Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The state of Brightwood real estate, by Eric Brooks

Recent renovation, 900 block of Sheridan Street NW

Eric Brooks is a realtor with a lot of experience working in Brightwood and the surrounding neighborhoods. He stopped by to share some of his observations about real estate trends in our area.

Everyone knows the real estate mantra "location, location, location". But unfortunately foreclosures have been another reality over the past few years. Well, there is some recent good news that I’d like to share: for the first time in many months, there are no foreclosed townhomes or detached homes ‘active' on the market in Brightwood.

In communities that have had many foreclosures, sale prices for all properties are affected. When a homeowner leaves a property in foreclosure, the property is often damaged in some way – examples include missing appliances or water damage. Most loans used by buyers require a property to be in “livable condition”, meaning that foreclosed properties can often only be bought by cash investors - normally at 10 to 15% below market price. This leads the surrounding community into a downward trend, as each sold property is used as a comparable for future buyers.

Brightwood residents who are keeping an eye on real estate in the neighborhood may have noticed fewer investors and more first-time buyers visiting open houses of late. This could be an indication that the tide is changing, and foreclosures are drying up, which will lead to a more normal market. While this does not mean things are going to improve overnight, I think it shows a solid stabilization of the market, and may give buyers more confidence to buy in the neighborhood. Sellers in Brightwood have seen a steady drop in prices since 2007, so the start of a leveling-out of pricing may be seen by owners as a “big win”.

Interest rates continue to hover in the mid 4% range, but there are some changes for FHA buyers on the horizon that buyers need to discuss with their lender. Here is a more detailed look at the current numbers for 2011:

January through April "Sold Properties" numbers:
  • 27 homes sold ranging from $177,000 to $699,000
  • 6 of these were foreclosed homes and 1 was a short sale
  • 4 condos sold during this same time period, all below $300,000
Current "Active Properties" on the market:
  • 27 homes are for sale ranging from $150,000 to $640,000
  • 4 Shorts sales, 3 on Sheridan Street and 1 on 8th Street
  • 22 condos are on the market from $69,000 to $300,000 (1 is a foreclosure and 3 are short sales)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wegmans exec: Walter Reed "might be interesting to us at some point"

More on the discussions between Mayor Gray and Wegmans execs at the RECon conference in Las Vegas:

The meetings show that the chain has interest in the District, but it isn’t easy for Wegmans to enter D.C. because the chain wants at least 120,000 square feet and at least 800 parking spaces, which is hard to find in the city. It could potentially be had, however, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where the city is set to acquire property that includes around 1,200 existing underground parking spaces that front along Georgia Avenue NW.

D.C. does not have control of Walter Reed yet, and Gray has not announced a plan for how to pay for millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements there, so the Wegmans idea, like a lot of those at ICSC, is about something that is at least years away. But Ralph A. Uttaro, Wegmans senior vice president of retail development, walking into the meeting with Gray, said Walter Reed, “looks like something that might be interesting to us at some point.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

And the realities of the potential Wegmans deal start to set in

After my initial rush of excitement upon hearing about the potential of Wegmans at the Walter Reed site, some uncomfortable realities started to set in. The Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell is in Las Vegas for the next few days covering the RECon commercial real estate convention, where the meetings between Wegmans execs and DC pols (Mayor Gray is there, along with Harry Thomas Jr., Vincent Orange, and Michael A. Brown) will take place. O'Connell Tweeted yesterday that Wegmans "needs at least 120k square feet and mucho parking". We're not yet sure if Wegmans will be amenable to underground "mucho parking" rather than surface parking; if they're sticklers for surface parking then, as stated by the Post's Mike DeBonis, "Harriet (Tregoning) not gonna like". And then of course we still have the traffic issues on Georgia Avenue to contend with.

Mayor Gray, build that streetcar. Faster.

As far as I know, this is Wegmans' first entry inside an urban border, and though I can't believe I'm holding Walmart up as an example of anything good, I'll say that Wegmans might want to take a lesson from Walmart and its "urban format" models if it is to enter into urban markets successfully.

Gray's meeting with Wegmans execs is today at 11:30 PST. Those of you who want to keep up with the latest developments might be interested in following Jonathan O'Connell on Twitter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wegmans considering Walter Reed site for its first store in the District

Last month, when I first heard that Mayor Gray was meeting with Wegmans to discuss possible DC locations, I wondered if the Walter Reed site would factor into the conversation. Freeman Klopott and Liz Farmer at the Examiner report that it is indeed under serious consideration. From the piece:

D.C. officials are hoping that the massive Walter Reed Army Medical Center's planned redevelopment in Northwest will finally give them the bait they need to lure the District's first Wegmans grocery store.

