Thursday, January 19, 2012

Safeway Tries Again With Revamped Tenleytown Design

Officials from Safeway, Torti Gallas and Clark Realty Capital unveiled more renderings of its planned Tenleytown site last night - with once again, decidedly mixed community reviews.
Plans to replace the backwards-facing Safeway store at 42nd and Davenport, which has cheekily shown its veteran rump to Wisconsin Avenue passersby for the better part of thirty years, have been in place since August 2009. But opposition from the Office of Planning and the neighborhood ANC over an above-ground parking garage forced Safeway to suspend the project in January 2010.
Now Safeway, and its architects have returned with a newer, scaled down version, with the 56,000 square-foot store being folded in to a five-story complex with 184 apartments, 14 town homes and more than 140 spaces 0f underground parking for customers. There will also be dedicated parking for residents.
Still, a few in the Northwest DC community that is well known for its opposition to development on Wisconsin Avenue, worried about adding such high-density housing and traffic to a the single-family neighborhood, fear additional traffic and delivery trucks on nearby narrow residential streets such as Ellicott and Davenport.
"There is a great deal of concern on the density of the units," said Tenleytown residents Adam Rubinson, who attended Safeway's Jan. 18 unveiling at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church. "The concern is pretty much unanimous," he said in an interview.
Rubinson wants to see a "stepped-back" design along Davenport so as not to overwhelm its neighbors across the street. Safeway and Torti Gallas say they have done just that with a design that will top the trees in the neighborhood but not block sunlight during morning and evening hours.
Rubinson wants to see the height of the project, currently 79 feet, lowered to no more than 55 feet, with one story below grade, similar to that of the brand-spanking new Whole Foods along Willard Avenue in Chevy Chase, less than a mile away. "There are plenty of developers who are willing to do just that," he asserted.
Improving the look and size of the store is key for Safeway in a suddenly uber-competitive market like Washington D.C. Unionized middle-market grocery chains such as Safeway and Giant, even with their single-digit profit margins, once ruled the roost in D.C., where shoppers had little choice but to tolerate dirty stores, bare shelves, long lines and surly staff.
Now amid an influx of higher-end choices such as Whole Foods and Harris Teeter, the Safeways of the world must upgrade their legacy stores to keep pace with a changing market. "Everyone who sells food is a competitor," says Safeway spokesman Craig Muckle. Often they are stuck in between high-end but non-union grocery chains like Whole Foods and Wegmans that can charge a premium for their quality and variety, and low-cost producers like Wal-Mart, with the volume and a non-union workforce to wring additional profits out of food shoppers.
The 35,000 square foot Tenleytown Safeway, which first opened in 1957 and was remodeled in 1981, is no exception, facing competition from the aforementioned, newly-constructed Whole Foods in Chevy Chase, an existing Whole Foods in Tenleytown and a remodeled Giant Food along Western Ave. in Chevy Chase.
Muckle says if all goes well, the project could break ground in 2014. Safeway had hoped to start on the new Tenleytown Safeway once retail construction adjacent the Georgetown "Social" Safeway was completed, but now will have to wait. Torti Gallas is also the architect on that project as well. The 200-plus United Food and Commercial Workers members who work at the store will be "farmed out" to other stores during the reconstruction, according to UFCW Local 400 Secretary Mark Federici.
The debate over the size of the store and its accompanying town home and apartment developments threatens to devolve into the protracted tug-of-war that surrounded the redevelopment of the Newark Street Giant.
That store, just a mile further south on Wisconsin Ave, saw organized neighborhood resistance for the better part of a decade before the Bozzuto Group got the OK to start construction on a new 56,000 square foot facility this spring. Rubison says he hopes the Tenleytown Safeway development process doesn't go down that path.
"I think if Safeway can make some reasonable compromises, the chances of that happening are close to zero," said Rubinson. "But if they take a hard line, especially on the overall massing of the building and the number of units, and residential parking, I could see this getting mired in delays."
Safeway plans another question-and-answer session on Feb. 2 in the lobby of the Tenleytown Safeway between 6:30pm and 8:30pm.
Washington D.C. real estate development news.


