Housing Complex

Starting Over at Tenleytown Safeway

John Torti of Torti Gallas walks neighbors through site planning. (Lydia DePillis)

By now, developers know what they're getting into when they propose to develop a piece of upper Wisconsin Avenue, where anti-density sentiment runs high enough to delay projects for years.

So the new team behind a proposed mixed-use project over the squat Safeway on 42nd and Ellicott Streets NW was preemptively cautious at a get-to-know-you session with neighbors last night.

"I don't know what vibrant design is," said lead architect John Torti of Torti Gallas, which designed the much-vaunted Georgetown Social Safeway. "But I do know what responsible design is, and what appropriate design is, and I think that's what we're trying to do here."

Safeway and its new development partner, Clark Realty Capital, want to build 200 "luxury" rental units above a 60,000 square foot grocery store, with 12 townhomes on the residential side—similar to CityVista and the new Petworth Safeway. That's actually a re-do from a much less ambitious plan, which the Office of Planning and smart growth advocates opposed. The pro-density Ward3Vision group has made this one of the first big pushes of its reemergence, sending out an email to members earlier this week about the workshop.

As usual, the sticky wicket is parking. Safeway wants to build 170 underground spaces for its store, but Clark isn't sure how much it'll build for the residential units above. It's a new car-lite world, after all, where you might build a garage that nobody wants to use. That's what Torti tried to tell neighbors concerned about traffic, at least.

"The people who live here will drive cars a lot less than you think," he said. "People just don't own cars anymore."

It wasn't convincing everyone, though (and concerned parties include Adam Rubinson, who ran Mayor Vince Gray's campaign). "Ultimately, this is going to be the big debate," Torti concluded.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/ Mr T in DC

    They just have to keep hammering home the point, using the DCUSA parking garage as an example. Maybe that example will get through to the NIMBYs. Woodley Park up through Friendship Heights has so much potential, but the anti-density, anti-restaurant crowd has stymied development there for years. I used to live in Woodley Park in the late 90s, and that restaurant and bar cap was, and still is, a big problem.

  • DC Guy

    It will be interesting to see what the architects develop for that space. It is sort of in no-man's land between the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights stations, but there is so much potential to make that stretch better than what it is today.

  • Bob

    While overall this looks like a good project concept, including the town houses as a buffer to the adjacent single family residential properties, parking needs to be adequate, notwithstanding the proxity of the Metro several blocks away. When a developer markets condos as "luxury", people are going to have cars and maybe more than one. Some examples to consider:
    --McLean Gardens has lots of off-street parking, yet has an acute shortage on on-street parking, indicating that dwellers own at least one or probably two vehicles. While McLean Gardens is not on the Metro, the Zoning Board has said it considers the area to be a transit-oriented zone because of the various adjacent bus lines.
    --3333 Wisconsin -- matter of right development with only 1 parking spot per three units. Right on the bus lines, but since it opened the nearby blocks have become jammed with parked cars.
    --Even on Conn. Ave. in Cleveland Park, right on top of the Metro, restaurants are trying to add valet parking because they say their customers drive.
    If they build too little parking at the Tenley Safeway site, there will be no chance to fix it later on.

  • http://www.dcfud.com Michael

    @Bob - I think that's the point, and the problem. By building spaces with less parking, you discourage people from owning three cars (or even one). That's "advanced" city planning, but it is also how things change...I can speak from experience, once you can walk to shops and restaurants and such, and you start leaving your car at home for that, it's not a long time before you want to leave it at home for other things. And soon, you wonder why you even need it, join ZipCar, and stop making car and insurance payments.

  • No NIMBY


    McLean Gardens is maybe a 20 minute walk from the nearest metro station. This will be a 7-10 minute walk to the Tenley metro station and a 10 minute walk to the FH metro station.

    The comparison to the restaurants in Cleveland Park is completely spurious. Visiting a restaurant one evening is completely different than choosing to spend a half million dollars to purchase a condo near the metro station. There is self-selection with the later, with people deciding to live in transit-oriented developments because it gives them the option to live and travel without the expense and hassle of owning a car.

    This is exactly the point, if you join ZipCar, you won't need your own dedicated parking space. As there are more transit alternatives and additional mobility choices like ZipCar and Capital Bikeshare, fewer people will need their own expensive ($30,000 - $60,000) parking spaces. Let's not forget either that DDOT is planning on addind two new Circulator routes to serve Tenley.

