Housing Complex

Two Walmarts Clear City Review

The future of New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road.

The Office of Planning has signed off on proposals for the Georgia Avenue and Bladensburg/New York Avenue Walmart developments, saying that they're "not inconsistent" with the city's Comprehensive Plan. Now all the developers have to do is get final approvals from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and they're off to the races.

Are the developments all they could be? Certainly not, from the perspective of the highest and best use of the District's land. They're both single-use developments, with no housing and large, flat expanses of roof area that won't have progressive elements like green roofing or solar panels. They incorporate some greenery and seating areas, but hardly create great public spaces. They improve sidewalks and bike accessibility, but still have vast expanses of parking (admittedly only as much as required by current zoning regulations, which will be soon be changing).

The "large tract review" process, however, doesn't give the District much leverage over those things, to the immense frustration of people who'd like to see developers held to a higher standard. ANC 4B's concerns were only very summarily addressed, or ruled outside the bounds of large tract review. ANC 5B didn't even submit comments, but it's clear that they may not have mattered much anyway.

Walmart says it plans to break ground on both later this year. The Ward 7 location will have to go through a more extensive process with the Zoning Commission, an application for which should be filed in the next 30 days.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    I have a line:

    when you ask for nothing that's what you get. When you ask for the world, you don't get it, but you get a lot more than nothing.

    By not asking for much, we guaranteed we aren't getting much.

    You can ask and they can say no, but when you ask it starts a process of negotiation.

    Of course, when the elected officials came on board from the get go, it made it difficult for the OP or DDOT or anyone else to push for something better, because the agencies didn't have the support to try.

    I liken this to when Giant at Tivoli Square "seized" a lane for cars in the street. People protested. And DDOT wasn't favorable. But the Deputy Mayor's Office wanted to fold because they were negotiating with Giant to open a store in Congress Heights (which they did do, eventually).

    But because there was room in the issue space for opposition and contestation, DC got the Congress Heights store and the residents got the car lane removed from the sidewalk.

    While there are some minimal concessions on the part of the developers/Walmart, they are middling, because the city never really pushed.

  • Java Master

    Let WalMart build whatever they want.This looks and sound slike a high quality proposal to me. The ANC's are nothing but platforms for loud mouthed activists who are obstructionists and self-serving politicians in training, sucking on the public teat. When was the last time an ANC ever created jobs for their neighborhoods? Get out of way and let the private sector take over, D.C.!

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    Hard to believe that people like Richard Layman are still complaining about the developers not giving enogh back to the city, when by far the biggest problem with the project – the enormous amount of parking and low density of development – are because of the city's own parking minimums. The site is almost filled, so while they technically might be able to build more FAR (though I'm not sure if even this is the case?), this would have required building underground parking or a garage, which would have raised the cost considerably.

    What more do you want from the developers, urbanism-wise, short of putting the parking (/more parking, if you're advocating for more square footage) either underground or in a garage (which is not financially feasible)?

  • Hillman

    I'd argue different factions asked Walmart for too much, so they gave up and did as little as they thought necessary.

    Have we already forgotten the 27 page letter of demands that Walmart was given?

    Including things as ludicrous as a requirement that they not conduct background checks on employeees, not ask employees if they have criminal records, and a requirement that they somehow find out about a criminal record that they hire the person anyway?

    And have we forgotten that our mayor Vince Gray threatened IN PUBLIC to deny them legal building permits if they didn't build a Walmart in his home district pet project Skyland?

    Once we start with lunacy like that, I'm not surprised that we don't get some of the important things that we should have limited our 'demands' to in the first place.

  • me

    I agree with Hillman,

    The District comically and illegally drew a line in the sand far too soon.

    There was absolutely nothing Walmart haters could do about these two. The property was already zoned accordingly and despite what our mornic Barry wanna-be Mayor Gray thinks, you can't not issue legal building permits.

    If you want to start a dialogue with a developer who doesn't technically have to give you anything, then starting off by a bunch of no nothing bumpkins giving them that 27 page list of asinine requests is not the best way to do it.

    I for one have traditionally be a huge Walmart critic, but every situation is different. DC needs these Walmarts more than Walmart needs DC and if they are willing to invest nearly a billion dollars in horribly blighted, ghetto retail wastelands, that will also provide more than a thousand permanent basic labor jobs the city so desperately needs while pumping tens of millions a year into the District treasury, not including increased property values and the fostering of additional development, then I say...have at it.

  • Hillman

    It's also worth noting that the DC area already has big box stores.

    There's a Target in Columbia Heights. I remember naysayers saying that would ruin retail in all of NW.

    Didn't happen.

    There's a Walmart literally just across the DC line, out Route 50 in Maryland.

    Has been there for some time.

    And yet the crappy substandard retail we have in East DC still manages to function.

    Yes, WalMart absolutely devastates the economies of very small towns. And sadly pulls up stakes and leaves after wrecking the locals.

    But this effect doesn't really happen so much in large mature markets like DC.

    Does anyone really think a Walmart in NE or SE will put Fragers Hardware out of business? Or corner groceries that are decently run out of business?

    Yes, it may impact Safeway and Giant. But my experience with Safeway and Giant over 15 years in DC leads me to think I wouldn't miss either one. Their stores have been filthy, their employees surly and rude, and their selection substandard.

  • danmac

    DC will have to spend over 3 billion dollars to meet EPA requirements to control water overflow into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. At a minimum it should be able to require not just Walmart but all developers to include green roofs and permeable surface parking lots on any new construction.

  • Hillman

    Dan:

    That seems like a solid idea, except if you require it of newcomers you should require that existing businesses retrofit to the same standards.

    Otherwise it's sortof a protection of current businesses by imposition of very high costs on newcomers.

  • Hillman

    Dan:

    And we should also hold the District itself to the same standard.

    Every new DC government building should be held to the same standard.

    Otherwise we are just playing favorites.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    the parking minimums, arguably, make sense in places with weak transit. That being said, it had nothing to do with developer intransigence at the Georgia Ave. location. Read the report, otherwise you're making more sense.

    FWIW, I am fine with no parking minimums or maximums in "urban villages" a la the "Neighborhood Business District" zoning approach in Seattle, where Downtown, in designated urban villages (commercial districts) and transit stations, they don't have parking requirements.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    sorry. "more sense" should read "nonsense"

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