Housing Complex

NIMBYs Win One, Lose One in Upper Northwest

January's plan for the Tenleytown Safeway, and March's.

In case you didn't have a chance last week to locate a hard copy of the Northwest Current, a few stories of note:

  • Sure enough, the developers of the new Tenleytown Safeway backed down in response to neighborhood concerns (which verged into veiled threats of Giant-style litigation) over the monstrous height of a mixed-use project. They took off the top floor, lowering the overall height about 10 feet, and lost 13 apartments. The Advisory Neighborhood Commission still isn't happy—there were calls for something in the neighborhood of 150 units, rather than the 189 currently proposed.
  • The Zoning Commission, however, stood by American University's 10-year-campus plan, which had already been scaled back dramatically from its original version. The enrollment increases were pegged at a modest 230 more law students, 1,000 more total graduates, and only 82 undergraduates* (for a total of 6,400 undergraduates). "American University has to exist, and the community has to exist," said Zoning Commission chairman Anthony Hood. "I can't just tell American University to relocate to Jackson, Miss...At some point in time, you have to be reasonable." ANC 3D Commissioner and immediate past chair Tom Smith fired off an irate newsletter to his constituents, calling the decision the "latest example of dysfunction with a D.C. government body." A full order should be published over the next few weeks.

* Corrected from a previous version.

  • Skipper

    Ah, Tom Smith, always entertaining with his hysterics.

  • ah

    There's more dysfunction in ANC3D (and probably ANC3E) than in the Zoning Commission.

  • ah

    That drawing/rendering of the Safeway seems to have different scales on the X and Y axes. The heights appear out of scale (about 1.5x) as the distances. In other words, the houses should be drawn about 1.5 times further away from the building than they are. The 34' height should be about 1/3 as long as the distance to the houses, but appears to be about 1/2 as long.

  • DC Guy

    So after taking off a floor, the ANC is STILL complaining? That is a HUGE concession in revenue for the developer, but also income taxes and property taxes for the District.

  • Ben

    @DC Guy:

    I agree with you but that this is a huge concession from Safeway but it won't stop the NIMBYs from arguing that Safeway isn't willing to negotiate with the developer, is being unreasonable, etc....

    How much lost income and property tax revenue will the loss of these 13 units be? I made to point the other day. The average household size in the District is approximately two people per household (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/11000.html) so this is 26 fewer residents.

    Using tax rates provided by the District and assuming that the average cost of each unit that won't be built is $450,000 (probably a lot more since these were the top floors), over 30 years, this is nearly $1.5M in lost property taxes and nearly $2M in lost property taxes over 40 years. Admittedly, some of these residents will locate elsewhere in the District but certainly, some of the residents who could have lived in this metro-accessible location will choose Arlington or Bethesda instead.

    This is $1.5 - $2M in foregone property taxes. When you include income, sales, restuarant taxes, etc, it is perhaps $5M in foregone revenue because the NIMBY neighbors don't wan't to look at one more floor. This means fewer teachers for DC public schools, fewer libraries, less funding for the Circulator buses.

  • Ben

    To add a bit more on the previous comment, assuming that both members of these households work and assuming an annual household income of $120,000, the loss of these 13 units would be $3.5M less income tax for the District over thirty years. Because of the failure of these NIMBYs to realize they live in a very transit-accessible location in a city, they have cost the District $5M in foregone tax revenue.

    http://www.cfo.dc.gov/cfo/cwp/view,a,1324,q,610984,cfoNav,%7C33210%7C.asp

  • Ben

    "I agree with you but that this is a huge concession from Safeway but it won't stop the NIMBYs from arguing that Safeway isn't willing to negotiate with the developer..."

    Mea culpa! It won't stop the NIMBYs from arguing that Safeway isn't willing to negotiate with the neighbors...

  • Mike

    On the Safeway proposal, is there any information about the actual square footage of the earlier proposal and the square footage in the revised proposal?

    The illustrations on Clark’s website are not clear, but it certainly appears as though they simply moved the mass around, and your posted diagram missed the other large section that had 22 feet in height added, see pages 11-12. Has there been any reduction in the size of the project, and if so, how much?

    @Ben, I find it interesting that you can produce an economic impact analysis without knowing any of the basic parameters of the project.

    And since they appear to have simply moved the density around, or at most made a de minimus reduction in density, and have not addressed the other concerns, I don’t think I can give Clark and Safeway any credit for negotiating with the neighbors.