The highly sought-after grocer has two scheduled meetings this week with Mayor Vincent Gray and council members at a retail development conference in Las Vegas that historically has been the breeding ground for major real estate deals in the District.

Keith Sellars, senior vice president of development and retail for the Washington DC Economic Partnership, said city officials have been courting Wegmans "for years" but never had a site large enough.

Wegmans' senior vice president is scheduled to meet with the mayor while Councilmen Harry Thomas Jr., Vincent Orange and Michael Brown are meeting separately with the retailer. Analyst David Livingston of DJL Research said scheduling two meetings is significant, noting the grocer typically spends years researching a location before it commits.

Thomas, chairman of the council's Economic Development Committee, said, "Wegmans is absolutely a real prospect."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Caribbean Carnival parade faces financial challenges, considers shortening route

Looks like the Caribbean Carnival, scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 25, is having some financial trouble, which could lead to a shortened parade route.

The route normally runs down Georgia Avenue, beginning at Missouri Avenue and terminating at Barry Place NW (that's about three miles), but this year, according to the carnival's website, the route will begin at Kansas Avenue, which will shorten the route significantly (by approximately 1.5 miles). The organizers haven't given up hope that they might be able to run the usual three-mile route with the generous support of neighbors like you, though; if you look deeper into the carnival website, you'll find a donation page that contains more of the story:

DC Metropolitan Police Department has proposed shortening the parade route from the current route along Georgia Avenue from Missouri Avenue NW to Barry Place NW approximately 3 miles; to Georgia Avenue between Missouri Avenue NW to Kansas Avenue NW (a 1.3-mile route). If this proposed change takes place it will severely affect the true essence of the Carnival Parade in addition to adversely imping(ing) on business owners along the portion of the Georgia Avenue corridor that will be excluded.

I'm wondering how Brightwood/Brightwood Park residents feel about this...would people be happy to have the parade start further down Georgia Avenue, or would they miss it? I personally hope the northern section of the Caribbean Carnival can be restored; I think it's a blast to have a once-a-year day-long party in our normally quiet little residential neighborhood.

***UPDATE*** I got in touch with the festival organizers, who confirmed that the parade will indeed begin at Kansas Avenue this year. Big loss for Brightwood and Brightwood Park!

Petworth Market, now with EBT machine!

Today, the Petworth Community Market begins its second season. It will run from 4-8 pm each Friday through September 30 along the 4000 block of 9th Street NW (between Taylor and Upshur Streets).

This year Petworth joins the growing list of DC farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits, due to the acquisition of an EBT machine (which will also allow customers to pay with credit cards).

Organizers are still in the process of recruiting farm vendors, artists and crafters for the weekly market. For additional details or to download a vendor application, visit www.petworthmarket.org

Here's a list of the confirmed vendors so far this season:
C&T Produce
Fresh Off The Roast
G Flores Produce
Great Harvest Bread Company
J & L Green Farm
Kuhn Orchards
Momme Meals
Paisley Fig
Pearl Fine Teas
William Maedel III

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's the Official Ward 4 Bike to Work Day convoy

Our Councilmember is going to bike to work tomorrow, and she'd like you to join her.

When: Tomorrow (Bike to Work Day!), 7:00 am
Where: Highlands Café, 4706 14th St. NW
(There's a Capital Bikeshare station right in front of Highlands, so if you want to ride CaBi, it's a very convenient meeting spot.)

More info from a press release:

Bowser to pace the peloton on Bike to Work Day
Washington, D.C. – In support of Bike to Work Day tomorrow, Councilmember Bowser will lead a group of cyclists on a bicycle ride from Ward 4 to Freedom Plaza.

When: Friday, May 20, 2011
Time: 7:00 A.M.
Where: Highlands Café, 4706 14th St NW

For more information, or to join the ride, please contact Brandon Todd at btodd@dccouncil.us, or by phone at 202-664-7594. If the Councilmember’s ride is cancelled due to inclement weather, notice will be posted on Ward 4 listservs by 6:15 A.M.

