Cafritz project starts after 22-year wait


Site of proposed development at the intersection of Connecticut Ave. and Military Rd. NW in Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

Calvin Cafritz Enterprises took a typical approach to developing an apartment building in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of D.C., with one notable exception: after acquiring the land, designing the building and getting zoning approval, the company waited 22 years to begin the project.

When the company decided in recent weeks to start construction, on an empty lot at the corner of Connecticut Avenue NW and Military Road NW, it prompted some neighbors to question whether plans for a glass-encased, 263-unit apartment building were properly vetted.

Richard Graham, 39, who lives nearby on Kanawha Street NW, said he and his neighbors only learned about the project after his wife saw workers preparing the site for work. He then gathered as much information he could and presented it to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission Dec. 10.

“There’s a lot of outrage in the community that the developer has been so under the radar with this project and that the community and the ANC have not even been notified,” Graham said.

Peter Gosselin, who lives catty-corner to the site, on Military Road, said he was supportive of an apartment building, but that he and his neighbors were outraged that the project had been designed with little or no community input. He said a modern-looking, nine-story building with two levels of underground parking would likely downgrade the surrounding neighborhood of historic single-family homes.

“What you end up producing is a kind of residential no man’s land,” he said.

Jane L. Cafritz, partner with her husband Calvin in the development business, said the building at 5333 Connecticut Ave. NW would “reflect our contemporary times” just as other Connecticut Avenue buildings represent earlier design eras. “It’s located on a corridor with major access to Washington, D.C., it’s within walking distance of a Metro and within walking distance of some great shops,” she said.

She said the company did not brief the ANC this time because it was not required to. “We felt that we had the support at a time that was more difficult to get support,” she said.

District officials say there is nothing untoward about the project’s approval. The zoning change awarded to Cafritz in 1990 expired but is not needed, according to the Office of Planning, because the site is in a zone that allows a 90-foot-high residential building. Director Harriet Tregoning said she had not reviewed the project because it did not call for her approval.

Residents opposed to the project will have to act quickly, as soil-boring permits have already been issued for the project, according to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and the company’s August application for a building permit is under review.

Cafritz said she expected the project to be complete in late 2013. “We feel that this building is really sort of going to rejuvenate the neighborhood around it,” she said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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