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Back when developer Foulger Pratt was working on its first development plan for the Curtis Chevrolet site on Georgia Avenue, it ran up against the D.C. Preservation League, which wanted to preserve the century-old brick structure that formerly housed streetcars. Now that Foulger Pratt is on to Plan B—a 102,000-square-foot Walmart—MMA Architects is working with the Preservation League to incorporate some elements of the car barn into the store design, as a gesture to the corridor’s transportation history.
Nearby residents, though, aren’t sure that DCPL should be the one to determine what elements of their history get commemorated. At a Brightwood Community Association meeting last night, locals wondered why a group of unelected preservationists got so much say over the project.
“What do they mean by the history of us?” a member of the audience asked Foulger Pratt’s Adam Davis. “That’s not our neighborhood. A lot of people think it’s just a piece of junk.”
Davis responded frankly. “I’ll go on record and say that I agree with you,” he said.
An email to the Preservation League hasn’t yet been returned, but Davis indicated that they may be willing to compromise by using some of the bricks from the historic barn in the new building’s facade, rather than preserving the whole thing. If DCPL wanted, it could submit the building for historic landmark status, which would complicate planning if granted by the Historic Preservation Review Board.
The rest of the meeting was generally contentious, with Walmart spokesman Keith Morris fielding questions about traffic, starting wages, and local economic development. Most of his answers were squishy: When asked about the spaces inside the store that could be occupied by local retailers rather than the typical national chain tenants, Morris replied that he couldn’t make any promises.
“There is a space that has that potential in there, but we’re not far along enough,” he said. “It sounds like a fantastic idea. To the extent that there’s interest, that’s what we hope to do.”
Same goes for talk of a community benefits agreement, or any program to assist in local business development: It’s not something he’s prepared to present for negotiation, but rather a document that will be forged through the process and agreed to at the end. Here’s some video of Morris talking about that part (sorry for the shakiness and terrible audio; battery issues required the use of sub-optimal equipment).