A preliminary rendering of 5333 Connecticut from Cafritz
A preliminary rendering of 5333 Connecticut from Cafritz

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Yesterday I wrote about the fierce battle over a planned Chevy Chase development and predicted that last night’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting on the subject would get pretty heated. I was unable to attend, but fortunately The Georgetown Dish was, and it confirmed my suspicions, and then some.

To bring those who don’t follow every detail of Upper Northwest development up to speed: Calvin Cafritz Enterprises is planning to build a 263-apartment building at 5333 Connecticut Ave. NW. Many neighbors aren’t happy about it. They think it’s too big and too ugly, and they’re worried about the usual things, like parking. So a neighborhood group called the 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition has led the charge in fighting the project.

Meanwhile, the local ANC negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Cafritz to reduce the building’s scale slightly and take some of the sheen off its glassy exterior by adding more masonry. Well, 5333 CNC found out about the MOU, and last night its members expressed their righteous indignation.

“Not only was the Neighborhood Coalition kept completely in the dark about this, but even the other members of the ANC had not been informed,” complained 5333 CNC leader George Gaines, according to the Dish. Three commissioners negotiated the agreement.

The ANC voted to support the MOU, but one dissenting commissioner was concerned with the speed of the decision. “Are we all going turn into pumpkins” if the deal isn’t approved immediately? asked one. “What is wrong with standing with the people?”

The problem for 5333 CNC is that it has zero leverage. In fact, even the ANC has zero leverage. That’s because the building is a matter-of-right project, meaning that Cafritz doesn’t need city or ANC approval to build it. Any concessions that Cafritz makes to the neighbors are in order to avoid the headache that comes with a public fight. One commissioner rightly pointed out last night, “I’m concerned that construction could start very soon and perhaps jeopardize the agreement we got.” Indeed, Cafritz could pull back anytime and decide it wants to build on its own terms.

Gaines accused Cafritz lawyer Whayne Quin of intentionally fostering a Chevy Chase civil war between the ANC and 5333 CNC. “From the beginning Quin was seeking to split the ANC from the Coalition in hopes that it would discourage the Coalition from proceeding with our appeals,” he said. He pledged to continue with an appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustment to prevent construction, claiming that the building’s specifications are illegal.

Check out the full recap at The Georgetown Dish.