  • Bob

    @Michael and No-NIMBY,

    If you are right, then the way to put teeth into encouraging less car use and more mass-tranit use is to build less off-street parking as you suggest AND restrict the new condos from participating in the DC residential permit parking program. This is what they did with the Akridge development in Friendship Heights and some other PUDs, to ensure that the costs of off-street parking weren't essentially being forced onto the already overcrowded nearby streets. It encourages transit use and is a great way in the planning process to force developers to stand behind their parking numbers.

  • No NIMBY


    Unlike the planned Babe's, I don't think the issue is whether this will include any off-street parking. It seems like Clark and Safeway are planning to have parking for the residential part of this development. The question is whether there is one parking space per unit or perhaps one per every other unit, as would be appropriate for a location that we all can agree is well-served by many transit options (and hopefully Capital Bikeshare and ZipCar).

  • Neighbor

    @Michael: This location is over a half-mile from the Friendship Heights Metro and over a quarter-mile from the Tenleytown Metro. What percentage of residents are actually likely to view Metro (with a long walk to and from the station) and the Wisconsin Avenue buses as meeting all their transportation needs?

  • DC Guy

    I am not Michael, but I would say, um, most of them? Part of the response depends on the mix of unit sizes. If these are all studios and 1 BR, then yes. If these are designed as 2BR/3BR (do they even make these anymore?), then it is likely that the demographic would also want a car or access to car-sharing.

  • Ben

    While I wouldn't completely discount the issue of car ownership, I'd also point out that pretty much every single housing project coming online these days is marketed as "luxury," and many of them are home to residents who don't own any cars. In other words, "luxury" ain't what it used to be.

    The caveat is that many of these projects were in central neighborhoods, not farther-out hoods like Tenleytown or Friendship Heights. So I think there needs to be a balance here: it's unlikely that there will be as many people driving to or owning cars in this complex than nearby residents think, but I wouldn't necessarily hold out projects along U Street or Columbia Heights as benchmarks. Those are different neighborhoods.

  • Neighbor

    @DC Guy (or @Michael): Can you provide any examples of buildings with “luxury” apartments of any size, more than a quarter mile from transit, where the residents of more than half the units owned no cars? There certainly are examples for buildings much closer to Metro where there are, on average, much more than one car for every two units.

  • Anon

    It's basically across the street from Tenley Hill and the people who live in those units (predominantly multifamily plus a few townhomes) typically own cars. One of the reasons people live along upper Wisconsin is that you don't have to drive through town to get to jobs in the burbs.

    And the idea that putting 200 apartments on top of a grocery store located between a HS and a car dealership will make it some kind of happening place is really bizarre. Watch out, U Street!

  • http://tsarchitect.nsflanagan.net/ цarьchitect

    Hey "SMART GROWTH" loonies, if you're so """smart,""" answer this question.

    If these newcomers aren't going to drive anywhere, how are they going to get groceries?

    No answer? Yeah, I knew it.

  • DC Guy

    They might drive from their parking area to the grocery store parking area. It would have to be at least 20 feet or so.

  • Michael

    I suppose that walking downstairs to the Safeway could handle their grocery-related transportation needs. And that might be all that is necessary if they don’t have any friends or relatives who aren’t easily Metro-accessible, and if they don’t mind walking over a quarter mile to the Metro and back, sometimes late at night or in inclement weather, whenever they head downtown for entertainment or to other Metro-accessible destinations.

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  • John

    The problem with this planning process is after the townhouses, condos and Safeway are built you cannot decide that the parking garage is to small and should have been bigger. This area of Wisconsin Ave. is not the downtown urban area where you don't expect to have a car and the residents tend to be the right out of college and younger crowd. Who will the condos be attracting? What does the market research show? One parking space for every 2 condos sounds like the right mix.

  • DC Guy

    I think most people who would be attracted to a housing situation like this will be more than comfortable with the short walk to either of the metro stations. There is no reason to ascribe YOUR housing preferences on other people.

  • Anon

    Or to project your own desires/fantasies onto other peoples' housing preferences...

    There are actual stats about car ownership among condo and townhouse owners almost directly across Wisconsin Avenue from that site. Some of the condos in Tenley Hill were bigger but that's because they were combined by purchasers after having been marketed as studios and 1 bedrooms.

  • Anon

    Anon (comment 18)

    It is clear that the trend in Urban design is to less parking than in the past. What do you think is the right ratio? one for every two condos as John suggests? More?
    We have to remember that garage spaces cost around $40,000 each, so the number has real financial implications for the viability of projects. That is not an excuse for not having enough, but should also temper demands for too many.