Image from Safeway.

A week ago, some Tenleytown residents received letters discussing the project to rebuild the Safeway at Davenport and 42nd Street, and asking residents to sign reply cards in support of the project.

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.