Housing Complex

Car Barn Still an Issue at Georgia Avenue Walmart

What the inside of the store could look like, with escalators going down to underground parking.

Back when developer Foulger Pratt was working on its first development plan for the Curtis Chevrolet site on Georgia Avenue, it ran up against the D.C. Preservation League, which wanted to preserve the century-old brick structure that formerly housed streetcars. Now that Foulger Pratt is on to Plan B–a 102,000-square-foot Walmart–MMA Architects is working with the Preservation League to incorporate some elements of the car barn into the store design, as a gesture to the corridor's transportation history.

Nearby residents, though, aren't sure that DCPL should be the one to determine what elements of their history get commemorated. At a Brightwood Community Association meeting last night, locals wondered why a group of unelected preservationists got so much say over the project.

"What do they mean by the history of us?" a member of the audience asked Foulger Pratt's Adam Davis. "That’s not our neighborhood. A lot of people think it’s just a piece of junk."

Davis responded frankly. "I’ll go on record and say that I agree with you," he said.

An email to the Preservation League hasn't yet been returned, but Davis indicated that they may be willing to compromise by using some of the bricks from the historic barn in the new building's facade, rather than preserving the whole thing. If DCPL wanted, it could submit the building for historic landmark status, which would complicate planning if granted by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

The rest of the meeting was generally contentious, with Walmart spokesman Keith Morris fielding questions about traffic, starting wages, and local economic development. Most of his answers were squishy: When asked about the spaces inside the store that could be occupied by local retailers rather than the typical national chain tenants, Morris replied that he couldn't make any promises.

"There is a space that has that potential in there, but we’re not far along enough," he said. "It sounds like a fantastic idea. To the extent that there’s interest, that’s what we hope to do."

Same goes for talk of a community benefits agreement, or any program to assist in local business development: It's not something he's prepared to present for negotiation, but rather a document that will be forged through the process and agreed to at the end. Here's some video of Morris talking about that part (sorry for the shakiness and terrible audio; battery issues required the use of sub-optimal equipment).

  • RT

    Ironically, this may be the only thing that keeps Walmart from being able to occupy this site. While I usually vehemently disagree with DCPS, at least the end goals may be aligned with mine in this case. So, go DCPL! Nothing more than total preservation of the fugly garage is an option!

  • Rick Mangus

    Waite for the shakedown!

  • In MD

    How much is an old brick trolley car barn worth compared to a concrete eyesore doing double duty as a church? I guess we will find out when DCPL puts the squeeze on Walmart. Dear DCPL, please find my house historic so that you can inflate its value to get me more $$ when I want to sell it.

  • Lisa

    Why do you all care what DCPL gets out of Walmart if the money goes back into the community like they said it would for the church? This is a matter of right project. That car barn is the only leverage anyone has on the developer and/or Walmart to do a better project. Otherwise it'll look like all that crap in the suburbs.

  • DCCommish

    How my street car garages do we need to save? Let it go and get something nice on GA ave. It's underserved and needs something to get the process started.

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  • http://Twitter.com/PotomacWill PotomacWill

    Why should a largely white economic, political, and cultural elite get to dictate what is built in an overwhelming black middle and working class area. Why make a shrine out a damn car barn built during days of Jim Crow Segregation?

  • SD

    I am a white, middle class professional with a family living in the area, and I couldn't care less about the "car barn." The site is an eyesore and its last decent use was to house Fenty's campaign HQ. I'm all for a development and think that the Wal-Mart plan sounds like a good one. It would bring much needed retail to the neighborhood, not to mention jobs, and spur other development. Note to the DCPL - you are overstepping your bounds here! Back off and go worry about sites with real value - not this hulking piece of junk. You are not helping the city.

  • http://www.washingtondeli@boo.net Jim Doherty

    I bought the building across the street from the Walmart location at 5830 Georgia Ave. I hope that the Walmart has a positive impact on the neighborhood, without putting small business out of business. The prices at Walmart can be hard to compete with.

    Jim Doherty
    Washington Deli

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  • CW

    Repurposing the car barn will create a more interesting retail environment with lots of character. If done well, it would add value to the neighborhood. Not to mention that a reused building is better for the environment because perfectly good building materials do not go to waste. We don't need a hulking pile of low-quality generic architecture that will make the neighborhood look like a homogenized suburban strip mall.

    As for Walmart.....

    http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/

    Nuff said.

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