Developers will break ground at the end of the month on a large office, residential and retail complex -- including a new Hecht's department store and Whole Foods Market -- at Wisconsin and Western avenues at the Friendship Heights Metro station.

New England Development, the project's lead developer, has worked on buying the eight acres, where a Hecht's department store sits, for five years. The company said yesterday that it closed the deal last week with the May Department Stores Co., the parent company of Hecht's. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The project, which will be built in phases over the next four years, will include a 180,000-square-foot Hecht's; a 50,000-square-foot supermarket; 75,000 square feet of boutique shops; a 20,000-square-foot community center with a gym and meeting rooms; a parking garage; 432 apartments, which will range in size from studios to three-bedroom spaces; and a 305,000-square-foot office building to be built by Boston Properties Inc.

"We see it as a kind of high-end town center," said David C. Gilmore, vice president of New England Development. "It will be a real mecca for shopping and dining as well as for living and working in D.C. and Montgomery."

The Montgomery County Council laid the groundwork for denser development on the site in 1998, in a vote that drew protest from some neighbors who worried such development would increase traffic along the already clogged corridor.

Hecht's will remain open during construction. Its new store, at Western Avenue and Friendship Boulevard, will have three floors and more of a focus on high-end designers, said Hecht's Chairman John Harper. Unlike the existing store, it will have furniture, floor covering and juniors clothing departments.

New England Development has built more than 20 million square feet of retail and commercial space, mostly in New England. This is its first project in the D.C. area.

The Mills Corp., a large retail developer best known for building the outlet malls Potomac Mills and Arundel Mills, said in February that it will move its roughly 300 employees from its headquarters in Rosslyn to a site just across Wisconsin Avenue from New England Development's project.

Chevy Chase Land Co. plans to build Mills an eight-story, 200,000-square-foot office. The building will be part of Chevy Chase's $160 million redevelopment of a parking lot and strip mall on the northeast corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues into a 100,000-square-foot strip of luxury shops.