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John Torti of Torti Gallas walks neighbors through site planning. (Lydia DePillis)

By now, developers know what they’re getting into when they propose to develop a piece of upper Wisconsin Avenue, where anti-density sentiment runs high enough to delay projects for years.

So the new team behind a proposed mixed-use project over the squat Safeway on 42nd and Ellicott Streets NW was preemptively cautious at a get-to-know-you session with neighbors last night.

“I don’t know what vibrant design is,” said lead architect John Torti of Torti Gallas, which designed the much-vaunted Georgetown Social Safeway. “But I do know what responsible design is, and what appropriate design is, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Safeway and its new development partner, Clark Realty Capital, want to build 200 “luxury” rental units above a 60,000 square foot grocery store, with 12 townhomes on the residential side—-similar to CityVista and the new Petworth Safeway. That’s actually a re-do from a much less ambitious plan, which the Office of Planning and smart growth advocates opposed. The pro-density Ward3Vision group has made this one of the first big pushes of its reemergence, sending out an email to members earlier this week about the workshop.

As usual, the sticky wicket is parking. Safeway wants to build 170 underground spaces for its store, but Clark isn’t sure how much it’ll build for the residential units above. It’s a new car-lite world, after all, where you might build a garage that nobody wants to use. That’s what Torti tried to tell neighbors concerned about traffic, at least.

“The people who live here will drive cars a lot less than you think,” he said. “People just don’t own cars anymore.”

It wasn’t convincing everyone, though (and concerned parties include Adam Rubinson, who ran Mayor Vince Gray‘s campaign). “Ultimately, this is going to be the big debate,” Torti concluded.