Friday, June 13, 2008

A Report on the Giant Presentation

A summary of the Giant Community Presentation by Cleveland Park resident Gabe Fineman:

Notes from the June 11, 2008 Meeting on Giant
[Having trouble reading this because you do not get mail in HTML format? You can
download a formatted copy from that also has a lot
of background documents.]

So, is Giant going to expand their store at Newark Street? Yes, they will, and
it will be part of a major redevelopment project. This meeting was sponsored by,
and run by, Giant. It was held in the Washington Hebrew Congregation (Macomb and
Massachusetts) and was less amicable than the last meeting in December 2006. The
room was very large and seated most of the 150 people who came, although many
stood to better see the slides.

So, what has changed and why this meeting? Giant has finally filed the paper
work to start the administrative procedures to get City approval to rebuild the
two blocks they own on Wisconsin Avenue. They took the route of filing for a
Planned Unit Development (PUD) that is special permission to change zoning as
part of a specific development. That is, the change from status C-1 to C-2A is
only allowed for what is in the PUD and they cannot change their mind and build
a fat rendering factory or mega-church there once the zoning was changed. The
meeting was to get 'community input' that is required to impress regulators.

So, what is going to be built? Substantially what they told us in December of
2006. Giant (now Ahold's) owns most of the block where the store is located and
the entire block to the north where the Pharmacy is located. Giant invested
major bucks to buy the real estate years ago and now Ahold will develop it and
get the profit out. In the process, we get a much larger supermarket. Everything
will be knocked down and rebuilt (first the block to the south and then the
block to the north). They will double the size of the current store/pharmacy.
This will make it larger than the store at Van Ness. The other retail space is
dropping by the space of the long vacant Murphy's. This is all being financed
with lots of residential space that they hope there will be a market for in
three years when it is finished. This is all accomplished by building down (a
two story garage [400 cars] and another one story garage [88 cars] under the
buildings) and building up the north building to five stories in places. The
current buildings will get much larger and cover the old parking lots. For more
details, you can read the PUD and the notes of the last meetings at .

So, what happened at the meeting? I found it sad. It was obvious that few if any
neighbors had read the PUD or the traffic study. There were absolutely no
references to the PUD, such as that some of the traffic counts made no sense.
[e.g. 244 cars west bound on Porter at 34th in the AM rush hour with only 60
reaching Wisconsin - PUD, Exhibit K, Figure 2-12] For a neighborhood that prides
itself on its literacy and on its rationality, it was embarrassing that the
audience was so ill prepared. Indeed, the audience seemed to not even listen to
what was being said, but to filter it through its preconceptions. For example,
the traffic engineer said that the number of trips to and from Giant would
double along with the size of the store and many responded that something had to
be done to prevent the number of cars on the cross streets from doubling. The
fact that most cars do not go to Giant and that most that do, use Wisconsin
(70%), was ignored.

What did people ask for and what will Giant do? The group of people that came
out seemed rather evenly divided between those who wanted Giant to stop delaying
and just build the new store and those who wanted to have Giant do things that
they simply will not do. Some immediate near neighbors feared that building the
underground parking lot would destroy their homes by either cracking the
foundations or changing the water table. Some were so shrill about their fears
that others told them to sell their houses and move instead of trying to
monopolize the meeting. Many were afraid that the doubling of traffic in front
of their homes would lower their quality of life (see above). Giant is planning
some traffic calming adjacent to the development, but Federal Highway money and
the bureaucracy in DDoT will have to plan, approve and pay for traffic calming
elsewhere. Some wanted Giant to solve the general lack of parking in the
neighborhood. Giant is building the underground garage so as not to add to
parking problems and does plan to continue to provide free parking for the
restaurant row, but it cannot solve existing problems. Finally, some people
wanted Giant to scale back the project, even scale back the size of the store.
This is not something they will do because it makes the project no longer
economically feasible. This was a long list of nay sayings, but I must emphasize
that those who wanted immediate action were just as numerous and just as
passionate and just as ignorant of the excruciating process of building in an
urban area.

So, what is the next step? They are still a way from approval for the project -
they estimate January at best. There are a myriad of regulations (zoning,
overlays, height restrictions, density restrictions) to be approved. Once they
get approval, it will be another year to build the south block with the
supermarket and a year after that to build the north block. The opponents are
resourceful and creative. Who would have foreseen that they could convince
anyone on the Historic Board that the 'late commercial moderne style' was more
than mundane and thus the current Giant building was 'historic'?'

So, what will happen? My prediction is that the only thing that can stop this
major residential development will be the continued downturn in the housing
market. We will see construction in about two years. As I said after the
previous meeting: "If Ahold were to sell of the north block and this were a
regular developer, we would see a 200-300 unit building with no underground
parking and no input from the community. Developments of this scale happen
because so much money is involved. We are fortunate that Giant sees this as a
long term proposition and not a property to be built and flipped. Because of
that they seem willing to listen to the community and make changes to the
traffic, the streetscape and even subsidize small tenants."

More Information?
Disclaimer and Such. As always, these are the personal notes of Gabe Fineman.
They reflect my biases and viewpoints that I make no attempt to hide. Comments
or questions may be sent to me at [If Yahoo masked that
address, it is gfineman (at) advsol (dot) com].

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