A Tenleytown Miracle

Last Thursday, neighbors from all over Tenleytown worked together open up paths and make walking safe and easy again.

tenleytown shovel

We ended up focusing on the streetcorners, which had become less passable with every visit by the plows. The delay of one day had allowed most owners and businesses to clear their sidewalks, but the hardening slush in the streets was still tripping people up. So, at Albemarle and Wisconsin, we cleared and widened the busy crosswalks with shovels and a garden edger.  We spread out along Wisconsin Avenue, clearing sidewalks to the south and opening up more crosswalks in the north. We even put down some salt and sand provided by the local Ace hardware store. After a few hours, we ended by clearing a few spots on River Road and bypassing a monumental pile at Albemarle and Fort Drive.

We capped the afternoon’s work at the local Mexican restaurant, where, as one participant described it, “Guapo’s cleaned up.” The snowball fight never went down, due to low interest from participants. However, the news media were interested in us. The Northwest Current sent out a reporter, who stopped by WAMU to pick up audio equipment. You can hear her handiwork here, or read it on Page 1 of the February 17th issue of the current. I think everyone was glad to get the recognition. Residents for the most part expressed gratefulness – and a little delight – at the gumption of my co-shovelers.

tenleytown shovel 2
Side-shoveling around ice.

I got a lot of credit for proposing the idea, but the whole event would have been ineffectual without the work of the dozen-or-so people who came out: Ben Nieva, Mike Sires, Steve Kelley, Athan Manuel, Angie Das, Hedda Garland, Felix Garland, Jenny McCarthy and Chris Frantz. ANC 3E Chairman Jon Bender deserves special thanks for his work organizing the group. I know there are a few individuals who aren’t listed above, but deserve attention. If you are or know one, please post the name in the comments.

Of course,  some other people deserve attention for their lack of effort. Snow on most sidewalks that were busy simply condensed into packs of ice, so we ended up not clearing most. But some businesses, perhaps abandoned by their landlords, did not do their duty. Neisha Thai and several other establishments south of the Metro stood out. Circle Management left their construction site next to the metro uncleared, while they or their tenants fulfilled the responsibility on the rest of their properties. The Georgetown Day School shoveled its 42nd Street Sidewalks well enough, but its long stretch of sidewalk on River Road was left completely untouched. Finally, the National Park Service proved the worst offender, shoveling none of their many properties around Tenleytown.

But while other people let down their neighbors, it was reassuring to see so many people out on a snow day, helping each other out. Everyone came away knowing the others a little better as well.

The Winds Shift over Tenleytown

Gate way

DCMud reports that Safeway has put their PUD approval on hold. On Monday, the Zoning Commission approved an indefinite delay for the project. This is good news. As best as anyone can tell, it indicates that Safeway are reconsidering their entire plan. If they choose the option of urbanism, I know that Torti Gallas will deliver a plan that is beautiful and energizing.

Adding a few residences above, townhouses behind, or even just a streetwall with a few independent stores would turn the project from a pig to a prize  for Tenleytown. A commitment to LEED Gold certification and the reconfiguration of 42nd street will ensure that Safeway delivers on the real amenities they owe the neighborhood in exchange for a zoning exemption. Finally, Safeway must be flexible enough to design a building that does not require a forest to hide its bulk.

If the new store is beautiful and adds vibrancy to the city, I will be more than glad to support it. I know many others will, as well. But some will never support appropriate and sustainable growth.

It is easy to see this process as another company battered into submission by Tenleytown NIMBYs. But it’s far from that – I, groups like Ward 3 Vision, and the current board of ANC 3E understand that developers are not the enemy. A Wisconsin Avenue that serves all ages and facilitates community and sustainability is not only good, but necessary.  This recent prodding was necessary to restart the motion towards TOD lost over the years of fighting.

The old regime of Tenleytown and Friendship Heights has fallen with this action. The divisive, victimizing attacks, a relic of the freeway wars, are tired and out of tune with modern planning. They have scared off too many developers with endless appeals. But their time is fading. Their secrecy and and tactics disengaged neighborhood residents. But their currency is spent. Their Rovian arguments once swayed commissions. But they fool no one anymore.

