From Gabe Fineman on the Cleveland Park Listserv:
Notes from the April 23, 2009
Zoning Commission Meeting about Giant at Newark
[Having trouble reading this because you do not get mail in HTML format? You can download a formatted copy from http://CPposts.com/Giant.htm that also has a lot of background documents.
So, what was this Meeting all about? Giant had applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) exception to the current zoning on the parcel of land that they own around Wisconsin and Newark. Their plan includes a doubling in size of the supermarket, and housing to the north of Newark and about the same amount of other retail space as they currently have. The usual anti-development crowd objected and this was the third of four hearings, but the first one I went to.
So, what happened at the previous meetings? At the first meeting (February 19th), Giant presented its case and Councilmember Cheh endorsed the application. The meeting lasted for five hours because the Board did not consolidate the opponents into one group but allowed each of the five opposition groups to individually ask the same witnesses the same questions that were often long statements rather than questions. At the second meeting (April 6th) the Office of Planning and the District Department of Transportation said why they supported the PUD and again, the opponents spent hours cross examining the City witnesses and a third meeting was needed.
So, who was on last night? Last night it was the proponents of the Giant Plan who mainly testified. First the ANC that voted to unanimously back the application but with a laundry list of issues that the Zoning Board should address. Then AWARE, the new local group of neighbors that want the application to be approved without additional conditions. Finally twenty-five individuals who spoke for themselves or some special interest issue (like affordable housing), but for the application.
So, What did the ANC say? Anne-Marie Bairstow, the chairman of the ANC, summarized the resolution unanimously passed by the ANC in January. The key thing about the resolution is that it was addressed as advice to the Zoning Commission. There were 11 conditions. The first was that the Zoning Commission should address certain issues about loading docks. The second was that the Zoning Commission makes Giant review its driveway designs and to mitigate noise. The third was to require Giant to continue to work with the City agencies to have adequate parking. The list went on. The opponents tried very hard to have Ms. Bairstow say that this meant that Giant must implement every suggestion about loading docks and must make specific changes to the driveway design and make all changes that they wanted. They also tried to get her to opine on if Giant and the Zoning Commission had done all of these things. The Chairman of the Zoning Board was very annoyed. This was precisely what had happened at previous meetings and he was not going to allow that badgering. The resolutions speak for themselves and he urged Ms. Bairstow to answer that she did not know instead of guessing at answers.
So, why did I stay? I suppose it was because I was already down town. When the meeting started, I envied the Commissioners. They were a vital part of the process of rebuilding a better City. They had a PUD that would revitalize an out of date neighborhood center and was Green and pedestrian friendly. They had a developer that intended to finance development in a very bad economy. However, I soon felt sorry for them as they tried not to roll their eyes and cut questioning short and the hours rolled by toward another five hour meeting.
So, what did AWARE say? They were very clear that they felt that the PUD was finished and needed no more revisions after what has been a ten year process. They urged the Board to approve it without any changes and let Giant quickly start building. Jeff Davis and Anne Large spoke for the 175 members and were so forceful and articulate that only two of the five groups wanted to question them. These two questioned every witness (or panel of individuals) much to the groans of even their supporters.
What did the individuals say? The individual ANC Commissioners explained why they wanted their particular point on the laundry list of conditions to the ANC resolution and why it was the most important point. The other neighbors gave examples of why the benefits of the development outweighed any possible problems, let alone actual problems. One major issue of the opponents raised before was that the Commission lacked authority to issue a PUD because it was overruled by the Comprehensive Master Plan. Ellen McCarthy, the former head of the Office of Planning who drafted the Master Plan, said that was nonsense and explained why in some detail (all within three minutes). The Zoning Commission members were very attentive. Someone from the Washington Interfaith Network asked the Commission to require 30% affordable housing instead of the 8% volunteered by Giant (there are still not regulations on the matter). The commission wondered why he weighed in at the last minute and had not talked to Giant before now. Ex-ANC Commissioner Dogget summed it up saying that she has seen this Giant process drag on since 2001 and the opponents are once more trying for "death by process".
So, was there any comic relief? Only at the very end when the crowd of about 100 had dwindled to about 50. The two of the small opposing groups presented their testimony. The first was the tenants at 3725 Macomb that is an apartment building that backs onto the Giant property and is probably the only affordable housing in the area. Their lawyer said that the new Giant building was only seven feet from the back of the apartment building so that fire trucks could not get in to save residents and this was illegal. Everyone was startled except for the Zoning Commissioners who seemed to know all about fire requirements. They first asked if the lawyer had consulted with the fire department. No. Why was there a letter in the file from the fire department saying that the design met their requirements? The law does not require access from all four sides and that is why apartment buildings are limited in their depth and why firemen are trained to enter through the front. The Giant lawyer asked only three questions about the actual distance that seemed to vary from seven to seventeen feet and might or might not be measured from a lawn rather than the building.
The other opponent was the big group of ten houses on Idaho Avenue that claimed that their residential street would be destroyed if trucks went down the part not in front of their houses to make deliveries at Giant. Yes destroyed, because trucks were heavy. The problem is that it is not currently a residential street. Most of it is bordered by the Giant on one side and the Police station on the other. It may become a residential street because Giant wants to build houses across from the Police Station, but the new residents will know what they are buying. In any case, they hired a Traffic Engineer (http://psivanness.com) that reached conclusions that the Commission considered incredulous. When questioned, the 'expert' admitted that he used models that were marked as unreliable and studies from Australia. He also did not seem to understand basic Traffic Engineering terminology and confused trips (one in to a dock and one out from the dock) with trucks making deliveries, resulting in the doubling of his numbers. It would have been much funnier if it were not 11 PM. I used to sympathize with these people but if you buy a house where you could throw a baseball into a shopping center, why would you to expect it to remain unchanged for more than half a century?
What is next? Yet another hearing, solely devoted to the opponents, on Monday, May 4 that should wrap things up. The next step is that the Zoning Commission allows written comments and uses those written comments and meetings with Giant to determine how the Planned Unit Development (PUD) should be re-written. It can be put in as is, made so restricted that Giant will abandon it or something in-between. Then, in at the end of the Summer (if everything goes without a hitch) the final PUD is approved and Giant can apply for building permits.