Monday, August 26, 2013

Resolution to Controversy in Chevy Chase?

It appears there may be a light at the end of the tunnel where 5333 Connecticut Avenue is concerned. This proposal has had its share of controversy in upper Ward 3 where new development is often considered a dirty word.

Nearby neighbors have filed appeals with the BZA and other DC authorities over the permits issued in 2012 and 2103 for a highrise building in the last open lot on this main thoroughfare.

The Chevy Chase ANC has taken a different tact. By engaging the property owner, they have arrived at a somewhat decent "Memorandum of Understanding" and are encouraging the appeals by neighbors to be dropped.

Among the good points of the MOU:

- A redesign of the glassy exterior to something more compatible with the existing building stock;
- Additional landscaping;
- Support and potential payment for car sharing and Capital Bikeshare on site;
- A 13 point environmental sustainability program.

The agreement does come with some negatives. Among them:

- The reduction, by 2, of the number of living units;
- The inclusion of a circular driveway on Connecticut Avenue, with two curb cuts;
- The addition of 40 additional parking spaces, over and above the proposal, which was more than was required by zoning.

This is somewhat novel approach taken by the ANC, but ultimately, it is probably more productive than the alternatives. The ANC will discuss this at its meeting on Tuesday, August 27th, see the ANC 3G website for more information.


And this statement from the project opponents:

At the encouragement of the Chevy Chase Advisory Neighborhood Commission,
members of 5333 CNC, the commission and the Cafritz development group spent the
summer seeking agreement on changes to the developers’ proposed all-glass
apartment tower, ones that would protect the vibrant Chevy Chase D.C. community
while encouraging growth and development.

At the insistence of the Cafritzes, everybody involved in the effort had to sign
pledges of confidentiality.

The sessions were intended to produce a reasonable compromise between the
residents and the Cafritzes.

Instead, they have resulted in a draft agreement between the Cafritzes and the
ANC that doesn’t address the community’s most important requests for change and
could be damaging to the community’s appeals of the developers’ plans.

The ANC is scheduled to take up the 15-point draft Tuesday, August 27 at 7:30
p.m. The 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition asks community residents to
turn out for the meeting and judge for themselves.

Last spring, the ANC joined the 5333 CNC in appealing municipal permits that the
developer obtained for the proposed structure and helped to convene negotiations
between the coalition and Cafritz representatives.

Throughout the negotiations, the coalition proposed practical, modest changes
that would not require wholesale redesign. Among them: shifting the mass of the
large Military Road wing of the proposed building forward toward Connecticut and
stepping down the back of the wing to create a buffer between the 10-story
development and the two-to-three story surrounding single-families homes.

As it now appears, ANC commissioners engaged in a separate negotiation with the
Cafritz side about which the 5333 CNC was not told. The resulting agreement
fails to address key issues in the 5333 CNC-Cafritz negotiations, is vague,
unenforceable and makes new concessions to the developer with little in return
for the community.

Below is a brief review of some of the key points included in the draft
Cafritz-ANC agreement that the commission intends to consider.

The draft says the Cafritzes agree to “a major redesign of the building…
including reduction in the glass surface area (and) increase in the amount of
masonry…as depicted in concept drawings that Cafritz provided.”

However, the agreement doesn't call for the Cafritzes to withdraw the current
building permit, which doesn’t reflect any of the changes the draft says the
developers have agreed to make. The current permit is for the original structure
that was widely criticized by the community and the ANC.

The agreement also doesn't call for the Cafritzes to make publicly available a
full set of drawings and plans for a building that reflects the proposed
changes. The developers have been promising to provide the public with revised
plans since the beginning of 2013, but have yet to do so. Absent a full set of
plans and drawings, the community will be left to discuss, and the ANC to vote
on, a proposal with little more than a few potentially inaccurate pictures.

The agreement doesn't require the Cafritzes to hold off on construction until a
new permit that reflects all of the changes to which they say they've agreed has
been approved by the city and reviewed by the commission and the community.

The draft says that the Cafritzes will seek, and the ANC will support, an
application for a circular driveway in front of the Connecticut Avenue fa├žade in
order to “reduce traffic on Kanawha Street and Military Road…”

The city’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) already has rejected a request
for such a driveway as a danger to pedestrians trying to make their way along
Connecticut and an impediment to traffic flow along the avenue. Despite the
developer’s claims, inclusion of such a driveway would not reduce traffic on
Military or Kanawha.

The Cafritzes’ insistence on the driveway appears to be the reason they refuse
to comply with a basic rule of urban design by moving the structure forward so
it fronts on Connecticut and defines the urban corridor. It also appears to be
the reason they won’t agree to the kind of buffer zone between the high-rise and
surrounding single family homes that virtually all well-designed apartment
buildings along Connecticut have.

The driveway is one of the few elements of the Cafritz development in which the
community has an opportunity to make a mutually beneficial trade-off:
neighborhood support for the driveway in return for coupling it with a secondary
entrance/exit to the proposed structure’s underground parking to relieve some,
but not all, of the traffic along Military and Kanawha. Absent this coupling,
ANC support would simply give away a legitimate bargaining chip.

Advocates of the draft agreement suggest that the Cafritzes will prohibit
tenants of the proposed structure from getting residential parking sticker that
would let them save the expense of renting a space in the proposed structure’s
underground garage and parking on the street.

But the agreement itself says only that the Cafritzes “will request” such an
arrangement, which means the provision would be unenforceable.

The draft says the Cafritzes agree “to install additional landscaping,”
including preserving existing tall, mature trees that could serve as an
effective shield against light pollution and protect privacy, especially along
the huge Military Road side of the building.

However after initially saying that seven mature trees located in public space
along Military could be saved, the Cafitzes’ landscape architect sent a memo
reducing that number to three and even then only promising "reasonable best
efforts." None would be saved along Kanawha. The new trees that the landscape
architect proposes to add either would be too small to provide much shielding,
or don’t grow the kind of full, protective canopies portrayed in the concept

The draft includes a variety of proposals that appear aimed at allowing the
Cafritzes to claim that their proposed building would be environmentally sound.
However, the developers had already said they’d use “green” technology (although
not meet nationally recognized green LEEDS standards). The only new elements
appear to be mention of adding a Capital Bike Share rack and space for two
Zipcars on the property.

The text of the draft also says the Cafritzes “shall have no obligation” to
include either “if after a reasonable effort” they decide inclusion of one or
both is impractical.

The draft says that the developers agree to “institute traffic controls and
signage, as requested and advised by the DDOT, so that traffic entering and
exiting the building will not use the narrow alley that runs from behind the
Building to Chevy Chase Parkway.”

However, the Cafritzes agreed in early conversations with the ANC and the
coalition to install a so-called “pork chop” traffic control to discourage use
of the alley. The draft appears to weaken, not strengthen, that agreement by
making it contingent on the city’s transportation department requesting the
traffic control. Senior DDOT officials have repeatedly described the alley as
“public infrastructure” that should be put to greater use. As a result, it
seems unlikely that they will “request” any control.

Members of the 5333 CNC appreciate the ANC’s efforts to encourage negotiations
between the community and the Cafritzes. But the secret negotiations between
the ANC and the Cafritzes that have resulted in limited, inadequately defined
and unenforceable promises of change are counterproductive and a disservice to
our community.

No comments: