Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Minature Target coming to Northwest DC" as an indicator of a massive failure in urban planning

The Washington Business Journal ("Another miniature Target coming to Northwest DC") and other media have reported on plans for Target to open one of their new mini stores ("Target opens new small-format stores," Business Insider) in a building on the DC-Montgomery County line, at Georgia and Eastern Avenues NW.

This is the result of the development firm dropping earlier plans to consolidate the property and build a mixed use building with 199 apartments and a Harris-Teeter Supermarket on the ground floor.

Keep Kalmia Safe yard sign, advocacy signMany residents were up in arms believing that having a supermarket there would create lots of traffic on Kalmia Road, and there was organized opposition.

While the project was approved by the Zoning Commission, energized residents initiated a lawsuit, leading to delays, and while a ruling hasn't come down, the development company junked the project.

From the standpoint of a city with a housing inventory problem, losing out on 200 apartments which likely would have accommodated about 400 people, in striking distance to Metrorail, and paying income and sales taxes to DC, along with income and property taxes from the building, would have been a big win.

We've been discussing this project on our neighborhood e-list, because that site is part of the greater neighborhood.

Granted the approved development for what is now the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NWe was butt ugly, which I guess I would expect from a company not particularly committed to urban development.

My line about this is that people don't do "scenario planning" when they think about these kinds of projects and they especially can't imagine there being "worse outcomes" compared to what they oppose.

This came up vis a vis Walmart when we were doing the big ANC4B committee and I co-chaired a sub-committee and produced a report (ANC4B Large Tract Review Report on Walmart, 5/2011) on "what to do," when there was an approved plan for multiunit apartments and ground floor retail already in place--which immediate/area/SMD residents opposed. Those residents couldn't imagine there being a worse outcome. There was.

Walmart, Georgia Avenue NW, Washington DC1. Walmart was a worse outcome than apartments + ground floor retail.

(I go into the two DC Walmarts nearby very rarely, but when I do I find frequent out of stocks, a big mess, and lack of coverage in categories of products I want to buy--on that end, the Target in Columbia Heights is a better match.)

2. The Takoma Co-op separate from an integrated development at Takoma Junction is a worse outcome than the two sites being integrated including the creation of an awesome co-op instead of the ho hum one we have ("The lost opportunity of the Takoma Food Co-op as a transformational driver for the Takoma Junction district")

3. While apartments will be a better outcome than rowhouses at Takoma Metro, likely the apartment complex we will get will be suboptimal for a bunch of reasons. Although that won't only be the fault of residents, but the lack of integrated planning and approval processes, and lack of vision on the part of the developer and WMATA and the city ("Takoma's Brookland moment: some opposition to apartment development on the WMATA station site," 2013; "The Takoma Metro Development Proposal and its illustration of gaps in planning and participation processes," 2014; "Design of the apartment building at the Takoma Metro: offering better design cues," 2014).

4. and a small Target with a smattering of merchandise and no additional apartments will be a suboptimal outcome for us vis a vis instead of getting a Harris Teeter supermarket.

Kroger Marketplace in Kingwood, Texas.  Photo by David Rassmann for the Houston Chronicle.

Plus, but I doubt it was on the agenda with H-T or Douglas Development, if the community would have had its s* together maybe they could have convinced Harris-Teeter to go with the Marketplace format ("Kroger opens Marketplace with general merchandise in Lewisville," Dallas Morning News); "Kroger targets big box market with big Marketplace<" Houston Chronicle), which adds general merchandise (not unlike Walmart) to the grocery offering.

H-T doesn't employ this format yet, but other Kroger divisions do. From the DMN article:
These larger stores, about 123,000 square feet, are Kroger’s answer to one-stop shopping. In addition to having an expanded grocery side, these stores stock general merchandise, including housewares, baby gear, furniture, toys, and a fine jewelry store. Fred Meyer Jewelers, which is also owned by Kroger, operates a store within a store in most Marketplace locations.
Although my sense is now that H-T will end up in the Walter Reed development, and maybe if the developers are smart, they'll entice them to do the Marketplace format. Although/2, maybe H-T won't want to do it there because there are already two (!!) Walmart city supercenters within a couple miles of the site.

Most developers look for the easiest path.  One of the comments criticized Douglas Development, but developers "are like water" always searching for easiest, quickest path.

Knowing that is the case, residents ought to be more focused on achieving awesome outcomes, rather than suboptimal ones as the results last for 1-3 generations (20 to 90+ years), which is a long, long time.

As the old saying goes, "be careful what you wish for, because you might get it."

Although I have to say, I didn't like the proposed design of the building. I thought they should have used the art deco architectural style, as a reference to the architecture in nearby Silver Spring as well as the various examples of apartment buildings, albeit pretty simple, on Upper Georgia Avenue in DC.

That was an example of a different planning failure concerning urban design requirements for the city's major avenues and entrypoints ("An argument for the aesthetic quality of the ensemble: special design guidelines are required for DC's avenues," 2015).

The Silver Spring park and shop center and the adjoining Silver Theatre building, now used by the American Film Institute, is an example of noteworthy art deco architecture in that area.

This is relevant to developers vis a vis residents too. Most developers don't see themselves as building quality of life. Constructing buildings sure. Some will go to extraordinary lengths to do great work, "to build monuments," even for a neighborhood. But most don't.

So planning processes need to acknowledge and as discussed in the piece about Mount Pleasant Street ("Strong real estate markets need more public protections, not fewer: entry of CVS into DC's Mount Pleasant neighborhood"), I believe that most communities need extra provisions in their planning processes as a matter of course, to aim to produce better outcomes.

(More on this and Mount Pleasant Street in a follow up post.)

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At 11:54 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

was the project originally a PUD or by-right?

For the life of me, I don't understand why DC isn't pushing for a Georgia Avenue / 7th streetcar.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

PUD. But they could have done some density by right, but not as much. It's probably C2, therefore 65 feet. That's 5 stories pretty much and the proposal was for more.

2. In the Walmart report I did, the streetcar was a big discussion point.

Why not promoting it, because the elected officials up here have no vision. That includes the two Councilmembers for W4 who became Mayors.

As I wrote about H Street, it proves that a streetcar seems to be a great "priming device" for development and that Georgia Ave./7th Street and Kennedy St. between Fort Totten and Georgia Ave./14th Street -- not on any plans currently -- ought to be priorities, given the H St. experience, not to mention extending the streetcar east of the river, but then also west, to make it more useful.

More and more and more I think that the planning regime here is out to lunch.

Although many years ago I was discussing this with someone who was in OP (now, high level at DDOT) and he said that basically, most of the planners believe that no one will ever take up big plans, so why bother proposing them and presumably, why bother keeping up intellectually with the latest best practices.

... that's why I wrote what I did about revitalization planning being my basic background. By definition it's not about sugarcoating, whereas as I've written there just isn't much bias for action and bias for action NOW! and focused on translating vision to practice in the planning initiatives in the city now.

although with GA Ave. we could be crazy and do underground light rail, and out Colesville Road in MoCo.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Edward Drozd said...


I completely agree with your assessment that the mini-Target is a massive planning failure and a complete cave to the "Keep Kalmia Safe" or whatever the signs say (I was only over at Morris Miller this weekend, you'd think I'd remember). Because for all of the alleged concern about cars driving on Kalmia Road (gasp!), what possibly would generate more traffic than a mini-Target? I know I'll drive there, and on Kalmia Road, if there's stuff I want.

My guess is that they didn't want apartments for whatever reason. They'll still get the cars though. But all that will be there is a crappier version of a Target rather than a supermarket (to be fair, supermarkets are car magnets, too, but at least more useful more often). OTOH, I'm sure Shepard Park residents are happy driving to the Blairs Giant.

And, the Takoma Junction debacle is also a complete failure. To be honest, I think opponents would only agree to a completely subterranean development with an expanded Co-Op (provided for free to the Co-Op) on the ground floor. And don;t get me started on the Takoma Metro thing either.


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