Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cathedral Commons Delayed Until 2012


Redevelopment of the Wisconsin Avenue Giant, a project that has inspired both relief and resentment, and has suffered from numerous lawsuits by a small group of locals hoping to derail the mixed-use project, seems destined to maintain the status quo well into next year. Despite notice early this summer that the missing financial partner could be on board "any day now," the project still lacks the financial partner needed to move forward, and store employees now tell DCMud that the store will remain open through the end of the year, at least.

Developers have successfully fended off various lawsuits attempting to stop Cathedral Commons (some claims are still being pursued), but what the suits have failed to do seems to have been accomplished by the market, as timelines continue to slip with the absence of funding. Early predictions had the project well underway, if not complete by this time. In 2006 officials thought the project could take 4 years to complete, and at least one team member told DCMud in 2008 that construction would begin within a year. The team then scheduled an aborted "launch party" nearly one year ago. Early this summer vendors began clearing out, and knowledgeable parties to the transaction predicted movement was at last imminent. But the Giant remains operational, and this week officials at Stop & Shop, Giant's parent company, told store employees to expect to work into next year.

Parties now say the financial partner is still not official (and won't release names), and Sharon Robinson, a PR captain for Giant, confirmed, "There is not another financial partner in the development at this time." Robinson added that Giant aims to break ground "sometime after the first of the year." Robinson insists that the project has not been delayed. "The PUD is still valid and Giant is moving forward with plans to redevelop Friendship Shopping Center and filed plans for its building permits last week." No general contractor has been selected.

The project will add a new 56,000 s.f. grocery store, 85,000 s.f. of additional ground floor retail, 150 condos or apartments and over 500 parking spaces, and bring back the familiar neon Giant sign that graces the present supermarket.

Robinson added by email that, "The lawsuit challenging the authority of the Zoning Commission, which was filed by a small group of opponents, is moving through the judiciary process. Many neighbors continue to contact the development team expressing dismay at the lawsuit and asking how they might show support for the project." While that may be helpful, it seems that for now it is also not quite enough.

Washington D.C. real estate development news

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

The folks opposed to this project, all 10 of them, must be thrilled.

It is too bad for the rest of the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Word in commercial real estate circles that the DC court of appeals is expected to rule in favor of the appeal and against Giant and invalidate the zoning order granting the PUD. This may explain why Giant has not lined up a partner or third party financing. If Giant were smart, they would find a way to settle the appeal and move forward with a somewhat less ambitious project.

Ben said...

@Anonymous 10:37 PM

Less ambitious than a five story building on one of DC's major corridors, when all the buildings on the other side of the street and to the north of this are 8-10 floors?

I agree with the first commenter. This development will be a tremendous asset for the neighborhood. It will further enliven this section of Wisconsin Avenue and bring more high quality retail and restaurants to this neighborhood. Construction will create new jobs when unemployment is 12% in the District. The new residents will contribute significant new tax revenue to DC.

The handful of residents who've opposed this for a decade should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Over 10 years ago Giant emptied out the block it owns between Macomb and Newark St, evicting Murphy's, a Chinese restaurant and a Middle Eastern deli. Space has sat empty for a decade. This past year, Giant depopulated the other, fully leased block it owns, evicting barbers, a cleaner, a beloved toy store that had been there since WWII and a furniture store. Other retailers plan to close soon. Now that block will sit empty indefinitely. It's no wonder Giant can't get financing -- these guys are the Keystone Kops of real estate development (or their business judgment is as limp as their produce).

Anonymous said...

If Ben is the same Ben who is a Glover Park ANC commissioner (and a cheerleader for any and all development projects in NW), he is not exactly in a good position to make conclusions about "handfuls of residents" when he doesn't even live in the local neighborhood.

Ben said...

@Anonymous 11:13 PM

My girlfriend lived directly across the street from this block for over a year, I've lived across the street from the Cathedral, and I currently live less than a mile from this property. Glover Park is also impacted by development elsewhere along Wisconsin Avenue.

I understand that those who live the closest often complain the loudest, but most people in this neighborhood want to see this built. It is an embarrassment and a loss to the District that it has been dragged out this long.

Anonymous said...

How the hell can a special zoning be required for a strip of Wisconsin that's already full of taller apartment buildings? This is zoning insanity. Anyone who believes in smart growth, the environment, and social cohesion should be in favor of this, and that should be everyone. DC needs to re-vamp and simplify the whole zoning of DC to prepere us for the next 100 years.

Ken on Aug 26, 2011, 7:37:00 AM said...

Editor's Note: Sullivan's Toy Store, which was evicted from the space as noted above, has relocated just up the street, near Ruby Tuesday.

Ben said...

@Ken:

The insurance office on the second floor of the north parcel has also relocated. I am confident that the Starbucks will either relocate or return to the property once it's developed. There was also a charming laundry-mat that I'm sure many of the opponents who have unlimited time and financial resources to fight this project have frequented a lot.

The new (and mostly affluent) residents who will live in this new housing will create a larger market for local businesses along this section of Wisconsin Avenue. The District 2 bar that was formerly the flower shop on the corner of Wisconsin and Macomb has turned over several times in the past five years. I'm sure the businesses in this area will be very appreciative of this expanded local patronage.

