The District of Columbia Zoning Commission approved a zoning change in Georgetown yesterday that will allow the Safeway grocery store chain to tear down its present store on Wisconsin Avenue NW and build one of the largest Safeway stores in the country.
The commission's approval of Safeway's request to double the size of its present store has been bitterly opposed by the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
The new store will have double the number of employees that the present sote has and about 50 more parking spaces.
The community groups have apposed Safeway's expansion efforts because they said a larger store would create more traffic on already-congested Wisconsin Avenue, detract from the historic atmosphere of the area, and lead the way for more large-scale development in other areas within the Georgetown, Burleith and Glover Park communities.
Residents of those areas were also concerned that redevelopment of the Safeway property, located at 1855 Wisconsin Ave., NW, would adversely affect the Dumbarton Oaks parks, which is adjacent to part of the property.
But at the Zoning Commission meeting yesterday, Ben W. Gilbert, director of the District's Municipal Planning Office, told commissioners that the National Capital Planning Commission approved the store's revised development plans and that those plans would not adversely affect the part.
The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), has the authority to disapprove city zoning changes that may negatively affect federal property.
Gilbert also told the commission that his staff and the City Department of Transportation also approved the zoning change and that it would not cause intolerable traffic congestion on Wisconsin Avenue.
Chris Keller, an attorney representing the Georgetown Citizens Association, disputed the findings of the city's Transportation Department.
"I don't think that you need to be an expert to see the logical breakdown here," said Keller. "It's a matter of common sense - how can you double the size of the building and not change the amount of traffic it will generate?"
At a zoning hearing earlier this year an engineer from the city's Transportation Department testified that the new Safeway store, along with other proposed developments in Georgetown, would not generate traffic of more than 80 additional vehicles during the 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. rush hour.
But a traffic engineer for the Georgetown Citizens Association countered with the claim that the transportation engineer's one-day study of the store area does not accurately represent the average number of vehicles passing through the intersection during the evening rush hour.
Arthur B. Hanson, the attorney representing Safeway, acknowledged that the new store will increase traffic, but he said that all of it would "be from the local area," and not from othe parts of the city.
"It took 19 months and 15 hearings to get this thing done," Hanson said. "We've gotten approval from every agency in government to do it."
But if the Georgetown Citizens Association takes the recommendation that Keller said he will offer, the actual construction of the new store - which will cost $1.5 million - may take even longer. Keller said he will recommend that the association appeal the zoning commissions decision in the D.C. Court of Appeals.