Ward 4 Animal Health Fair, this Saturday @ Upshur Dog Park

What: Ward 4 Animal Health Fair
When: Saturday, May 21, 9:00 am - 12 noon
Where: Upshur Dog Park, 4300 Arkansas Avenue, NW

Join the DC Department of Health and the Friends of 16th St Heights Parks for an Animal Health Fair!

- Free vaccinations
- DC dog and dog park licenses
- Microchipping
- Learn about DC's animal laws and emergency preparedess
- Ask the veterinarian
- Learn about the Friends group and join the Upshur Dog Park community
- Free dog treats!

The cost of a dog license is $15 for a spayed or neutered dog and $50 for an unspayed or unneutered dog. Pay with checks or money orders payable to "DC Treasurer." NO CASH ACCEPTED.

If your pet has been vaccinated before, please bring the vaccination records.

Cats and dogs must be at least 3 months old to receive a rabies vaccination.

All pets must be brought by a responsible adult. Dogs must be secured on a leash and cats must be secured in a carrier box.

District law requires that all cats and dogs over 4 months old be vaccinated against rabies and that all dogs be licensed and wear the license tag.

These things happen in lands without Advisory Neighborhood Commissions

My realtor called me up yesterday and told me she thought of me when she heard about Home, which showed at the Avalon Theatre last night as part of their monthly French Cinemathque series.

It's the story of a family living an idyllic, isolated, quirky, non-conformist-y existence somewhere in the French countryside. Their house is right next to a long-abandonded highway which is closed off to cars and which the family uses for such activities as street hockey games and leisurely, destination-less bike riding. They leave their belongings (wading pools, chairs, toys) strewn across the highway, and nobody ever bothers them. Then one day, their seven year old son mentions that while on his bike ride he noticed construction workers at the far end of the highway. Before the family knows it (because in the French countryside they don't have ANC meetings at which to discuss these issues to death), the highway is being paved in preparation to reopen it. Soon cars start to zoom past the house, destroying the family's nice quiet existence (the scenes of the first cars racing down the highway are hilariously accompanied by the voice of an announcer on the family's radio extolling the virtues of the reopened highway and how much easier it's going to make everybody's life). After the reopening, the family begins to unravel, while coming up with some drastic solutions for blocking the noise and creating some privacy; toward the end of the film the family's patriarch brings home a massive quantity of cinderblocks and blocks off all of the house's windows.

And my realtor totally said to me: "Promise me you won't block of all your house's windows with cinderblocks if the Walmart happens."

(I would never do such a thing; I enjoy sunlight.)

Home was only playing at the Avalon for one night, but it's available on Netflix streaming. Add it to your queue if you enjoy bizarre films.

Brightwood Bistro space is for sale

Too bad. I know that the owners were looking forward to the development of the Curtis Chevy site to help drive traffic, but they couldn't hang on til then.

EDIT: An earlier version of this post stated that the entire building was for sale, which isn't true, it's just the restaurant space and an associated condo unit. The paragraph below was written when I thought the whole building was on the market.

Something needs to be done about the Georgia/Missouri intersection if businesses that locate around it are ever to succeed. Preservationists will hate me for bringing up this (admittedly unlikely) scenario, but if the city were to buy the building, raze it, and use the land to fix the intersection, would it be such a bad thing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Changes planned for 70/71 bus lines

Dr. Gridlock reports on some proposed changes to the 70/71 bus lines, which could be approved by the Metro board at hearings this week, and which would go into effect in September. The plan:

Shorten Routes 70 and 71 to operate between the Silver Spring and Archives Metrorail stations at all times and reduce peak period frequency.

Metro proposes cutting off the southern portion of the heavily used line and adding a new route, Route 74, to serve the area between Chinatown and Buzzard Point/Fort McNair.

The existing routes carry nearly 11,000 riders a day, making them among the highest-ridership routes in the Metrobus system. The problem, Metro says, is that the routes are long and spend a lot of their time stuck in downtown D.C. traffic, with the usual results: Some passengers get a very crowded ride. Many wait a long time for buses to arrive, only to see them arrive in bunches.

Shortening the route and widening the arrival times are standard tactics in attempting to make a bus line more reliable. In this case, all the buses would go by the 70 designation, and they would be scheduled to arrive every 12 minutes during rush periods, rather than the current 10 minutes.

The new Route 74 would operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays. Buses would travel between Chinatown and Buzzard Point every 18 to 20 minutes during peak periods and between Chinatown and Fort McNair every 24 minutes during off-peak periods. Route V8 would be rerouted to operate via Fort McNair and extended to Gallery Place Metrorail station after 8 p.m. on weekdays and weekends.

This plan also eliminates the K1 bus line, which travels between Walter Reed and the Takoma Metro. If this change won't take effect til September, it will align perfectly with the closure of Walter Reed, planned for that same month.


Speaking of Ward 4 transportation issues, GGW is having a lively debate, sparked by our Councilmember's feelings about increasing residential parking permit fees.

Ecco Park plans moving right along

The plans for the new Ecco Park development, at Carroll and Maple Streets NW, were shown at a public meeting last night. The architect, Sas Gharai, presented the plans along with Jeffrey Blum of Level2, the developer responsible for several other similar projects in the District, including View 14.

Although the plans for Ecco Park have been in place for years, Gharai only recently announced that he also intends to develop 231 Carroll Street, which is adjacent to the Ecco Park site and is currently occupied by a PMI public parking lot. The basic plans show the buildings to essentially be mirror images of each other, though some community members who attended the meeting encouraged Gharai to vary the facades. Both buildings combined will have between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and between 60 and 70 rental apartments. Retail tenants have not yet been identified, and Gharai is asking for community input on the types of retailers that are most needed in the neighborhood.

Zoning requires the sidewalk by the building to be at least 15 feet wide, but ANC commissioner Faith Wheeler encouraged Gharai to make them even wider in order to accommodate outdoor seating for the restaurants and coffee shops that are likely to occupy some of the retail spaces. Other community members asked him to reduce the height of the building (zoning limits the height to 55 feet, with an additional 18 feet for penthouse space).

As previously reported, Gharai intends to break ground on Ecco Park in June. He is aiming to work on constructing both Ecco Park and 231 Carroll Street at the same time.

Gharai will make changes to the design based on the comments he received last night. He'll present the changes at another public meeting, to be held in June.

"We want to build the right building, but we want to do it expeditiously," said Blum.

Monday, May 16, 2011

See/discuss the Ecco Park plans: Monday, May 16, 6:30, Shepherd Park Library

A community meeting has been set up to discuss plans for the addition of the PMI parking lot to the Ecco Park development at Carroll and Maple Streets NW. The developer, Sas Gharai, will be there to answer questions.

When: Monday, May 16, 6:30 - 8:30 pm
Where: Shepherd Park Library, 7420 Georgia Avenue, NW (Meeting Room B)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Takoma Park Farmers Market jumps on the farmers market bike clinic train

Yes, a bike clinic is starting up at the Takoma Park Farmers Market on Sunday, May 22. It's a collective effort between the Mount Rainier Bike Coop, Takoma Bicycle, and The Green Commuter.

Bike clinics are great places for the less mechanically inclined to get some help with their bikes' issues. No word yet on whether this will become a regular fixture at the market, but if it did, that would be fantastic.

Takoma Park Farmers Market
Laurel Avenue (bet. Eastern & Carroll)
Sundays, 10am-2pm

Monday, May 9, 2011

Today in DC wildlife: a black vulture munches on carrion by McMillan Reservoir

Saw him on the sidewalk on Fifth St. NW, between Howard University's Greene Memorial Stadium and McMillan Reservoir. I believe he's a black vulture (any ornithologists who happen to read should feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). Bizarre; cool.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walmart's mailer to DC residents: it's as if they're conducting an ill-fated political campaign

Walmart is feeling a little wobbly about the chances that the four sites that they've chosen for stores in the District will actually become realities, and here's proof. Yesterday, the mailer you see here was received in mailboxes all across the city. You're looking at the "Ward 4 edition" right now; the version that was sent to parts of the city that don't contain potential Walmart sites received different versions (i.e., the headline on the one I saw that was sent to Ward 3 residents proclaims "Walmart's new DC stores will create 1,200 jobs", rather than the Ward 4-specific language you see above). The piece looks very similar to the kind of literature we're used to receiving from candidates during campaign seasons, complete with a disclaimer notice ("Paid for by Walmart Stores, Inc.").

The "73%" statistic is a reference to a telephone poll that Walmart conducted in the fall of 2010, just before they announced their intentions to move into the District. At community meetings, Walmart representatives have repeatedly referred back to the results of the telephone poll. I was not one of the 800 people surveyed, but I've spoken with a few people who were and I've been told that the questions asked were posed more circuitously than "Do you want a Walmart in your neighborhood, yes or no?" (I have yet to obtain a copy of the actual questions that were asked.)

The mailer's interior again emphasizes that Walmart will create new jobs, though they neglect to mention that they're also likely to take jobs away, as small businesses in the surrounding neighborhoods struggle to survive in Walmart's shadow. And, as David Merriman and Joseph Persky of the University of Illinois wrote in their recent Washington Post piece on Walmart's entry into Chicago, "In considering whether to encourage or oppose Wal-Mart’s entry into the District, our results suggest that job creation should not be an overriding factor." Merriman and Persky note that over a period of two years, the number of jobs Walmart created in Chicago was offset by the number of jobs that were lost due to small businesses' shuttering after Walmart's arrival.

"Access to healthy food" is also emphasized here. But as we've learned from the USDA's recently uploaded online tool, Ward 4 is actually not considered a food desert at all. Richard Layman has also taken note of this. From Layman's post:

WRT Brightwood, considering that there is a below average Safeway at Petworth but the store is going to be upgraded to be roughly comparable to the City Vista store, plus the store at Piney Branch Road, plus the Giant Supermarket at Eastern Ave. and Riggs Road just across the border in Maryland, plus the proposed Safeway at Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue as part of the Cafritz project, plus the Safeway on Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase, not to mention the Yes Grocery, I think it would be hard to say that people are underserved...

I found a mapping tool, and started mapping 3 mile retail trade areas from a handful of supermarkets that serve Brightwood: Safeway in Petworth, Safeway at Piney Branch Road, Safeway in SW DC, Safeway in Chevy Chase, the Yes Grocery on Georgia Ave. NW, the PanAm Market at Michigan and Eastern Avenues, the Giant Supermarket on the DC-Maryland border at Eastern Avenue and Riggs Road in Prince George's County. But since so much of the city was covered just with these stores, I decided to start over.

I changed the radius to 1.5 miles from the store location. It doesn't include the proposed Safeway location on Riggs Road NE or the proposed Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW or New York Avenue NE. It doesn't include the PanAm store on 14th Street NW, or independent supermarkets in Mt. Pleasant, nor Florida Market. A lot of stores aren't listed.

I'm not saying that I don't think Ward 4 could use more food options than it currently has, just that Walmart's avowals that they're rescuing us from the bowels of food-desertism are rather baseless.

Of course the mailer mentions nothing about the true folly: that it's becoming more and more apparent that the site, near the intersection of Georgia and Missouri Avenues, can't realistically support the proposed development without having a serious adverse affect on traffic, pedestrian safety, and quality of life in the surrounding residential area.

The best part by far is this tear-off response card (which requires a stamp, as postage will not be paid by the addressee; how...presumptuous). The first item that citizens are asked to check reads: "I would like more information on the efforts to bring Walmart to DC" (emphasis mine). Efforts? I didn't realize Walmart felt that they were fighting such an uphill battle; which I suppose is a good thing, as it means that the groups that have been advocating for smart development at the Curtis Chevrolet site are making a difference. The next item reads: "I would like to sign a petition supporting Walmart coming to DC" (again, emphasis mine). I've no doubt that we'll see Walmart's "community action" reps roving the streets of Ward 4 trying to obtain our signatures in an effort to show our elected officials exactly how much they're wanted/needed. The third item is a call to increase the size of their community action network: "I would like to get involved in the efforts to bring Walmart to DC". Yes, Walmart is attempting to bolster a "grassroots" effort on their own behalf.

I would prefer it if the company would directly address the issues that it knows it's dealing with at its proposed Ward 4 site. In February, we (myself and a small group of neighbors) met with Victor Hoskins, the deputy mayor for economic development. We drew him a map of the proposed site, the surrounding streets and current traffic patterns, the six schools that are within a three-block radius of the site (yes, you read that right, six schools within a three-block radius...and five of them are elementary schools), the proximity of the Fourth District Police Headquarters building, and the proposed location of the loading dock off of Missouri Avenue (and how the 18-wheelers will turn from narrow, two-lanes-in-each-direction Missouri Avenue into the loading dock area). Hoskins sat back, looked at the drawing, and said that it looked like a total mess to him, and that if it's really as bad as the drawing made it look, there was a good chance that the project wouldn't pass a traffic study.

We're seeing now that Hoskins was onto something. Yet Walmart still refuses to acknowledge that. They want this deal to go through that badly.

