I’ve been picking on bad projects a fair amount lately, so it’s time to highlight a good project: the proposed redevelopment of the Wisconsin Avenue Giant in western Cleveland Park. This project will replace bland, single-story buildings and large surface parking lots along Wisconsin Ave and Idaho Ave with an appropriately scaled mixed-use project that will engage the street with many individual stores and residences.
The north parcel, in the triangle made by Wisconsin, Idaho, and Newark Street, has small stores all around on the ground floor and residences above. There is also an opportunity for businesses on the second story (of the types that prefer the lower rent and lower visibility of an upstairs location, like yoga studios).
South of Newark Street, the Giant will occupy most of the site. However, the project places several smaller stores in front of the store on both the Wisconsin Ave and Newark Street sides. On the Idaho Ave side, which is more residential, there will be townhouses fronting on the street.
This is a great solution to the problem of blank walls around big supermarkets. A supermarket usually wants to put full-height shelves around all its walls, blocking any windows. Therefore, when we build a supermarket right on the street, we end up with long blank walls. Here, the Giant gets to have a nice entrance on the street, but the rest of the store is inside the block, allowing it to have no windows without hurting the streetscape.
The project does have two levels of underground parking. While I usually complain about excessive parking, I don’t think this is excessive. Supermarkets do generate more vehicle trips because people do indeed buy a lot of food at once and make frequent trips to the supermarket. Until we have lots of corner stores allowing people to walk to the corner to buy some fresh produce, that’s going to continue. Also, this area isn’t very close to any Metro stations. Wisconsin has bus service, but there’s less potential for complete transit-oriented living than right at Columbia Heights, Eastern Market, or Georgetown.
My favorite part of this project is the treatment of Newark Street. Too often, traffic engineers either design the road entirely for cars and try to keep people off while maximizing vehicle speed, or close a road completely which is great for pedestrians but can create “superblocks” and dead space that is less safe. Instead, this project paves the center section of Newark Street with something like cobblestones, creating a wide plaza that’s open to cars but also more pedestrian friendly, using subtle visual cues to show that this isn’t a rapid driving space.
Why can’t these folks design all the development projects in DC?