The opponents of this development are just fishing for reasons to continue to oppose it and I'm sure they're quite happy to have the north parcel sit vacant even longer if it prevents this from getting built.

Anonymous said...

So hard to fathom that any progress on this project continues to be delayed. I guess I shouldn't be surprised: I wonder if the people who oppose it are the same people who bought houses next to the Cathedral and then complained about the bells...to the extent that the Cathedral relented and built baffles to appease them. (North and east sides of the central bell tower.)

Anonymous said...

No different than people who bought houses in Palisades and then complained (successfully) about airplane noise - and got the FAA to reroute 2/3 of the flights.

Squeaky wheel every time.

Anonymous said...

I wish Giant would just sell the property and let another company develop it. Giant is owned by an unstable conglomerate, and the inability to find a financial partner highlights the disorganization in the company. Cleveland Park deserves development done properly by a more financially secure company with a better reputation. The PUD has been approved so the property has added value for a potential buyer.

Anonymous said...

@4:29

The problem is, no financial institution will underwrite the project while the NIMBY appeal is outstanding. Having someone other than Giant as the developer doesn't change that.

Anonymous said...

The best thing that Giant could do would be to sell to another retailer. A different development group, even Safeway, would have had the foresight and flexibility to change some of the more severe impacts of the project and move forward. For example, they would have changed Giant's boneheaded plan to locate the loading dock in a residential zone next to some guy's house, because they wanted it as far away from the housing that Giant plans to build! During the time that Giant's PUD has languished, Safeway built and opened a matter-of-right store in Georgetown, which is even LEED certified. (Giant's PUD is not.) Even if Giant finally gets financing, it's baffling how they square their cloying, upmarket aspirations for Cathedral Commons with Giant's increasingly downmarket reputation for poor quality. Whole Foods or Wegmans, this isn't.

Anonymous said...

Or, the guy who bought a property next to a grocery store could stop complaining. If he doesn't like it, he can move to Clarksburg.

Ben said...

@Anonymous 12:01 AM

Other than the trucks at the loading dock, what are the severe impacts of this development?

The Cathedral Commons development has been debated and litigated for over a decade and it is likely that it will be another three to four years before this project is completed. I am sympathetic to the residents along Idaho Avenue but I think this is adequate time to move and relocate if you think the truck noise is going to be intolerable.

It is also not as if Giant hasn't been responsive to the concerns about truck noise. Here is a list of the provisions that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission is requiring from Giant as a condition of approval of the PUD (courtesy of the blog 'Ward3DC' http://ward3dc.blogspot.com/2009/01/anc-approves-giant.html ):

1. The Applicant shall adhere to the provisions of its Transportation and Parking Management Plan and Truck Management Plan and will address any deficiencies in the number, size and location of loading docks so as to be in conformance with DC Department of Transportation¢s (DDOT) criteria and regulations and once any part of the PUD is in operation shall:
1. provide a full-time loading dock manager on duty during all loading hours,
2. prohibit truck deliveries between the hours of 9 PM and 7 AM,
3. prevent any delivery trucks or vans servicing the retail and commercial establishments in the PUD from idling in public space while waiting in queue for loading dock use, and
4. require a covenant of all retail and commercial tenants to restrict the size of delivery trucks to only those that will fit the loading docks and to prohibit off-loading in public space;

Anonymous said...

Other than the trucks at the loading dock, what are the severe impacts of this development?

The Cathedral Commons development has been debated and litigated for over a decade and it is likely that it will be another three to four years before this project is completed. I am sympathetic to the residents along Idaho Avenue but I think this is adequate time to move and relocate if you think the truck noise is going to be intolerable.

It is also not as if Giant hasn't been responsive to the concerns about truck noise. Here is a list of the provisions that the Advisory Neighborhood Commission is requiring from Giant as a condition of approval of the PUD (courtesy of the blog 'Ward3DC' http://ward3dc.blogspot.com/2009/01/anc-approves-giant.html ):

1. The Applicant shall adhere to the provisions of its Transportation and Parking Management Plan and Truck Management Plan and will address any deficiencies in the number, size and location of loading docks so as to be in conformance with DC Department of Transportation¢s (DDOT) criteria and regulations and once any part of the PUD is in operation shall:
1. provide a full-time loading dock manager on duty during all loading hours,
2. prohibit truck deliveries between the hours of 9 PM and 7 AM,
3. prevent any delivery trucks or vans servicing the retail and commercial establishments in the PUD from idling in public space while waiting in queue for loading dock use, and
4. require a covenant of all retail and commercial tenants to restrict the size of delivery trucks to only those that will fit the loading docks and to prohibit off-loading in public space;

Anonymous said...

They have financing. Institutions were lined up to finance the project.

Anonymous said...