View Larger Map
The section of Missouri Avenue that will soon be the site of a loading dock entry, if Walmart gets its way.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't let your criminal record stand in the way of your success!

"How to Succeed with a Criminal Record" is the topic of ANC 4B06 commissioner Gloria Palmer's next monthly meeting. Says Palmer:

There are an estimated 60,000 individuals with criminal records in the District of Columbia. Find out if you or your friends with criminal records are eligible - and how - to get arrest or conviction records sealed or expunged.

Suggestion: Begin to locate old case numbers and other pertinent information. When asked, state that ANC 4B06 G. D. Palmer referred you.

When: Tuesday May 17, 2011, 7-9 pm
Where: 4D Metropolitan Police Department, 6001 Georgia Ave. NW

Urban planners tell Foulger-Pratt exactly what they think of the Curtis Chevrolet site plan

On Wednesday, ANC 4B commissioners Sara Green and Faith Wheeler held a public meeting at the Shepherd Park library to discuss the current Walmart proposal. Representatives from Walmart and Foulger-Pratt were present, along with Stephen Mordfin of the Office of Planning, who is overseeing the Large Tract Review process. Three urban planners who live in Ward 4 were also on the panel: David Hamilton, Richard Layman, and Tanya Topolewski.

The planners had the most insightful comments of the evening. All three expressed opposition to the development in its current form (unsurprisingly, since the development in its current form fails badly from a planning perspective). Richard Layman, noting that the Office of Planning’s Comprehensive Plan for Upper Georgia Avenue calls for a mixed-use development at the Curtis Chevrolet site, told the attendees that Foulger-Pratt is to blame for the single-use status of the current plan, as Walmart has proven that they are willing to locate their stores within mixed-use projects (an example is the Ward 6 Walmart location). The addition of housing to the development would help the surrounding corridor to become a lively node. He implored Foulger-Pratt to consider the future plans for Georgia Avenue (i.e. the streetcar, the redevelopment of the Walter Reed site). Concerned citizens should put pressure on Foulger-Pratt to create a development that enhances the Georgia/Missouri corridor, rather than taking away from it.

Tanya Topolewski made a good point that I haven't heard anyone make before: that the current plan basically forsakes Missouri Avenue. If spaces for smaller retail wrapped around the corner at Missouri and Georgia, the corner would be brought to life (under the current plan, two spaces for small retail will be located at the corner of Georgia and Peabody; both spaces are between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet). As the current plan calls for Missouri Avenue to be used as an entry/exit point for trucks, this means that Missouri Avenue will essentially be wasted for the next 75 years. She admonished Foulger-Pratt for its shoddy plan, and for taking the easy way out at the community’s expense.

David Hamilton, a Takoma resident and retired senior urban designer for the National Capital Planning Commission, expressed concern for the impact on extant small businesses, and on future small business development. Sacrificing Missouri Avenue is a quality-of-life issue, he said, especially since it will cause traffic to spill onto the surrounding residential streets. He said that since the site will have a 75-year lease, it is imperative to get the development right. In response to an attendee who brought forth the argument that the Curtis Chevrolet site has been vacant for long enough, Hamilton cited the Takoma Village Cohousing development on Fourth Street NW as an example of a project that was worth the wait. The community had fought several inferior development plans for many years before Takoma Village was constructed. Hamilton convincingly maintained that it's important to develop the site wisely, rather than just building something for the sake of taking up the empty lot.

ANC 4A commissioner David Wilson asked if the project will be able to go forward even if DDOT determines that there will me a major adverse effect on traffic. Stephen Mordfin said that in that case the Office of Planning and DDOT will continue to work with the applicant until acceptable traffic solutions are devised. This means that the applicants have quite a bit of work to do, as DDOT said that not enough information was provided to them to adequately analyze the plans, and that the metrics used in the traffic study aren't appropriate for an urban setting.

Keeping Mordfin’s statement in mind, it’s important for neighborhood residents to make their feelings about the Large Tract Review known, in writing. The deadline for comments on the Large Tract Review is May 25. Send your comments to Stephen Mordfin or call him at 202-442-8810.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Washington Post: Trohv in pictures

The Post has a series of photos of Trohv. Check them out, especially if you haven't yet had the chance to visit the store in person!

ANC 4A unanimously opposes Walmart LTR as currently submitted

Here are 4A resident Michele Baskin's notes from Tuesday night's ANC 4A meeting, during which 4A's commissioners moved to oppose Walmart's current Large Tract Review.

