Tag Archives: opposition

Local planning

Small Town Politics: No dialogue with Safeway

seatingAfter 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 had been supplanted with dismayed grouchiness. While Avis Black, the regional real estate manager attended the meeting, she entrusted the presentation to Brian O’Looney, an associate principal at the architecture firm Torti Gallas. In a series of slides, he demonstrated the great lengths the architects had gone to in making 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. To their credit, the architects have tried to address neighbor’s concerns, but their efforts are like putting a rhinoceros in a corset. When called to cut down the size of the proposed store by 1,000 square feet, around 2% of the total area, Ms. Black simply refused.
The other sources of contention revolved around automobility. Noise emandating from the garage concerned one 43rd street resident in particular. Out front, it became clear that Safeway did not want to remove a slip lane between Wisconsin and 42nd St. because they intended it use it for cars to idle for grocery pick up. That a reconfigured intersection would be safer for pedestrians, produce a better pocket park, and reduce the amount of speeding on 42nd was not worth the change.
Unfortunately, critics of the store could not put up a consistent front, entering tangents about a number of minor elements – some of which were created by other halfhearted concessions.  Whose interests does the store need to address? The hottest moment of a debate came when an irate Georgetown Day teacher called out the proposal to move the controversial rear walkway, which ran from the school to the store entrance, inside the garage. The teacher declared, indignantly, that GDS was a neighbor too.
And beyond that, how about the residents of a few blocks away – or the region? At what point does a corporation that entered into public debate, as part of the Planned Unit Development process, have to address the public benefits. Safeway has tried to reduce the impact on adjacent neighbors. However, the store needs to take into consideration public issues, like regional planning, street life, and future growth in the area. A beautiful wall like the one to be built along 42nd is still just a wall. With the currently proposed monolithic store, Safeway cannot be urban.
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. So the potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design is lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans, or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to  squander that.

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 had been supplanted with dismayed grouchiness. While Avis Black, the regional real estate manager attended the meeting, she entrusted the presentation to Brian O’Looney, an associate principal at the architecture firm Torti Gallas. In a series of slides, he demonstrated the great lengths the architects had gone to in making 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. To their credit, the architects have tried to address neighbor’s concerns, but their efforts are like putting a rhinoceros in a corset. When called to cut down the size of the proposed store by 1,000 square feet, around 2% of the total area, Ms. Black simply refused.

The other sources of contention revolved around automobility. Noise emandating from the garage concerned one 43rd street resident in particular. Out front, it became clear that Safeway did not want to remove a slip lane between Wisconsin and 42nd St. because they intended it use it for cars to idle for grocery pick up. That a reconfigured intersection would be safer for pedestrians, produce a better pocket park, and reduce the amount of speeding on 42nd was not worth the change.

Unfortunately, critics of the store could not put up a consistent front, entering tangents about a number of minor elements – some of which were created by other halfhearted concessions.  Whose interests does the store need to address? The hottest moment of a debate came when an irate teacher at the adjacent Georgetown Day School called out the proposal to move the controversial rear walkway, which ran from the school to the store entrance, inside the garage. The teacher declared, indignantly, that GDS was a neighbor too.

Just a little too large.
Just a little too large for anyone's good.

And beyond that, how about the residents of a few blocks away – or the region? At what point does a corporation that entered into public debate, as part of the Planned Unit Development process, have to address the public benefits. Safeway has tried to reduce the impact on adjacent neighbors. However, the store needs to take into consideration public issues, like regional planning, street life, and future growth in the area. A beautiful wall like the one to be built along 42nd is still just a wall. With the currently proposed monolithic store, Safeway cannot be urban.

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. So the potential for mixed use and sustainable neighborhood design is lost, unless Safeway reconsiders their plans, or the zoning commission rejects them. The site has much potential, but Safeway is choosing to  squander that.

Local

North of Tilden: In the name of the Father, the Builder and Community Spirit

The Tenleytown area has been a hub of hubbub for the past two weeks, and more is to come. Four long awaited projects made great strides, however, opportunities are still being lost.

First the good news: The Tenleytown Library will break ground today, September 23rd at 10:30 AM, with Mayor Fenty and perhaps some protesters in attendance. The Economic Development office decided to spend $650K-1M to build stronger girders in the rear of the building, to permit future growth above and to the rear of the library. Across Wisconsin, the renovated and restored fields at Fort Reno Park will open on October 3rd. Another contentious site, the three athletic pitches look great. I can’t wait to see people enjoying the park and all its earthly delights again.