Anonymous said...

It is amazing how these articles always find one local resident and tab them as the 'voice' of the community.

At the public meetings, there have been a lot of encouraging and positive comments regarding the progress of this proposal. The neighborhood can use a new and larger grocery store. The city can use the new residents (and tax base). In sum, this is a good proposal that should be supported by the community and the city.

Anonymous said...

I love Robison's thinly veiled threat. I hope they don't compromise further. They've ALREADY compromised by stepping down the building to an unbelievable degree. Can you imagine folks from other cities witnessing this? They'd be laughing their asses off.

Anonymous said...

Safeway will likely be able to show how this project has progressed to the Zoning Commission. If the proposal is within the construct of the Comprehensive Plan, there isn't much, other than work around the edges, the local community can do. This is not a very intense project from a density standpoint, so there would be little precedent for the zoning commission to deny the application.

The neighbors should get out of it what they can rather than make veiled threats that won't do any good.

Anonymous said...

I love it when pro-growth people assume that individuals who express their concerns about unbridled growth do not expressing the view of the community. Perhaps the concern is more widespread than pro-growth folks are willing to acknowledge and completely legitimate.

Anonymous said...

No, it is a matter that the reporter chose to use an interview or quotes from the meeting without accurately representing the different perspectives and concerns expressed.

If you want accurate representation, take a vote. However this is supposed to be a report from a meeting and ought to convey the different perspectives, rather than take one persons opinion and attributing that viewpoint to an entire neighborhood.

IMGoph on Jan 19, 2012, 10:43:00 PM said...

It's worth noting that Rubinson was campaign manager for Vince Gray. The man has connections.

Anonymous said...

C'mon -- the very first sentence of the article points out that community sentiment is mixed.

And the claim "This is not a very intense project from a density standpoint, so there would be little precedent for the zoning commission to deny the application" seems really off-base. The project would put 200+ housing units (and a large grocery store) in a single block in a neighborhood where the norm is about 20 households a block. To accomplish this, the developer needs significant upzoning and a couple of map amendments. No reason the ZC has to approve that. I'm not predicting that they'll turn it down (they routinely give developers whatever they ask for), but there's a clear legal basis for a denial -- the applicants aren't entitled to what they're asking for and it's a project that allows them to profit at their expense of neighboring property owners.

I think Safeway's going to end up the big loser in all of this. Right now, the store's relatively easy to access. By the time they're done with this project, it won't be.

Anonymous said...

At last night's hearing several of the residents and one ANC commissioner complained about the height of this building along 42nd street (75 feet-- everyone panic!!). Several of the residents and opponents said this height is inconsistent with the existing uses in the neighborhood.

This is a completely fabricated reason to oppose this development. The heights will be tapered down as this development approaches the existing single-family homes. I asked about the office building ( right next to the Martens Volvo dealership on 42nd Street, not more than 50 yards from the Safeway. This building is approximately 55-65 feet at its tallest point yet few if any neighbors could even recall this building, let alone were aware that this building even existed.

The Central Pension Fund building is directly across the street from several rowhouses but few neighbors seemed bothered by this charmer of a building. On the other hand, next to the maximum height of the Safeway, the project would be bounded by 42nd Street, then the Martens dealership, followed by six lanes of Wisconsin Avenue.

Similarly, Georgetown Day School looks like it is 50-60 feet in some locations ( By suggesting the proposed height of the Safeway is inconsistent with existing structures, the opponents are fishing for any excuse they can find.

joeroony on Jan 20, 2012, 7:49:00 AM said...

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Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 11:29 pm.

For zoning purposes, the height of a building is not necessarily measured from the lowest point on the site, and in fact, Safeway and Clark are measuring the height of this project from 42nd Street, the highest point on the site, and there is a substantial change in grade on the site. So, your comparisons of your perception of the height of an office building as measured from the lowest point on its site is not an apples to apples comparison.

Further, it seems that your estimates of the heights of these buildings are way off. Rooftop and street elevation data is available on the DC government web-site, although provided in meters rather than feet.