Reno Park Update 091125B: ANC

One more legal aspect worth mentioning are the Advisory Neighborhood Councils in any given site. There are three ANCs in the subject area, 3E, 3F, and 3G. The division between these three wards is at the park, as seen below.

basic ANCs

As you can see, each ANC consists of a handful of single-member Districts, which elect the individual neighborhood councillors. Because of the different densities in the project area, the number of SMDs in an ANC varies, as does the size of the SMD. So, 3F04, which represents a cluster of apartment buildings, is geographically small, while 3F03 is vast because it mostly represents a handful of people, deer, and some of the more intelligent trees.

Small Town Politics: Just Safeway

Gate way

I apologize for the delay, but here’s the Safeway portion of the ANC meeting. However, this should get everyone excited for December’s meeting, no?

Safeway sent Avis Black, the Regional Real Estate Manager for DC, as a representative instead of their pricklier spokesman. She reiterated Safeway’s position as wanting to work with the community and then stood for questions.  And I mean stood there – she faced the audience for at least an hour of tempered but stern questioning. And for all the criticism, everyone was polite and cooperative. In fact, most of the other people who spoke brought up, again and again, that they wanted changes to the plan, not no growth at all. Actually, many present were conducive to a project that would build an as-of-right building above a store that was still larger than the existing one, but not so gargantuan as the proposed.

First to stand was Adam Rubinson, the de facto leader of the critics. He likewise reiterated his requests for Safeway to make substantial changes to the design of the new store. He listed off the general complaints everyone involved has heard so far, as well as some new ones. I’ll repeat them here for people who weren’t there.

Small-Town Politics: Everything but Safeway

The Current covered the November 5th ANC 3E meeting, but it’s worth discussing it in a format that’s indexed by Google – and one that doesn’t use two inflammatory headlines for one ANC meeting. Hyperbole is something that can only be applied to Zoning Commission cage fights. Speaking of which, the obvious topic of the night was the Tenleytown Safeway, but like any good spectacle, that discussion came only after a long development. Actually, the debate over Safeway’s PUD was so long that I’m going to put it up as another post tomorrow.

After the crime report and some perfunctory zoning adjustments, a manager at Maggiano’s in Friendship Heights discussed their mandatory re-application for valet parking. The loss of parking is one of DC’s bugaboos, but he assuaged the concerns with cold, hard facts about where they park. Friendship Heights’ traffic is particularly bad and people from nearby neighborhoods complain about visitors parking in along the narrow streets to the east. So it was a huge surprise to learn that the garage under that block is largely empty most of the time. That suggests that most people will take the stress of driving around Jenifer Street over paying to store their cars, have parked in one of the other garages, or that a good number of the shoppers crowding the streets have arrived on transit. It definitely requires further study. The application was approved, and they moved on to the Reno School.

Jane Maroney, the newly elected Deal PTA chair spoke on behalf of the school in regard to the future of the Jesse Reno School. She explained Deal’s intents for the building in general: that it will be used as a performing arts facility and school nursery that could double as public meeting location. Apparently the two major goals are to keep the main building secure at night and reserve the dulcet tones of the band for infants who will only remember the experience subconsciously.

The blocked archway became a source of contention.
The Reno School. The blocked archway above was a source of contention.

The Jesse Reno building is unquestionably a historic structure, so the debate came down to whether to landmark it now and then renovate, or to renovate and then landmark it. Either way, renovations have to undergo Historic Preservation review because the structure was built in 1903. Deal received money from the city to renovate it, but hasn’t yet hired an architect. Board Member Waldmann of the Tenleytown Historical Society explained a little about its history as a segregated school and the lone survivor of the town of Reno, but her justification for why landmarking was so essential with everyone on board could only be justified with shadows of reckless demolitions during Barry years, so eventually the board voted 3-2 against the nomination. Oddly, the Bender-Frumin-Serebin and Eldredge-Sklover split is the same way they voted on the Janney application.

So, that was the lesser part of the meeting. The rest comes tomorrow.