I made it out to the ANC 4A mtg at Fort Stevens Rec Center on Tuesday night where Walmart's LTR submission was on the agenda. It was really unclear what the commissioners would choose to do since DDOT released their letter earlier in the day noting problems with the LTR and requesting a hold on approval.

All commissioners were present but very few community members. About 3/4 the way through the meeting, Muriel Bowser made an appearance.

The commissioners were originally going to vote on the comments from the ANC either in support of or opposition to the LTR plan. It was suggested that they postpone the vote in light of DDOT's letter. Dave Wilson, the commissioner tasked with creating the ANC's comments, suggested that they go ahead and vote on the LTR as is, in case the window for submitting comments did close as scheduled on May 30th. He also stated that the concerns brought up by DDOT were the same concerns he was bringing up in comments, making the DDOT letter in support of the ANC's proposed comments. After much wrangling around process, a very lengthy motion was crafted (I am still trying to get the exact working from Wilson or Whatley) that stated that ANC 4A was in opposition to Walmart's LTR as written but that this would be suspended if Walmart submitted a new LTR in response to DDOT's letter or if the comment period was extended to June 30th at the earliest, at which point any new submissions by Walmart would be reviewed and a new motion submitted. There was a lot more legalese, but basically this was a vote to oppose the LTR as currently submitted. The vote was 8-0 to oppose the LTR by Walmart.

So let me repeat, ANC4A is on the record as opposing the current Walmart LTR in a unanimous fashion.

The commissioners also took up a separate motion concerning a community benefits agreement. There was much discussion about the reality of enforceability and the fact that Wal-Mart has never signed one of these. There was also concern that it would be problematic to have each ANC in the city craft their own CBA or list of demands. I suggested that the ANC take a look at the draft from Respect DC, and it was agreed that they would table any CBA motions until Respect DC's proposal was read.

Bowser suggested that the ANC need not worry about a CBA because she and her fellow councilmembers would take care of it. She seems to think that she can leverage LTR approval and building permit issuance to get favorable terms and a binding agreement on a CBA.

There was much mention of the upcoming ANC4B meetings and people were directed to next week's meeting to receive more information around the Walmart issue.

The next ANC 4B meeting regarding Walmart will be held on Thursday, May 12, at Emory Methodist Church, 7100 Georgia Avenue NW, 7-9 pm.

(Ink blot) & Councilmember Graham welcome us to Bruce Monroe Park

Former Mayor Fenty's name was blotted off of the Bruce Monroe Park sign. I'm not sure how long it's been since this happened; I just noticed it yesterday. (Any regular park-goers or Park View residents know how long Fenty's name has been inked over?)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

USDA: There are no food deserts in Ward 4

Ward 4: Not a food desert.

The USDA has released this handy tool for locating "food deserts" across the country. Enter an address, zoom in/out, and you'll see designated food deserts shaded in pink.

I took a screenshot of the whole city. Notice that there are no food deserts in all of Ward 4, according to this tool. Prince George's County is more food-deserty than the District.

Ecco Park developer aims to begin construction in June, adds PMI parking lot by Takoma Metro to the plan

This post has been updated.

Word from Sas Gharai, the developer of the long-stalled Ecco Park mixed-use development, is that he's now aiming to begin construction this June. Ecco Park is to be located at the corner of Carroll St. and Maple Ave. NW, in the vacant lot across the street from the Big Bad Woof and Trohv.

Gharai has also announced that he intends to develop the PMI parking lot, located on Carroll St. NW between the 7-11 and the Ecco Park site. A rendition of the plans can be seen on ANC commissioner Sara Green's website.

As both sites are located in the Takoma Historic District, the new design has to go before the Historic Preservation Review Board for approval. (EDIT: There are two separate buildings; looking at the above rendering made me think Gharai had overhauled the plan to build one big building, but it's just an illusion, apparently.) A public meeting, enabling community members to ask questions of the developer, will be held toward the end of May (I'll post details once they become available).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

DDOT says traffic study for proposed Ward 4 Walmart site is seriously flawed, recommends putting Large Tract Review on hold

This post has been updated.

Summary from ANC Sara Green: "Bottom Line: Walmart did not provide traffic/transportation data for 7 out of 10 categories DDoT asked for (during December 2010 meetings). Therefore the city cannot approve the project at this time."

What follows is a memo from Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning outlining the details of DDOT's concerns.

OP Walmart Document