The new structure is on the left. Pray for a good contractor.
Top: Yuma Elevation, new structure at left. Bottom: Western elevation. (Image via DCMud)

Opus Dei revealed more details about their plan for the Yuma Study Center, a residential and educational facility behind St. Ann’s Catholic Church. Going before the HPRB, Moses of the Anacostia Nir Buras presented a handsome traditional home that would stand west of the Covenant of the Bon Secours building. Alvin Holm‘s design for the building is in a humbler strand of Classicism than the grandiose variety that Washington is known for, and that’s really good to see. As you can see, the new building would have nearly identical proportions and mass, but would use a more Chesapeake style and add a porch to indicate a residential character. However, I think the building would be better to stand on its own rather than be a redecorated twin. Still, positive.

And below, the ARD gives us Barabbas. read more »

Local planning

Stop the Mega Sears!

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to make an account of the many things Tenleytown residents have opposed over the years. For now, though, I’ll just to highlight one fight in particular, the oldest one that got any news coverage, and one that has some parallels to the current, pointless fight over the Macomb Street Giant.

Most residents and visitors admire the sleek moderne building that now houses a Best Buy and a Container Store. It is a registered landmark, ably capped by a Shalom Baranes-designed condominium. Critics and writers have shown almost nothing but praise for the structure, including Roger Lewis.

tenleytown-mud

But in 1940, when Sears Roebuck first proposed the store, the neighborhood condemned the proposal and tried to stop Sears with all the weapons they had. Letters were written to Eleanor Roosevelt, lawsuits were filed, and many cried out for someone to think of the children. The primary concerns revolved around the Janney School, just as they have with the Library PPP and also in another dispute in 1991 about a homeless shelter. read more »

Local

North of Tilden: Developments in development

Tenleytown: The armpit of the area, a former bank parking at 4501 Wisconsin Ave, has sprouted scaffolding. Developed by the Pedas Family, the site will become a one-story, 3,677sf retail site, although the developer has not listed a client. The Pedases are better known for their empire based around the Inner Circle cinema, but also for Circle Parking and Circle Management. Physically, their most distinctive building is the Michael Graves-designed International Finance Corporation building at Washington Circle. Always a good improvement to see an empty lot get filled.

Mmmmm... postmodernism.
Mmmmm... postmodernism.

Tenleytown: The Ward 3 Aquatic Center, or the Wilson Pool, as everyone will call it, will have a formal opening, complete with Fenty,  on Monday, August Third, at 10:30 AM. The Hughes group have put together an inoffensive structure, but it supposedly boasts the capability for daylighting, natural ventilation, and water-loss mitigation, earning it a LEED Silver certification. The pool has been desperately needed since the shoddily built predecessor started falling apart at a more rapid rate in 2003.

Hawthorne, Palisades, Green Acres?: Opposition to sidewalks continues in the hinterlands of DC, where DDOT has been adding the badly needed infrastructure. This time, it’s over in Palisades, on Chain Bridge Road and University Terrace. Roger Lewis and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh went on the Kojo Nnamdi show. Lewis shared some interesting history, but it was Cheh that laid down the law, insisting on sidewalks, but also demanding DDOT involve community members more. The two both agreed that the rational need for a network of sidewalks was a no-brainer. Callers disagreed, for some reason, mostly that “they’re not used” and they’ll “ruin the character of the neighborhood.” The panelists offered reasonable responses to the entitled views of opponents.

However, aside from the Cheh-Lewis lovefest, the two missed some important points, such as the dubious wisdom of low-density, limited-network streets in the middle of the city. One of the callers declared that residing in the area seemed like living in the country, but near the city. That’s just swell, but neither addressed whether having such low density a mere 4 miles from the center of town was a good idea. Also, Nnamdi and Lewis both guiltily admitted to driving on University Terrace routinely. Listen to the conversation, it’s worth some down time.

Local

North of Tilden: Old wounds

Tenleytown: Three threads of the ongoing Tenley/Janney controversy have converged in the past two weeks, plus a new arrival.

A well-scaled and elegant building for Tenleytown.

I. The city has declared that they will begin construction of the new Freelon-Group-designed library in September. However, out on the Tenleytown Listserv, discussion flared up when it became clear that the department of economic development was asking the architect to add structural columns that could support multistory residential. This practice is not uncommon, but it would be a wasteful expenditure if the Tenleytown Historical Society succeeds in landmarking the school, and adding to the structure becomes more difficult. Both properties sit on the same lot.
II. The HPRB has agreed to review a preservation application for the 1925 elementary school. Built by the city architect, Albert Harris, it’s a decent example of the stripped-down Beaux-arts Georgian style he developed for the rapid expansion of public facilities in the early 20th Century. Although it was the first of all the schools built in the area, I don’t see how the 84-year-old school merits perpetual legal protection, at least not at this point. Especially considering that the building is not in any danger of demolition or permanent alteration. Moreover, landmarking could seriously delay the much-needed renovation of the aging school needlessly.

