Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shelly Weinstein to Safeway: Tear Down this Wall

Tempers are flaring in Bethesda over the reconstruction of the Safeway at Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard, a project that is expected to kick off any day.

On Thursday, May 20th, the Montgomery County Planning Board considered a site plan amendment that altered the location of a planned screening wall between Safeway and their residential neighbors in the adjacent Kenwood Forest Condominiums. Although a wooden fence already exists between the two properties, the proposed stone and masonry wall was to act as a more substantial sight and sound barrier between the new 43,097 s.f., two-story shopping center and the neighboring backyards.

The plan is part of the redevelopment that will replace the 1950's era architectural pockmark with a more attractive, larger store sitting above a parking garage. Elza Hisel-McCoy from the Montgomery County Development Review Division explains that the original plans for the dividing wall were "added sort of last minute" by the Safeway team on the morning before their July 23rd, 2009 site plan review hearing.

"When Safeway engineers went back to look at the placement of the wall, there were issues," and since the Safeway engineers felt a wall on Safeway's property would no longer be possible, "an amendment to place the wall on the condo's common area" was put forth.

The seven members of the elected Kenwood Forest Board went for the idea, but at least 40 members of the Kenwood Forest Homeowners Association did not.

A Kenwood Forest resident for more than 30 years, Shelly Weinstein is heading up the opposition to Safeway's new wall location proposal. While the movement of a wall might not seem like such a big deal on paper, Weinstein characterizes the issue as a symptom of the larger problem: namely, that homeowners in the Kenwood Forest community are being deliberately excluded from on-going development negotiations between Safeway and the Kenwood Forest Board - negotiations that she says allow Safeway to encroach on private residential property, increase traffic flow through neighborhoods, and construct a parking garage without making assurances that dynamite will not be brought in to blast rocky terrain.

According to Weinstein, the Board has the right to enter into contracts with a developer or contractor without consulting the other 116 homeowners in the community if the work that's taking place will last less than a year. "If the Board enters into a one year contract with Safeway to build a wall on our property and then renews that contract annually, then they can get around getting permission from the individual homeowners for the work and get around easement requirements."

That's a tall order, says Weinstein, especially when you're talking about negotiations that could allow Safeway "in some cases, to put a wall within 6 feet of some of our homeowners' decks."

At the time of publication, Safeway PR representatives could not be reached. When asked about the results of the May 20th Planning Board hearing, Safeway Eastern Division Real Estate Manager, Renee Montgomery, confirmed that she was heading up the project but preferred "not to be quoted" and referred us back to Safeway's PR team.

Staying quiet about the subject might be understandable when you consider that, for the time being at least, Safeway has the site plan approval it needs to move forward with construction and an agreement with the homeowners' association.

"The screen wall is no longer a condition of the site plan approval," says Hisel-McCoy, who adds that private agreements between the Kenwood Forest Board and Safeway reps will determine just how that portion of the plan plays out.

Safeway hopes to begin demolition and construction work any day now and the new store is slated to open by the 2011 holiday season. But don't count Weinstein out just yet. The Bethesda resident also happens to be the former Environmental Director of the Department of Energy in the Carter White House and has found a cause in this issue.

The Kenwood Forest Board met last night at Concord-St. Andrews United Methodist Church to discuss, among other subjects, the Safeway development. Weinstein planned to use the opportunity to announce that she's filed an official complaint about the Safeway negotiations with the Maryland Attorney General's Office. With any luck, she says, "We can stop the Board from moving forward with any contractual agreements with Safeway until we can re-open this process and let the homeowners get involved."

With the Attorney General's Office mediating the development, she hopes to answer once and for all "whether or not the [Kenwood Forest] Board violated its authority by not including the homeowners."

She anticipates opposition from the Kenwood Forest Board but says "It's senseless to get into an argument with them when we've been trying to get involved with the project for over a year." Wall or no wall, a new Safeway is on its way.

Maryland Real Estate and Development News


Anonymous said...

Weren't people complaining about traffic when the wisconsin place project in friendship heights was being built? Now look at what a great addition that development is, people just love to complain about anything best thing to do is just ignore them.

Anonymous said...

God, the bored NIMBY factor is unbelievable with any sort of development. I guess that's what you get when formerly important people are now bored and looking for something to be activist about. There are bigger fish to fry, people- go help someone, be a mentor, etc.

Anonymous said...

