Opponents and supporters of the Eastern and Georgia Avenue Harris Teeter grocery store project got together for a fun and lively debate over the issue at Ohev Sholom Synagogue on Jonquil Street NW last evening. It was a packed room as Councilmember Brandon Todd, explained his position on the alley closing bill and moderated the conversation. DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo was present, as well as Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s Chief Project Delivery Officer and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Brian Kenner.
Meeting organizer David Gillers began the questions by outlining the concerns of many neighbors about how traffic generated by the project would affect the safety of Kalmia Road. CM Todd, and then Mr. Dormsjo and Mr. Zimbabwe carefully explained how the traffic study was conducted. After a study is conducted by the developer’s engineering firm, DDOT’s role is to review the traffic plans for a development.
In the case of the proposal presented for this project, DDOT found it to be “credible and viable”. In addition, DDOT compared the numbers presented in the study with real life counts from three similar projects across the city, including the Harris Teeter mixed use developments in Adams Morgan and on Potomac Avenue SE. This gave them confidence that the study’s conclusions are accurate. Mr. Dormsjo also reminded the audience that of the 351 vehicles projected to enter and exit the project garage during PEAK hour on Saturdays, nearly 300 of those cars are predicted to travel to and from the east via Georgia Avenue and not to and from the west into the Shepherd Park neighborhood via Kalmia Road. The vast majority of the traffic activity will be to the east of the development. He concluded with this quote:
There’s nothing in the analysis of this site that suggests to us that the usage of Kalmia as an access point is at all problematic.
Hot in Herre
From that point, neighbors on both sides of this issue traded questions, discussion and a few pointed barbs. This “community input” process produces a weird mix of legitimate concerns, fear- and rumor-mongering, and confusion. It is human nature to fear the unknown. I think residents cross the line when deliberate untruths are inserted into an already heated discussion. It is really not fair to the typical neighbor who does not have time to pore over the traffic studies and zoning reports. I was skeptical about the new ANC 4A Design Review Committee, but if a dedicated group of neighbors with expertise can inform the rest of us about projects of this type, it can be a benefit.
Opinions in the room seemed to be much more balanced than in previous meetings on this topic. Overall, I think that Councilmember Todd gained some valuable insight over the community’s feelings on this project that will inform his thinking going into next Tuesday’s vote.
A Lesson from Across the Park
This weekend, our friends in the Cleveland Park neighborhood will experience a different kind of development woe: they are losing two beloved restaurants because of declining business.
After years of resisting all but the most modest, low-scale development, the neighborhood is now facing a decline in its retail landscape. And this is despite being one of the wealthiest urban enclaves in the country and sitting on top of a Metro stop. Businesses and customers find the lively scenes to the east in Shaw, 14th St and U Street more attractive.
A glance back at the Upper Georgia Avenue Land Use plan from Adrian Fenty’s time in the Mayor’s suite reveals a community hungry for the amenities that greater density and mixed-used projects promise. Now that the projects that we asked for are on the drawing board, are we going to nit-pick them to death or are we going to practice flexibility and work with the business community? Cleveland Park has to answer that question. And so do we.
This has been an interesting learning experience for me. I am a database engineer by profession and by nature I would prefer to stay in the background. In this case, there was just an overwhelming amount of misinformation surrounding this project, so someone had to step in. Why not me? I’ve taken a few slings and arrows in the process, but in the end, I appreciate those as well.
Thank you to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld for opening the doors of your shul to the community for this meeting and for keeping the peace when the discussion got a little heated.
No matter how the City Council votes on Tuesday, I hope that we as a community can come together to continue to make our neighborhood someplace worth fighting for. I hope to see everyone at the Shepherd Park Picnic and the Ward 4 Day picnic on this coming Sunday!
This post was updated after I got a few hours of sleep!