The rooftop elevation of the office building on Chesapeake is 120.1 meters (above sea level), and the ground elevation at the middle of the front of that building is approximately 107.5 meters, giving a height of 41.39 feet, not the 55-65 feet that you estimate.

The rooftop elevation of GDS is 112.9 meters, and the ground elevation is approximately 100 meters, giving a height of approximately 42.3 feet, not the 50-60 feet that you estimate.

No NIMBY said...

@Anonymous 12:09 PM

Although I haven't measured the building, if you include the structure for the elevator shaft (or perhaps it's air conditioning), this adds another 10-12 feet to the building height. The opponents of the Safeway were quite willing to include the height of this equipment when denouncing the Safeway proposal on Wednesday night. The structure for the mechanical equipment at the top of the Central Pension Trust building is also closest to Wisconsin Avenue, where this building is at the highest point on the ground. Other than that, good try.

No NIMBY said...

Herre is the link to the Georgetown Day School:

I'll let readers of thie blog come to their own conclusions but the height isn't at all inconsistent with what Safeway is proposing.

Anonymous said...

Rubinson has been the spokesperson for the close-in neighbors since forever.

"Can you imagine folks from other cities witnessing this? They'd be laughing their asses off."

Why yes, in this community many are bitching that Safeway wants to put another story on their non-mixed use store. Here the dispute is about 75 feet v. 55 feet.

Anonymous said...


Nice try, but the 75 foot height of the Clark/Safeway project (measured from the highest point of the site) does not include the structure for mechanical equipment, which includes nearly 200 air conditioning units and the elevator equipment.

The link that you provided for GDS is blocked, but the following is a link to a view of GDS, actually seen from one of the lower points on the site:

No NIMBY said...

The link is not blocked. IF you want to ignore facts that are inconvenient to you, that is your choice.

Anonymous said...

Even at 50 or 60 feet, that's what Rubinson is asking for, i.e., something that is consistent.

Anonymous said...

If you were at the meeting, you would know that the grocery's mechanical equipment is not on the roof so that does not add to the height. The elevator overrun is covered by that cupola/tower feature on the corner so whatever height that adds IS included in the plans.

Really 75 ft isn't that high....the PN Hoffman building opposite Martens Cars is 100’ high and that doesn't seem out of place.

As a community we should realize that we're gonna need to compromise and respect that the developers are trying to work with us. Don't be unreasonable. If you're gonna fight development in the area and draw it out for years, then you're not doing the community any favors.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous at 1:06 pm

Actually, the PN Hoffman building across the street from Marten’s is not 100 feet high, but is 65 feet, with the rooftop structure limited to 9 feet, about half the normal height, which was possible because the elevator doesn’t go to the sixth floor.

In fact, Chevy Chase Pavilion is the only building on upper Wisconsin Avenue that has a height of 100 feet, and Chevy Chase Plaza (90 feet,) at Jenifer Street, is the only other building that has a height over 70 feet.

As to the elevator equipment that is in the cupola/tower, it is shown in some of the drawings, but is not included in the 75 foot height. It is above the roof of the 6th floor, which is 75 feet above 42nd Street.

Anonymous said...

Chevy Chase Pavillion is 100 feet tall? That doesn't seem that high. I think it actually feels shorter than the PN Hoffman building. Perhaps that's because it's not on a hill.

This all seems pretty overwrought for such a tiny building.

Why do people think they own everybody else's property?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous at 1:46:

The portion of Chevy Chase Pavilion that is 100 feet in height is the office building, not the hotel or shopping mall.

Your perception that the PN Hoffman building is more than 50% taller than its actual height might inform you as to how a 75 foot structure will actually appear from the neighborhood, especially since that 75 foot structure is at the top of a hill.

I find it interesting that most of the commenters who are not concerned about the excessive height requested also vastly overestimate the height of other buildings in area. If a building this size was actually constructed, I suspect I would see jaws dropping when they realize how massive it actually is.

Perhaps you view this as a “tiny building,” but the fact is, only two buildings on upper Wisconsin Avenue are taller, and this project would place 200 new housing units on Ellicott Street in a low-density residential neighborhood, approximately a half-mile from each of the closest Metro stations.

No NIMBY said...

@Anonymous 2:08 PM

Most of the residential units (except for a couple of townhomes consistent with the existing homes) would be located along 42nd Street, facing the Volvo dealership and along Davenport. Safeway has massed the housing to minimize the impact to existing neighbors.

Ellicot might be residential but there is a gas station at the end of the street (not residential), a WMATA structure, and a car dealership across the street (again, not residential). The dated Safeway is already on Ellicott (again, not residential).

So, it seems that you're saying this is fine for the existing residents but new residents are not welcome here, since there are already non-residential uses on this street and this wouldn't add any further commerical uses along Ellicot.

You're correct, this is less than a ten minute walk from two metro stations. This is also about one hundred feet from Wisconsin Avenue, one of DC's major corridors and an area well-served by the 30s buses and two new Circulator routes according to DDOT plans.

Anonymous said...

One might want to compare Safeway's proposal to Jemal's proposal for the Babe's site. Jemal proposes to do 60 odd units there. and it is next to a Metro stop. That project has broad support, save for committed NIMBYs.

Safeway wants 200 units, and it is a good ten minute walk to the Metro. Big difference.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Get back to me about height issues when they propose a 92 floor building. Good grief, in many cities buildings that are 30-40 floors are only considered mid-rises.

Anonymous said...

Its always those who voice opposition that make the news. While a majority of the locals may in fact be in favor of the currentp plan, the news will almost always pick up on the negative news first. Its good that some people want to have a say in these matters, but at some point, it gets to be ridiculous. It should never take longer than one year to get approved to build a development. The reason why DC has so many pockets of run-down looking neighborhoods is due to the long and costly efforts to get certain approvals. At some point there should be a way to put it to a vote where everyone in the community has a say and not just those with too much time on their hands. People like Mr. Rubinson become so falsely empowered when they believe they can hold up a sensible and worthy project like this, there needs to be a way to get beyond the Rubinson's viewpoint and move towards reality. Whenever a small group can hold a developer hostage even though their position may not reflect the majority position, something is wrong with the process. This project has been in "planning" since 2009, REALLY ?? I mean how ridiculous is that ?? My message to Mr. Rubinson and the other naysayers is to get out of the way and get a life !

Anonymous said...

The project has been in planning since 2009 in part because Safeway insisted that it could NOT do mixed use at the project. Until they could, of course. The first mixed use proposal came only a few months ago.

Anonymous said...

And of course the NIMBY types insisted that Safeway should have been able to do what it wanted with its land, i.e., to build a big box suburban store on the land w/o residential. Extremes meet -- end of story.

Anonymous said...

The NW Current coverage included a statement from Joel Lawson of the Office of Planning, stating that Safeway’s statement that OP told Safeway that “a stand-alone supermarket was not appropriate for this particular area” was incorrect, and that OP would not have necessarily rejected a proposal for a stand-alone supermarket.

According to the Current, Joel Lawson stated “We also acknowledge that the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t require a mixed-use project on the site.”

Anonymous said...

The Current article also notes that Lawson said OP actively discouraged a single-use project at the site.

Anonymous said...

This site should be mixed use. Safeway ought to be commended for moving in that direction. At this point, people are quibbling a bout details. There is no reason to vilify anyone who is taking the time to ensure the community is improving and improving in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to see the architectural treatment of the exterior from the small renderings appearing at the beginning of this posting, but if it is as it appears then the development will be as visually unappealing as are the new Safeways constructed on Wisconsin Avenue just north of Georgetown and at Bradley Blvd. and Arlington Rd. in Bethesda; perhaps even worse than the entire City Vista development downtown, itself dull and outdated before construction began, but that also incorporates one of the most depressing new Safeways I have ever been in.

If as mundane a series of buildings as it appears in the drawings, it won't matter how tall a portion of the buildings are - the entire development will be about as pleasant to look at as is the current street scene: a Safeway that turns its back on the street, the corner gas station, the rear of the Volvo dealership, and the nearby residences; now isn't this an appealng urban corner of the city?