  • Ben

    @Mike:

    1) The neighbors/NIMBYs were complaining about the height (despite the fact that the PN Hoffman building across Wisconsin Avenue is similar height) and Safeway reduced the height by an entire floor but this isn't accommodating neighbors demands? These people won't be satisfied unless it's a one-story 1950s store that is built with lots of surface parking, of course.

    2) I said my math above is just an estimate. I recall 200 units were proposed orignially. Now the NIMBYS want this reduced to 150 units, so yes, that would result in millions --perhaps tens of millions-- of dollars less tax revenue for the District.

  • Ben

    The height issue is largely bogus also. Safeway and Torti Gallas have taken steps to minimize the shadows from this on neighboring properties. Ignoring the fact that this is directly off of a major corridor and within a ten minute walk of two metro stations, the Central Pension Fund building on 42nd Street is 45-50 feet (http://www.cpfiuoe.org/home.htm), the PN Hoffman building directly across Wisconsin is an estimated seventy feet. and Georgetown Day School is at least 40-50 feet tall in one location (http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kvdafd4DLr1qatc3yo1_r1_500.jpg). Safeway and their architect have also taken steps to put most of the residential height along 42nd street, closest to Wisconsin Avenue and away from the existing neighbors.

  • DC Guy

    @Mike

    So if they moved the units around to satisfy the height issue, is there still a problem? Perhaps Safeway should go back to a matter of right proposal, which will be far worse for everybody, except Safeway.

    How many concessions is a property owner supposed to make? When is enough, enough?

  • Mike

    @Ben, @DC Guy, Height wasn’t the only concern raised, so moving the density around doesn’t address the other impacts. Quite a few other issues were raised at the ANC meeting and at earlier meetings.

    @Ben, As to your math, it is impossible to do an economic impact analysis without having any information on the scale of the project. You don’t know the size of the units, and thus have no way of estimating their price or the likely income of future tenants. But, I can say that a new condominium, closer to Metro, was listed in the newspaper yesterday for far less than the $450,000 price point that you selected. You know that they reduced the number of units by 13, but don’t know if the units in the new design are larger or smaller than the units in the old design. Also, the math for rental units differs substantially from the math for condominiums, with generally a much lower estimate of future taxes.

    @DC Guy, As to how many concessions the property owner should make – they are asking for substantial concessions from the neighborhood, and have made virtually not concessions.

  • Ben

    The height issue is largely bogus also. Safeway and Torti Gallas have taken steps to minimize the shadows from this on neighboring properties. Ignoring the fact that this is directly off of a major corridor and within a ten minute walk of two metro stations, the Central Pension Fund building on 42nd Street is 45-50 feet (http://www.cpfiuoe.org/home.htm), the PN Hoffman building directly across Wisconsin is an estimated seventy feet. and Georgetown Day School is at least 40-50 feet tall in one location (http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kvdafd4DLr1qatc3yo1_r1_500.jpg). Safeway and their architect have also taken steps to put most of the residential height along 42nd street, closest to Wisconsin Avenue and away from the existing neighbors.

  • Fong Fong

    @Mike "virtually not [sic] concessions?" Well, they have come back with a 4th iteration of plans, massed the housing near the street, buried the entrance court, and offer free parking at Safeway so the neighbors won't be inconvenienced for street parking. Seems like concessions.

    The problem here with the neighbors is that they don't really know what they want. They certainly wouldn't want the ugly "matter of right" building Safeway is entitled to build, but beyond that, its not very clear. As to traffic, they are clear: funnel the traffic onto somebody else's street!

    As for the ANC, they seem to be blowing in the wind themselves, and don't really have any idea about what they would find acceptable. On the AU Tenley campus, some on the ANC are to be commended for taking the lead on getting the parties to agree. Here, it would be great if the ANC did show some leadership and actually discover what the entire neighborhood wants, not just the immediate neighbors, and help to broker a deal. Frankly, that's what the community elected you to do. Let's get this done!

  • Ben

    @Mike:

    Again, I said the loss of tax revenue was just an estimate. New two-bedroom condos in close proximity of two metro stations might cost between $500,000 - $600,000, while a one bedroom condo might cost $300,000. $450,000, then, seems to be a reasonable estimate. As I've said, units on the top floor that got cut off to please the asthetics of the neighbors are probably more expensive than units on the first floor.

  • Mike

    @Ben, No one has answered the question of whether the total residential density has changed, and if so by how much.

