giving residents in quieter surrounding neighborhoods more shopping and dining choices, and bolsters DC's tax-base while adding minimal traffic.
The development team showed great sensitivity to community concerns. The architects moved delivery traffic to Davenport Street from the originally proposed location on Elicott Street, where drivers will now unload in a covered delivery court. This buffers the noise and keeps truck traffic away from Georgetown Day School students across the street. The team also added a cover over the delivery court after residents voiced concerns about noise.
The architects added a row of liner townhouses to screen off the potentially blank, uninteresting walls of the grocery store, enhancing the sense of a residential environment. They also stepped back the height of the building to create terraces, increasing green space for the development, and added a second entrance to Safeway along 42nd Street to make the shopfront livelier.
Also, in direct response to concerns expressed at the January ANC meeting, the development team removed one whole story from the residential main block, making it 4 residential stories instead of 5 as originally planned.
There are, of course, details that still need to be resolved, such as how to foster lively street life, how to to minimize traffic congestion and enhance safety, putting utility lines, and encouraging other amenities like bike and car sharing.
The one area that could most improve is at the corner of Ellicott and 42nd, where WMATA has a small service building often referred to as a "bunker." Safeway and Clark are negotiating with Metro about this property. A semi-public use, such as a coffeehouse pavilion, would bring many benefits to the community and developer alike. DC could also modify the slip lanes in this area to create additional public space.
Either way, the final proposal is an excellent one. The team has shown willingness to compromise, and deserve full support from area residents.
After the heated debate at the November ANC 3E meeting, you might have expected an even fiercer confrontation this past Thursday. There were even promises of it.
But it wasn't. Instead, anger gave way to dismay at the lack of substantial improvements in the plans. While Safeway's regional real estate manager Avis Black attended the meeting, she entrusted the presentation to Brian O'Looney of Torti Gallas. He explained their efforts to make the bulk of the structure as unobtrusive as possible without sacrificing the program of the store.
Yet, that program, the functional concept of the store, is precisely the problem. The grocery store, and all its subsidiary stores, such as a Starbucks, would face inward, contained in one enormous envelope with a unitary entrance instead of creating smaller stores facing outward.
Out front, it became clear that Safeway did not want to remove a slip lane between Wisconsin and 42nd St. because they intend to use it for cars to idle while drivers pick up groceries. A reconfigured intersection would be safer for pedestrians, produce a better pocket park, and reduce the amount of speeding on 42nd, but it was not appealing to Safeway.
Unfortunately, critics of the store could not put up a consistent front, going off on tangents about a number of minor elements, some of which were created by other halfhearted concessions. Whose interests does the store need to address? Some residents want a smaller store. One teacher at the adjacent Georgetown Day School objected to Safeway's decision to move the controversial rear walkway, which ran from the school to the store entrance, inside the garage. "We are neighbors too," he said.
And beyond that, how about the residents of a few blocks away What did appear was a conclusive sense that dialogue had failed between neighbors and the store. Safeway had made no promises and now promised even less. The neighbors in attendance seemed to not expect any changes. The potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design gets lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to squander that. Crossposted at цarьchitect.
What did appear was a conclusive sense that dialogue had failed between neighbors and the store. Safeway had made no promises and now promised even less. The neighbors in attendance seemed to not expect any changes. The potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design gets lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to squander that.
Crossposted at цarьchitect.
The letters came from Safeway or a Safeway representative. Safeway hasn't exactly explained what they intended to do with the card, but it appears that Safeway and Venator simply wish to hedge their bets against vocal opposition. A stack of paper and a polished graphic of neighborhood support could prove the existence of a silent majority favoring the project, with some of the area's vocal opponents to all development getting in the way.
Now, that strategy alone would be a cautious and defensive practice for a company. Considering that the Cleveland Park Giant has been under review for nearly half my life, I can sympathize with their fears of endless fighting. However, according to posts on the Tenleytown listserv and offline as well, it has come out that Safeway excluded the people who live nearby from the mailing. The people who live on the block, and who would be most affected by any changes, got no voice in that survey. Considering that there was no way to say "No" on the card, again, the only reasons why Safeway wouldn't send it out to the residents that are known critics are that the answer is a
forlorn foregone conclusion, or that they did not want to incite opponents further. The Northwest Current quotes spokesman for the company, Craig Muckle, as saying the omission was an oversight.
