Friday, May 6, 2011

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.

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