An apartment building is slated to go up at the site of an old grocery store near American University. Some residents oppose the new housing and only want a grocery store to return there, but apartments are likely coming to the site no matter what. It’s the grocery store that the opposition could kill.

This could turn into a grocery store with apartments on the bottom… or it could just turn into apartments. Image from Google Maps.

The old Superfresh site at the corner of Yuma and 48th Streets NW off of Massachusetts Avenue has been vacant since Fresh and Greens, another grocery store, closed in 2011. But that’s set to change thanks to a proposed building from Valor Development.

The proposed development, called the Ladybird, would bring a grocery store and 230 units to the area, including 200 rentals and 30 condos, with 10 percent of these units set aside as affordable through DC’s inclusionary zoning program. It also includes a public park that would connect the site with other stores in the area, making it easier for residents to walk from place to place.

Image from Google Maps.

According to the developer, these units would be aimed at attracting current residents in the area looking to downsize. The development would also connect the Spring Valley Shopping Center and rest of the neighborhood with a pedestrian avenue between the two buildings.

Instead of just apartments, the developer wants to build a grocery store too

The Superfresh parcel is zoned to allow “moderate-density mixed-used development” in a low- or moderate-density residential area like the one surrounding the site. That means that if it wanted to, the developer could build the proposed 230 residential units, just without commercial space (i.e. the grocery store), without any special approval.

Valor does want to build a grocery store, though, so it’s proposing a deal: while the new building could have up to almost 32,000 square feet on a penthouse level, the current proposal only uses 14,000 square feet. And the proposed design includes almost 15,000 square feet of public space, which isn’t required at all.

That deal, however, means the developer must submit their proposal for review by the Zoning Commission. This is because the grocery store causes the development to deviate from the standards allowed as a matter of right. The process here is different from a Planned Unit Development because Valor is not proposing to change the building’s density (with the grocery store, it will be shorter and have fewer residents), but rather to change the building’s use.

The diagram below compares what can go up on the Superfresh as a matter of right with the development that has been submitted to the Zoning Commission for voluntary design review. Note that “FAR” means floor area ratio.

Photo from of Valor Development.

It looks like the developer wants to give neighbors what they want, but neighbors are still opposed

Some residents, however, oppose the proposed development. A group led by Citizens for Responsible Development argues that even though the zoning says a moderate-density apartment building can go up, that shouldn’t be allowed because the Future Land Use Map included in the DC Comprehensive Plan says the parcel should be “low-density commercial.” They also argue the additional apartment units would strain schools and bring unwanted traffic into the area. Some are concerned that the development will lower property values in the area.

Residents have joined together to oppose the 230-unit development proposed for the old superfresh site (pictured in background). Photo by the author.

But the zoning map, not the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Map, determines what can be built where. And as the DC zoning map illustrates, the question to ask about the Superfresh site is not whether there will be apartments, but whether those apartments will be built on top of a grocery store. If residents succeed in shooting down the developer’s latest proposal during the design review, they may find themselves with an apartment building but no grocery store.

“There seems little doubt that housing will be built at the site one way or another,” said ANC 3E Chair Jonathan Bender. “To the degree neighbors mobilize to negotiate about issues such as traffic management and public space design, they can potentially make the neighborhood a safer, more livable, and perhaps even more fun place. I, and I believe all of my ANC colleagues, will work hard to see that the developer does all that is reasonable to accommodate neighborhood consensus on such issues.”

The apartments—both market price and those made affordable thanks to inclusionary zoning—and grocery store would bring much-needed amenities to the area. The neighborhood surrounding the Superfresh site is largely made up of single-family homes, and Ward 3 has lagged behind the other parts of the city when it comes to building affordable housing. The closest full-service grocery store, meanwhile, is the Whole Foods in Tenleytown.