To be completely honest, I'm pretty split over whether this action was reasonable but defensive or an example of disrespectful cunning. At meetings of ANC 3E, which represents residents on the western side of Tenleytown and all of Friendship Heights, vocal transit-oriented denialists can bring to bear a disproportionate influence on decisions. However, critics of the project include people who want more building or just a shorter one; opponents are not necessarily opposed to the current project. Some residents worry about the effect of large, blank walls abutting their townhouses. In fact, when presented with their concerns, the
Board of Zoning Adjustment Zoning Commission told Safeway to modify the building in response to resident concerns over shadows and massing.
While no wrongdoing has occurred in a legal sense, Safeway may have breached the public trust in going around the public Zoning Commission hearings. Safeway has touted the successful integration of their stores into neighborhoods and their outreach to neighbors. So far, they had done an exemplary job, proposing a fine urban structure, submitting to the public process for a planned-unit development, and presenting a good amount of information to the public. Safeway could have built a multistory building as-of-right with no discussion.
Jon Bender, the ANC 3E chair, is trying to broker a deal, and he's suggesting progress in the right direction. He has mentioned a compromise of a multistory structure on 42nd Street, stepping down into townhouses nearby. That would be an ideal resolution: to not only ameliorate the impact on the community, but also to make it better for the greater city and environment by adding some reasonable density. Whether Bender's plan has any more support than the current one will come out at the ANC meeting tonight. Hopefully, with that discussion, Safeway and the residents can continue to work together to find a reasonable compromise for Tenleytown's future.
ANC 3E will discuss the Safeway at their meeting tonight, 7:30 pm at St. Mary's Church, 42nd and Fessenden Streets.
This past week, Safeway revealed their plans to renovate the Safeway at 42nd and Ellicott Streets, along Wisconsin Avenue in the northern reaches of Tenleytown. What they propose (huge PDF) is a dramatic improvement over the bunker-like current building, and will enliven a dreary section of the neighborhood.
However, the project includes no residential or commercial component on top of the new stores, despite its location roughly one-half mile from both the Tenleytown-AU and Friendship Heights Metro stations. Like the TD Banknorth building across Wisconsin Avenue, these patches in the urban fabric will better the community, but without more of a plan, they are just patches.
The new Safeway will activate 42nd Street, which is separated from Wisconsin Avenue by just a small triangular park. Instead of a forbidding blank wall, Safeway plans some outdoor seating for an in-store Starbucks. Residential Ellicott Street will get a landscaped park in front of the store's substantial setback. The surface parking lot will become an enclosed one-story parking wing, and the loading dock will move to Davenport Street, adjacent to Georgetown Day School, screened from the street by a brick wall.
42nd Street view now (left) and planned (right).
Unfortunately, Safeway wanted to be expedient with the design and worked with one of the five neighborhood organizations that claims to represent the community, the Alliance for Rational Development. As their double-plus inaccurate name implies, ARD opposes most, if not all development of sites along Wisconsin and in Tenleytown. Their policies are transit-oriented-denialist, insisting that the area is optimally zoned and built up, and that any more growth will only have negative effects, primarily on the supply of parking.
42nd Street elevation.
Some of their concerns for any given project can seem legitimate when viewed without context, ignoring of the multiple benefits of well-designed areas with mixed uses. But Tenleytown's zoning only allows for densities along a very narrow band on Wisconsin Avenue, closer in form to a suburban arterial than an interconnected city neighborhood. Many other lots, just a block or two from the Metro have no opportunities for development at any scale, because they are zoned as low-density in spite of their location at a major node in the city's infrastructure network.
Because there are so few available parcels, city officials and residents on both sides end up debating the few opportunities for development even more hotly. The Tenley-Friendship Library, for example, represented an appealing opportunity to add housing to an existing project on publicly-owned land. But that small site posed other challenges, like fitting in a reasonable building without disrupting the adjacent Janney School. That proved too difficult, and city officials ultimately abandoned that effort.
Last week, the Economic Development office announced that the new library would have stronger columns in the rear third of the building, to support future construction above and behind the current building.
A small addition, mostly on top rather than beside the library, might be possible, but there's very little room to maneuver. And realistically, any building other than a modest standalone structure would seem out of place amid the other uses on that block. Eliminating one of Janney's fields is too steep a price to pay for the benefits. However, nobody would be suggesting such an expensive, controversial project if the neighborhood had zoning that was more reasonable for such a central location and neighbors that greeted development with constructive dialogue.
The local ANC issued a list of potential development sites in response to the Library fiasco, however, the sites they selected are not enough. Metro and the commercial potential along Wisconsin are both amazing resources that a neighborhood cannot squander while also looking to become sustainable and rational.
Cross-posted at цarьchitect.
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