Perhaps the most accurate description of what to anticipate based on the renderings -- whether one or two floors less or not -- is that it will be in keeping with much of what one now sees in the immediate neighborhood, which I would venture to say is one of the least visually appealing few blocks along Wisconsin Avenue and on either side of it in upper northwest DC west of the park.

Safeway is hardly a corporate leader when it comes to hiring architects whose designs inspire and delight. Would that the community understood planning, architecture, and urban design better than it seems to, the community would be bargaining for developments similar in quality to the mixed-use development of the former Sears site at Wisconsin and Albemarle instead of arguing about a 20- or 30-foot height difference. This is like seeing the tree, nay a branch of the tree, instead of seeing the forest. Some would call it tunnel vision.

It reminds me of the reaction a few vocal community members had in the mid-1970s to conceptual zoning overlays for Friendship Heights and Tenleytown that the city was trying to develop with the community in anticipation of the two Metro stations opening. At the time I lived in AU Park and was among those involved in this community planning process where a few vocal residents were riddled with fear of Tenleytown and the DC side of Friendship Heights becoming Manhattan on the Potomac -- seriously -- and, even worse, being engulfed daily in traffic jams worse than morning rush hour is today nearing the bridge over the Potomac heading towards Virginia!

One might have thought that attitudes had changed with the community's acceptance of the mixed-use development and pleasing design of the Sears site. But that seems to have been an exception. Reactions to this development, the mixed-use proposal for the library site's redevelopment, and a private development on Albemarle east of Wisconsin are more typical.

Deja vue!

Anonymous said...

The step up in the building toward 42nd St is a nice and serious concession. 75 feet is not that high. I checked, and the PN Hoffman building is 100 feet high on the Wisconsin Avenue side and is not at all overwhelming. The back side of that building is a great example of stepping down on the neighborhood side. It looks good. 75 feet along 42nd St is a good transition to Wisconsin Avenue, where hopefully we will see future development to better define that major thoroughfare. We live in a city, a little urban character is NOT a bad thing.

JJ said...

To Anon at 3:07am,

The renderings are little more than massing studies, as you can tell from their lack of definition. You can't judge the architecture based on that. While I'm not expecting a great school of architecture to be born from this project, it will no doubt be an improvement on what now exists. And no, we as citizens don't get to make every nuanced decision about what property owners do with their building designs. I'd love to be around when you decide to remodel your house so I can have veto authority over any decisions you make.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 10:55 am

Please explain how you determined that the PN Hoffman building is 100 feet in height.

The legal height of the PN Hoffman building is 65 feet, with a penthouse of 9 feet. That would be measured from the middle of the lot on the 41st Street side. The Wisconsin Avenue elevation ranges from 8 to 16 feet lower than the high point on 41st Street. This means that the height on Wisconsin Avenue (which is not the way height is measured) ranges from 73 feet to 81 feet (measured at the lowest corner of the lot).

It isn’t 100 feet, and to you it doesn’t seem overwhelming, perhaps because, if fact it is far shorter and less dense than what Clark/Safeway is proposing.

If you checked, and the building is, in fact, 100 feet measured from Wisconsin Avenue, there has been a serious violation, and perhaps that should be investigated.

On the other hand, it appears as though all the commenters who think a building which is 75 feet in height on the highest point on this site (which has a grade change of about 18 feet) fits into the scale of the area overestimate the height of buildings in the neighborhood which actually are significantly less tall.

As was stated earlier, there are only two buildings on upper Wisconsin Avenue that are over 70 feet in height. Some commenters imagine that many other buildings, some less than 45 feet in height, are the same scale as is being proposed, or even taller.

Contrary to what Anonymous at 7:00 am states, a height difference of 20-30 feet has a big impact.

Anonymous said...

"Adam Rubinson, who attended Safeway's Jan. 18 unveiling at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church. "The concern is pretty much unanimous," he said in an interview."

This guy did not even begin to represent me or my Tenleytown neighbors. I am saddened that you made this person 'the voice' when I don't even know him. His flawed logic is scary. Whole Foods market at Friendship Heights has a 12Plus story apartment complex on top of it to justify going underground. Does he even understand economics 101? Shame on you DCMud for giving credence to an uninformed voice.

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