Friday, June 16, 2006

Teeter-Totter

The Growler is chuckling over Duncan Blair's update on the Madison project at Wednesday night's ICCA meeting.

To paraphrase Queen Victoria, we are amused.

The reason the Madison project and the proposed Harris-Teeter has dragged on cannot be attributable solely to the City's delay in finalizing the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan. Despite the disclaimers that the City is not responsible for the delays, it's clearly been a struggle between the developers of the Madison (Capital Associates) and Planning & Zoning over project details.

And the prospect of a grocery store is the catnip that the developers are dangling in front of Parker-Gray residents, hoping that in their indignation they will march en masse to Planning Commission or City Council and clamor that the developer be granted all of its demands.

The fact is, the project last summer was starting to look like a Frankenstein development. It would have been a huge looming mass on Henry Street with parking at grade and the grocery store in the basement. Yes, this may be the model for Harris-Teeter sites in other urban sites but would look less than elegant, even in our hood. Can anybody say "Tyco Building" (Fayette & Cameron)?

The City has every right to grapple with developers and wrest changes that are in the best interest of its citizens. Love or hate Eileen Fogarty, that's what she's paid to do.

So now the building is starting to assume more reasonable proportions. The mass has been shaved down (meaning a reduction in the number of residential units), and broken into two structures with open space between. Parking will be submerged below ground (at more expense to the developer) and the grocery store will sit on the surface.

Of course all developers hate these concessions, which usually translate to a reduction in profit. It's therefore natural to cast around for citizen surrogates to use in the negotiations.

Last summer the developers found a cat's paw in the Braddock Lofts group, which went ballistic on their behalf by proclaiming to one and all that if the City didn't relent, Capital Associates would do a by-right townhouse development with no grocery store. When the proposed rally to support the developer last summer garnered only a handful of participants, the Potemkin village of grassroots outrage clattered to the ground.

And who would have problems with a new townhome development around here anyway?

Now the developer may be casting about for other surrogates, and ICCA — the Miss Roundheels of civic associations, a group that can't keep developers at arm's length — looks like an easy mark.

Interestingly, the new Whole Foods at Duke and Holland Lane has demonstrated that retail at grade with parking below works, which undoubtedly strengthened the City's hand. In addition, the arrival of Whole Foods — as pricy as it may be — may have slaked some of the neighborhood's thirst for local convenience retailing.

So putting aside the background noise of complaints about rising materials costs and construction difficulties, the Growler believes the developer will ultimately proceed with the Madison and deliver Harris-Teeter while the City and Parker-Gray will get a better project.

And looking back we will all be amused together.