    Without knowing, at a bare minimum, the square footage in the original proposal and the new proposal, any estimate of economic impact is GIGO. Much more detail, including whether it is rental or condominium, and the mix of unit sizes and number of bedrooms, as well as the number of inclusionary units is necessary to have any credibility.

    You have posted misinformation on heights in other threads, were corrected, and still seem to have some trouble getting the facts straight. The PN Hoffman building (Tenley Hill) on Wisconsin Avenue is not 70 feet. The height of Tenley Hill is 65 feet, and the penthouse structure has a height of 9 feet, less than half the height of the penthouse structure for this project. The height reduction brings the Clark proposal down to 65 feet plus an 18+ foot penthouse. The other buildings that you cite (which you claim are 45-50 feet in height, but actually have shorter legal heights) are closer to the scale that the neighborhood seems to be requesting.

    Also, AFAIK, all plans included free parking for Safeway shoppers.

  • DC Guy

    @Mike

    From previous discussion in this and other forums on this topic, it is clear that the matter of right proposals were unacceptable. From what I have been able to gather, Safeway took the feedback from the community, including the immediate neighbors, and presented an economically viable plan that put most of the residents and density away from the existing housing. It also took the existing truck delivery traffic and put it away from the nearby residents.

    After complaints, Safeway has altered its plan, significantly. As I posted earlier, at some point, it might be more beneficial for Safeway to simply impose the most horrific matter of right plan on the community, because this kind of take and take (as opposed to give and take, get it?) doesn't benefit anyone.

  • Mike

    @DC Guy, I think you are confused. There never was a matter of right proposal. The earlier proposal for an expanded store was a PUD.

    As to whether Clark has significantly altered its plan, I am still waiting for an response to the question as to whether (or how much) they have actually reduced the density, or some evidence that Clark also has addressed any of the other concerns raised about the intensity of development.

  • DC Guy

    I cannot answer your question about density - as you correctly note, it is not reflected in the schematics.

    Safeway could propose a matter of right project that would be awful for the nearby residents. The previous proposal, a PUD, was pretty close to matter of right. Imagine that same proposal, but with residential density and structures maximizing the height and density limits across the entire property, as opposed to massing it on 42nd Street. Instead, Safeway has spent countless hours rethinking the project and respecting the ever changing wishes of the community.

  • Mike

    @DC Guy, I think that the original PUD was a lot further from matter of right than you realize.

    For a matter of right proposal, they would not be able to have the grocery on a single level without a drastic cut in its size, since it cannot extend into portion of the lot zoned low density residential some of which is currently used for some of the parking lot.

    It seems that they have reduced the size of the grocery by 2,580 square feet since the original PUD.

  • Mike

    @DC Guy @3:22: The truck delivery layout in the latest plan is identical to the truck delivery layout in the August 2009 PUD Application for a 58,580 square foot grocery store.

    Except now they have added the traffic from the residents of approximately 200 apartments and their guests.

  • Karl

    Safeway Sucks so what is this argument really about? Smart Growth vs. Good Development! The grocery/apartment complex is just the latest in the Tenleytown war on neighborhood stability. Who wants a house -- and these houses have existed for a long time -- overshadowed by apartment balconies, neighborhood streets overrun by traffic from UPS, FedEx and Safeway deliveries,and parking maximums that will place more cars on the street circling for a parking spot. For example, most of the residents at the Columbia Residences (former Columbia Hospital) have two cars and they live over Trader Joe's and within walking distance of Georgetown, but sufficient off-street parking was provided by the developer. Tenleytown needs to ask itself -- is this huge, out-of-scale complex going to improve neighborhood livebility and the skyline of Wisconsin Avenue or is it another boil on its rear end?

  • Lee

    @Karl - " huge, out-of-scale complex"? Safeway's proposal is anything but huge and out of scale. If anything, the density and scale are now too low due to the concessions made to the unreasonable neighbors.

  • Mike

    @Lee, Perhaps you didn’t take a good look at the elevations that Clark posted, not just the schematic posted here. You might want to print out those pages, and then take a trip Tenleytown and walk around the neighborhood where this project would be located. If you become familiar with the area and the proposal, it is difficult to describe this project as anything other than “out-of-scale.”

    As to whether Clark has reduced the scale in response to neighborhood concerns, that has not been determined. They have not provided any information about the square footage of either proposal, but it does appear as though all they mostly moved the density around, while ignoring all the other concerns.

  • Lee

    @Mike, I've taken a look at the schematics and I am a Tenleytown resident so I am quite familiar with the area. The proposal simply is not out of scale. If anything, the density and scale should be increased.

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