Ha, it's funny that you bring up the conditions for the local ANC's conditional support of the development, few of which actually made it into the Zoning Order (PAC contributions by Stop & Shop and Streetworks probably serve a purpose). The ANC also stipulated that the multi-family residences would not be eligible for DC's residential parking sticker program, to lessen the burden on already-jammed McLean Gardens streets. The ANC required the developer put $500K in a traffic calming escrow to address the 4000 additional vehicle trips that Giant's traffic data submission showed will result from the complex. The ANC required additional off-street commercial parking for the block between Newark and Idaho. The developer thumbed its nose at these conditions. Anyway, it appears that the DC court of appeals is likely to rescind the PUD order, so Giant's development group may soon regret its non-compromise position.

Ben said...

@Anonymous 9:13 AM/12:01AM

I think it's a pretty good guess that you're one of these residents on Idaho Avenue. I am sympathetic to the concern about noise but again, to go back to what the first commenter said, this is a situation where ten opponents continue to block and delay a development that most people in the community want and that will overwhelmingly benefit DC.

Anonymous said...

When a small group of people can block a development from proceeding after years of working with the local neighborhood, the approval process needs revamping. There should be a way to consider these legal actions as an effort by a few locals to do what thy do best, oppose something even though the majority of the other residents are in favor of it. While the input of the local residents is always necessary, at some point, you have to consider the opinions of the larger group and override the minority of those who would oppose just about anything new in their neighborhood. Hopefully the judge will dismiss this frivolous legal action so this smart addition to the area can proceed.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot like the tea party? You think? I wonder if the opposing side see that?

Anonymous said...

"Frivolous" "Small Minority"?

First of all, judges don't decide cases by public opinion. And while it's easy to deride positions with which you obviously disagree, it seems that there is a good chance that the DC court of appeals will throw out the zoning order approving the PUD.

Also, some 200+ people signed a petition raising signifcant concerns about the Cathedral Commons project, as proposed. You can disagree with them, but not dismiss them as a small group.

If Giant hadn't been so stubborn in over-reaching, a new supermarket would have been built by now.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between 200 people who signed an ambiguous and poorly worded petition 2 years ago and the actual litigants in the current appeal.

Fact is, the people opposing this are a pariah in the community and they know it. Yet, the selfishly continue to litigate and oppose this development.

Anonymous said...

"A pariah in the community?"

A couple of years ago, there was a contest for control of the local citizens association. The group of candidates trying to wrest control of the organization to swing the organization to one of all-out support for Giant's project, had all been involved with the "grassroots" group that worked hand-in-hand with Giant's attorneys and PR firm. They were very vocal in their support of the Cathedral Commons development, and suggested that any reservations about the project meant opposition ("'yes, but' means 'no'"). The other slate of candidates included those who publicly opposed or supported the development to varying degrees, but who all acknowledged that there were impacts and issues with the proposal that needed to be addressed. The campaign was hard fought and there was very high voting turnout among the membership -- and the avowedly pro-Giant faction lost by a substantial margin. So in what was as close to a referendum on the project as you could have, it seems the pro-PUDers lost to the "pariahs".

Anonymous said...

Wait--residents are still fighting this project? Holy freaking Lord, it's a commercial development replacing a commercial development along one of the city's busiest commercial corridors at a height that is half as tall as buildings across the street.

The 9 or 10 Idaho Avenue residents still fighting this really need to get over this "village in a city" nonsense that continues to be put forth. No, you do not live in a village in a city. You live smack dab in the middle of a dense metropolitan region of 5.5 million people. I tend to stay away from the "like it or leave"-type of arguments, but really it's beyond ridiculous at this point.

Anonymous said...

We've lived directly across the street from the proposed development site for 8 years. We pray for the day this project moves forward. We live in the city. We expect high density. We like change. We hate abandoned buildings. We don't like driving to Tenley or Glover park to shop. Let's get this thing going already.

Anonymous said...

All the disputes about zoning and density may be beside the point. What if they start demo and excavation and find buried World War I munitions under the parking lots? This probably was a green field site until the 40s or 50s and the Army disposed of all sorts of stuff in the areas surrounding AU. Talk about delays then....

Anonymous said...

@11:49

You are conveniently ignoring all of the Cathedral Heights and McLean gardens residents who live much closer to the site than most of the CPCA membership.

Just because you live in Cleveland Park does NOT mean you or that still crappy organization speak for all of the residents who would benefit from this development.

The hubris of Cleveland Park residents and particularly of the core CPCA membership is, at best, insulting.

Anonymous said...

11:49 is also forgetting that the original election was postponed contrary to the bylaws of the organization. Bylaws stipulate that the election could be postponed in an "emergency".

The emergency here, of course was that those in control of the organization would have lost. Instead, they cherry picked just the members and drove them and otherwise cajoled in order to ensure they remained in control.

It is amazing how the adage about the less meaningful something is, the more people will fight over it.

Anonymous said...

A Giant staff member told me that the project is unlikely to go forward at all. Giant is now looking to sell the parcel to another developer.

I also feel compelled to reply to the suggestion that Idaho residents should just move somewhere else. I'm sure they would love to do so, but it's not that easy. The property values of the homes adjacent to the project have fallen so far that it would be very difficult to sell. Those are real dollars that have been transferred from individual homeowners to Giant as a result of the flawed zoning decision.

 

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