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For a project 10 years in the making and still not even close to breaking ground, the new mixed-use Giant grocery project on Wisconsin Avenue can really pack ’em in. About 70 people showed up last night to a standing-room-only meeting inside a hot and airless room at the Police 2D headquarters on Idaho Avenue NW.
Outside, one guy handed out stickers—-“Build the Giant Now. Approve the PUD”—-and found takers with more than half. Just what is a PUD? It’s a zoning term for “Planned Unit Development,” which is what the new giant Giant, the new retail stores, the new condos, and the new parking spaces will be. It’s akin to a variance developers need to get past the city’s zoning laws and regs, which are particularly sticky in greater Cleveland Park. And therein lies the blockage on this project, although the District Office of Planning seems finally ready to get out the Drano.
In response to a few vocal critics, Jennifer Steingasser, assistant director of the Office of Planning, told the crowd: “We are supportive of the redevelopment of the site. I’m not backing down from that.”
Her office has decided that the project fits the double-negative requirement for approval: “It’s not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan” for the neighborhood, she said, describing the area in question as “very much a combination.” In other words: upper Wisconsin Avenue is not exactly bucolic, closed-off Ordway Street with its Norman Rockwell porches, so get over it.
Although those leading the meeting tried to keep it focused on the process and the Office of Planning’s part in that, it quickly and typically became a referendum on the merits of the project itself. One guy likened it to “having a Wal-Mart in my neighborhood.” Another, sitting next to me and clicking his dentures incessantly, wanted to know why, if this project wouldn’t have been approved when the comprehensive plan came together, should the city allow it to be built now?
Others—-particularly residents of McLean Gardens—-expressed frustration in promises unfulfilled. “I bought my condo 10 years ago and that’s how long I’ve been hearing that we’re going to get a new Giant,” one said. Another—-Matt from 39th Street—-soaked in some sustained applause when he countered residents calling for additional traffic studies with “we’ve had study after study after study. There are a lot of people who think this is a good project and want it to go forward.”
It’s possible he may live to see it. Steingasser says lawyers from the zoning commission are getting ready to schedule a hearing, the date of which could be announced next week. The earliest opening, she says, is for January and it will last for one or two nights, during which commissioners will hear testimony for and against the project. There will then be a period of time for submission of additional written testimony. Final action occurs after that and, if approved, it will take another two to six months before building permits will be submitted.
“So we’re looking at the end of next summer,” said ANC 3C Commissioner Trudy Reeves, who had slapped on a PUD sticker. We’ll be on the edge of our shopping carts until then.