The Palisades Safeway. Image created with Google Maps.

The Palisades Safeway that filed for historic designation to avoid historic designation will close May 4, as The Georgetowner first reported and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office confirmed. The grocery store, located at 4865 MacArthur Blvd. NW, is currently the only supermarket in the District west of Wisconsin Avenue.

Beth Goldberg, Senior Manager of Community and Public Affairs for Safeway’s Eastern Division told The Georgetowner: “Safeway will not be reopening our store on the site. We have entered into a ground lease agreement with Trammell Crow Company and transferred control of the property rights to TCC.”

Additional information about development plans is limited. The Palisades Citizens Association, which is active in the neighborhood, currently has a notice posted on their website indicating that they have no additional information about the transaction or future plans for the site. The Georgetowner reports that plans do not include a grocery store.

Without the Safeway, residents have no grocery options nearby

Safeway’s closing is a blow to urban sustainability and walkability in the western edge of the District. Ward 3 does have a higher rate of car ownership than other parts of the city, but 23% of households are zero-car households, according to data from the District Mobility Project. The closing is particularly impactful for those households.

The next closest grocery store, the Wisconsin Avenue Safeway, is two miles to the east. It is a 23-minute trip on the D6 Metrobus, assuming you are willing and able to walk half a mile with groceries. For those who are unable to do so, they will need to transfer buses, thus increasing the time investment required to complete their grocery shopping.

The USDA’s definition of a food desert in an urban area includes low-income census tracts where most residents are more than one mile from affordable grocery options. While this is not a low-income area of the city, this is a useful measure to demonstrate walkable access to grocery stores. For those residents who own cars but would have walked to the Palisades Safeway, the closing will increase car trips, contributing to traffic congestion and car emissions.

The closing will also impact students living on the Mount Vernon Campus of the George Washington University, few of whom have access to cars. The Hatchet, GW’s student newspaper, has described students’ concerns. The Palisades Safeway is one of three grocery stores that accept GWorld, which allows GW students to purchase groceries with their dining plan. Many GW students living in Foggy Bottom also take advantage of the school’s Vern Express shuttle service to shop at a grocery store that is more affordable than Whole Foods, the primary grocery option in that neighborhood.

A controversial end to a controversial store

This is not the first time this Safeway store has sparked controversy. Neighbors successfully fought off a redevelopment proposal in 2014, which ultimately led to passage of the Grocery Store Covenant Prohibition Act of 2018. The legislation was introduced by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh after Safeway attempted to put a covenant on a sale of the property that would restrict other grocery stores from operating on the same lot.

Earlier this year, Safeway filed a rare petition with the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) arguing that the property did not merit historic designation. The HPO issued a staff report largely agreeing with Safeway on March 6, and the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) voted unanimously on March 7 to approve the petition.

This tactic was beneficial for Safeway because it prevents any other historic designation applications from being filed on the property in a one-year period, which could block redevelopment plans. Historic designation is one strategy neighbors could have used to prevent the store from closing.

Safeway’s decision to file a petition paid off, and they are now free to use the property as they please, which they have clearly chosen to do.

Chris Hart is a graduate student in geography, focusing on urban geography. He is a native of Western Massachusetts, but has called DC home since 2011. He is passionate about urban issues, especially in his adopted hometown. He is an avid cyclist and baseball fan.