In the history of the District, few redevelopment battles have been quite as bitter or as enduring as the one that has been waged over the supermarket in this Northwest Washington neighborhood.
Since 1999, efforts to modernize the store have gone through so many iterations, it’s almost impossible to track.
Some neighbors no longer speak to each other. Other residents are reluctant to speak on the record about their views out of fear of backlash.
“This whole thing is absurd,” said Margaret Lenzner, a longtime area resident who is among those who have raised concerns about the project’s density.
But the neighborhood may be close to getting a replacement for the supermarket some ruefully call “the Giant That Time Forgot.” Longtime businesses such as Sullivan’s Toy store and Hot Yoga are relocating. The city’s Department of Transportation is reviewing options to reroute buses that travel through the area. And at a recent community meeting, Giant officials released a “conceptual construction” timeline for the project, now called Cathedral Commons.
“The Cleveland Park community is going to have a bright new supermarket,” said Jamie Miller, manager of community and public relations for Giant.
If the project moves forward, the neighborhood will get more than a supermarket. Cathedral Commons would include more than 535 parking spaces, a mix of apartments and townhouses, street-level retail and other amenities, such as a green roof, tree-lined walkways, public spaces and perhaps a fountain. The current 18,500-square-foot Giant would be replaced by one three times its size.
Some residents fear the development will turn their neighborhood into another Bethesda — where residents have to circle endlessly to find parking spaces and where delivery trucks rumble along residential avenues.
The project still has hurdles, too. Giant hasn’t secured financing, and three neighborhood groups filed an appeal in 2009 over whether the zoning commission followed the proper procedures in approving the project. The D.C. Court of Appeals had a hearing on the matter in March, but it has yet to issue a decision.
Giant officials say they think all of the issues regarding the zoning commission’s decision have been addressed.
“We hope to start the project soon,” Miller said. But as for a date? “I really wouldn’t want to speculate on the timeline.”
A historic site?
No one thought it would take more than a decade to build a new supermarket, but there were signs early on that the effort would not go smoothly. When Giant first unveiled plans to expand the store in the late 1990s, neighbors objected to the design. A citizen group petitioned to have the building designated a historic landmark — since it “typified the urban architectural style of the postwar era.” One Giant executive scoffed at the notion, saying the building was “as historic as my 2-year-old grandson.”