Is there any news on the Tenleytown Safeway?

Anonymous said...

This is great, instead the homeowners will get no wall and then complain about looking at loading docks and dumpsters from their backyard. I hope Safeway doesn't build the wall and gives them what they want!!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see such deep concern for Safeway and its $44 billion annual revenue. On the one hand this big international corp. makes promises that are easily broken. Like promising to build a strong wall on "its" property. Then when it discovers it will cost more to meet the required specs, more than they planned to spend, why not just encroach on this small residential property, about a third their size? It is called "commercial creep" that is trying to make Bethesda look like a mini Manhattan with its traffic, noise and congested sidewalks. The homeowners should be commended for thinking first for the safety of their children and families to prevent accidents and mayhem from the press of quadruppled auto and truck traffic running right next to, if not over their backyards. Safeway's fungible promises were just that, fungible! What's the difference if the wall is on our land or yours? It's cheaper for us to build on your land than ours. And by the way, let's see how we might do it in the dead of nite and not have to get easement rts.from the homeowners. With this attitude Safeway's "commercial creep" with it's big footprint, is stomping out yet another small neighborhood, the trees and air quality. "Tear down that wall"? No, build it on your land and let us live in peace and harmony with Safeway, much as it has for more than 30 years!

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 12:34 AM--

A 'mini-Manhattan' because of a two-story Safeway? How do you expect people to take you serious when you make claims like this? Congested sidewalks are a sign of neighborhood vitality and a lot of visitors coming to local shops and businesses. This should be welcomed.

Anonymous said...

I get so tired of hearing people say parts of dc area are going to become a mini manhatton. No where around here will ever look like manhatton or remotely like it. I would say the Bethesda is becoming more and more like Arlington. God forbid Bethesda gets some quality infill development like Arlington, which last time I checked was one of the most desirable places for business’s and young professionals in the mid-atlantic.

Anonymous said...

"I hope Safeway doesn't build the wall and gives them what they want!!" Sounds like one of my neighbors from the next street over. Sweet. Love your neighbors.

JOEB said...

I just have to chime in on the stupidity of the Manhattan comment. I recommend taking the $20 bus ride up to NYC if you think Bethesda is starting to look like Manhattan. Clearly you wrote an emotion-filled screed that didn't have much basis in the facts. Think first. This issue is more complicated than big vs. little, and we don't have any idea of the facts, but we do know the association voted to approve the wall, which says something. Back off your little-me grandstanding.

Anonymous said...

It's good that the "min-manhattan" woke everyone up! I wish the writer had said 42nd St & Brdway @ rush hour! Traffic and sidewalks in Bethesda and between Elm & Little Falls, along Arlington Rd., at rush hours, are very, very congested. But who would've commented on that, it's a fact!
I didn't read the other comment as "min-me". I think he/she had some facts! While the Association voted in favor letting Safeway encroach on their property, almost half of its owners showed up to vote against Safeway's plan to encroach, free of charge, on their backyards. It's all on MCPB's web. And, what is this that Safeway says they can't build on their property? As I read the testimony, it's just that they don't want to take the time and money to get variance and set-backs! Obviously the Homeowners want the concrete wall and Safeway promised to build it on their property. So, what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

I love how it's so fashionable these days to bash corporations and dig at them for making money. Safeway doesn't earn profits for shareholders (e.g., people with retirement investments, responsible people who've saved a part of their income and put it into mutual funds, etc.) by going around ruining the world or by providing that wasn't of value. They provide a service (aka FOOD) that people apparently appreciate (otherwise the stores would all close).

People in some parts of the DC area would do anything to have a grocery store -- any grocery store at all -- in their vicinity, to say nothing of a brand new, state-of-the-art, LEED-certified store that's in a "how nice is too nice" competition with the Giant just up the street.

I can understand the concern of the people at Kenwood Place. However, they knew they were buying homes next to a commercially-zoned property, and they knew the store could be redeveloped at some point. IMO they should be thrilled to be getting a brand new state-of-the-art store that's designed with some style and flair.

Wait until they go to sell their units -- the first thing the real estate agent will crow about is "Walking distance to the brand new Safeway!!!"

Anonymous said...

I live here. I wish there was a wall. I havent' slept past 6:30 on weekdays, cause it sounds like a war zone. I moved here to be closer to work so I could sleep in a little more, and now that plan backfired. We are also getting the displaced rats and roaches from Safeway in our homes.

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