III. The department of education is proceeding, however, with the development. They’ve hired Devrouax + Purnell to design a wing to the west of the current building. Part of the planning framework requires that DP respect the historical structures of the area. I have no doubt that they will. Their work in DC has been humane and sensitive, while also adding innovating modern elements. Freelon and DP’s buildings will be coups for the architecturally stagnated area, so it’s in the neighborhood’s interest to support their work.

IV: On the site of the former Oakcrest School at 4101 Yuma Street, a new religious center for women and girls will be opening this fall. The Yuma Study Center, a vaguely defined but Opus-Dei-affiliated religious institution will itself be renovating and expanding the old Bon Secours covenant. The current structure is dilapidated, so renovation will be welcome, once I can figure out exactly what the institution does.

Van Ness: This past weekend saw the second-ever farmers’ market on the plaza in front of UDC. The market is a twofer fer the residents of condograd across the street,  putting the large plaza to use and getting farm-fresh goods onto a public street.

Hawthorne: The Post covers the ongoing slapfest in the very northern neighborhood of Hawthorne, a small collection of 1950s houses that was built in the fashion of the times: without sidewalks. DC has been improving and adding sidewalks throughout the city, improving pedestrian safety and encouraging walking, however, some residents of the area northeast of Utah Avenue won’t have any of that filthy urban nonsense. They moved there because they wanted to be in DC without being in the city.

What, they stayed in DC for the schools? Or for the lack of voting rights?

The arguments against sidewalks sort of tumble out of opponent’s mouths, with all kinds of illogic. This is like country in the city, yes, and a ranch house makes your .2 acre lot a ranch. Nobody walks around here, uh, ever wonder why? We need curbs, not sidewalks, so pedestrians can’t get out of the way of cars? Lastly, the venerable, but that’s the way it’s always been! makes its appearance, proving opponents to be examples of a certain five-letter acronym. You can hear how literally incoherent their arguments are in this video.

On the other hand, there are almost as many proponents, since many residents do see the public obligation to make the streets safe and accessible for all modes of traffic. It’s heartening to see proponents of reasonable growth out and advocating their position. There’s not much of a worry that Hawthorne will become infected with the dread contagion of urbanism, since it’s pretty far from any sort of rapid transit and unsuitable for larger growth. It’s always going to be a side neighborhood, one whose character will not be negatively altered by allowing people to walk comfortably around their neighborhood.

Local planning

Macomb Giant: Where to from here?

The Zoning Commission has approved the Macomb-Wisconsin Giant project, after a difficult and involved process that began in 1619 1998.  Jeff Davis posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv about it this morning:

Last night, the Zoning Commission voted unanimously (4 to 0) to approve the
Giant PUD Application. The zoning process was robust, transparent, and fair and it yielded a terrific overall result.

He’s right, the overall result is excellent urban planning and competent architecture that  adds considerably more and better density to a major thoroughfare, while also managing to unite a mottled context of various building types and styles. The architects, Street-Works, have produced excellent cityscapes work in Shirlington, Reston, and Bethesda. Based on their prior experience, it’s safe to predict that the project will be a success. More than that, I predict that the already thriving area will become a new locality, a broad place that people will perceive intuitively as distinct from Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights. 

And that’s a good thing, because Wisconsin Avenue needs more of this healthy density. The example that this sets will be a lesson to Ward 3, demonstrating how a few stores and few more stories can create an enjoyable neighborhood center. Not only will the extreme non-failure of the site be ammunition for people who support smart growth, it will serve as a billboard for those who are not engaged in debates, that urbanism is possible in Northwest. But it will be some time before the buildings are built and the storefronts occupied, so until then, activists for urban neighborhoods will have to focus on two things.

  1. Getting there. One of the criticisms of  the new project stemmed from the limited mass transit options in the proposal, legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. WMATA needs to step up bus service and introduce an express line on Wisconsin, either to Georgetown or Woodley Park. Bus facilities such as bus bulbs need to be added to Wisconsin, even at the expense of roadway space. Likewise, DC ought to facilitate the placement of SmartBike facilities, bike racks, and carsharing spaces.
  2. Connecting the surrounding neighborhoods. People must be able to walk to the new development. The current plans emphasize pedestrian traffic, but DDOT needs to improve the streetscape around Macomb, to lure neighborhood residents off of side streets. Without buffering from Wisconsin or new signals along Wisconsin, pedestrians lose the calmness that makes walking so appealing. 

Those who fought hard to get the right kind of development should not give up the momentum they have now, and instead should fight for even better facilities. This includes opponents, who should still look to make the area as leafy as possible, and ensure that Giant sticks to its promises. Resident involvement is one of the most crucial parts of developing community, so although the fight over the Giant has been so acrimonious, it’s important to realize that it will happen, and anyone interested must remain involved in working to ensure good growth elsewhere in the neighborhood.