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.

Elevation of proposed Safeway. Image from the project team.

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.

Ground level and landscape plan.

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.