Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Brief History of the Battle Over the Cleveland Park Giant Supermarket

The Giant supermarket and residential/retail development has been on and off again in Cleveland Park since 2000. On one side are neighbors who oppose the size and scale of the project that Giant has proposed (some neighbors oppose a larger supermarket itself.) On the other side is the vast majority of neighbors who have been longing for a new supermarket at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street, NW for over a decade.

It's been a pitched and at times bitter battle, and our companion email list, the Cleveland Park Listserv, has had a front row seat to the fight. We thought that it might be interesting to reprint some messages about the Giant that were posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv in late 2000 and early 2001. The proposed project was different back then, but these messages provide a snapshot of part of the history of this epic neighborhood battle.

What the Giant initially proposed, as described on the Cleveland Park Listserv in 2000:

Giant has applied to the Zoning Commission for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) to redevelop the parcel of property fronting Wisconsin Avenue from (and not including) Cactus Cantina to Newark Street and extending back over some of the parking lot. The plan in its present form, in my view, provides an attractive streetscape on Wisconsin Avenue, consisting of retail and a market with a pharmacy fronting Wisconsin. The bulk of the market extends back over much of the parking lot along Newark Street. The primary issue is whether the market as proposed is too big (approximately the size of the Georgetown Safeway).

The first zoning arguments against the Giant:

This "PUD vs. Special Exception" issue is far more important than it may seem. As Giant recognizes the desirability of coming back to the city to build new stores, the District needs to ask what size, scale and design are appropriate for an urban grocery store in the heart of an attractive urban residential area. The Macomb/Wisconsin special exception hearing allows these questions to be raised even for a matter of right proposal. This means that's there's a potential for creative, sensitive design instead of cookie-cutter suburban supermarket.

Giant would rather switch than fight: Notes from an ANC Meeting in 2000:

The Giant officials appeared and informed the ANC that they had changed their plans and were no longer interested in building a mini mall around an expanded supermarket. Instead, they were just going to gut the Murphy's and build a simple (but larger) store with the existing footprint, parking and frontage. This they could do as a matter of right and did not need any approvals beyond simple building permits. The audience was divided between those who lived adjacent to the property who saw it as a victory and most of the others who saw it as a loss to the community. I saw it as another example of how much easier to destroy than to create since the Giant people mentioned that the prospect of a long court fight helped motivate them to abandon their much better plan. The commissioners were obviously disappointed that the original proposal was withdrawn instead of being negotiated. Many members of the audience expressed gratitude that Giant was not just abandoning the expansion (and ultimately closing the store).

A feeling of frustration with the anti-Giant continent: 

I guess I purchased a home in the wrong neighborhood. I purchased a home in the city, believing this to be a vibrant community of people, restaurants and shops. Where people were not looking for the big box, stale shopping districts of the suburbs. I purchased a home where I thought the neighborhood worked for change to the vibrancy and betterment of our community. Instead, I see a small group of NIMBYs consistently fighting change in the community.

Fear that people might actually drive to a large Cleveland Park Giant spreads in 2001:

Listserv readers might want to check out the web site of www.giantgiant.org. There you will find the following statement about Giant's earlier plan: "Giant's destination-type supermarket would radically change the character of this compact shopping area. Far more customers would come by car, not walk, and their purpose would be to stock up on groceries, not to seek out a variety of goods and services."

In 2001, the Cleveland Park Citizens Association files historic landmark designation for the Giant food store:

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association announced today that it has filed an Historic Landmark designation application covering the Wisconsin Avenue Giant Food Store and related properties.  The Friendship Shopping Center, built in 1953, consists of Giant's two buildings that are located along Wisconsin Avenue on either side of Newark Street, northwest. "This development was an early venture by Giant into the creation of a large balanced shopping center," according to the CPCA.

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