Please welcome GGW’s newest correspondent and frequent past commenter, northwest resident Ben Thielen. — David

Last night, residents and ANC commissioners discussed plans for a new Giant grocery store at Wisconsin and Newark Avenues, NW. The development will also include about 140 residential units, 55,000 square feet of small retail space, and 14,000 square feet of general/professional office space on the second floor. About sixty percent of the attendees supported the proposal, but opponents of the project fought hard, arguing that there’s not enough parking (I think there should be less) and the project would attract people and traffic from more than a mile away (it won’t).

Last night’s meeting was sponsored by ANC 3C09 Commissioner Nancy MacWood, an avowed opponent of this project. At least 75 people attended including ANC Commissioners Trudy Reeves (3C06) and Lee Brian Reba (3C01). Joel Lawson, Jennifer Steingasser, and Maxine Brown Roberts, all of the D.C. Office of Planning, answered questions from the audience about the planning and zoning process for this development. The meeting quickly shifted, however, to a discussion of the arguments for and against this project.

The existing supermarket is very dated and insufficient, with a large surface-level parking lot. The area on the opposite side of Newark Avenue has street level retail on the first floor and general professional space (law office, insurance, etc) on the second floor. Steingasser said this project, which will change the zoning to allow a little more density and height, is not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the area (approved in 2006) and this project will not be at the maximum density. The Office of Planning supports this project and believes that the parcel now is currently underutilized.

One lady in attendance asked the OP representatives if it is the District’s policy to increase density. I responded that while I don’t know if it is a goal of the District to increase density, the District has clearly supported smart growth and transit-oriented development. I said that this project is well-served by numerous buses (several 30s-line buses, H4, 96, etc) and that this will allow residents to walk to amenities and destinations instead of driving.

Someone said that the new Giant will be destination retail and will attract people from more than a mile away. This is entirely nonsensical. The development of a new Giant is a local project, to meet local needs. Here is a list of other supermarkets in nearby neighborhoods:

  • Tenley has a Whole Foods and a Safeway.
  • Friendship Heights has a Giant and will soon be getting a Whole Foods
  • Van Ness has a large, modern Giant
  • Glover Park has a Whole Foods and a Safeway
  • Woodley Park has a Safeway and a new Harris Teeter nearby in Adams Morgan.

The suggestion that this new Giant will be a destination store for people living outside this neighborhood, thereby generating traffic, is defied by even a casual look around all of the other supermarkets in Northwest.

Wisconsin Avenue Giant parking lot. Photo by Ben Thielen.

There was also the usual chorus of complaints that this project would not provide sufficient parking and neighbors would have to park far away from their residences. According to Trudy Reeves, “An underground garage for 396 cars is proposed under the Giant… the residential units in the north parcel will all have one parking space each under their building (DC law only requires one space for every two units, so they are providing double the requirement). The eight townhouses on Idaho will each have 2 parking spaces (only one is required).”

In a letter I sent to Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) I suggested the developer reduce the number of parking spaces. This project can utilize shared parking arrangements to accommodate the surrounding restaurants. Since the employees of the professional office space in this project will have different work hours than the peak hours for the surrounding restaurants, this provides and excellent opportunity for shared parking arrangements. Additionally, I was told at a previous meeting that this parking for the residential units will also include at least one space for Zipcar parking.

I left before the end to watch last night’s other debate, but according to the City Paper, Steingasser said a hearing is coming up soon, with building possibly starting by late next summer.