Three development groups have approached Metro with proposals for a new shopping mall where a Metro bus garage and servicing facility are now located on Wisconsin Avenue near Jenifer Street NW.
If Metro approves and zoning can be arranged, the mall would be constructed on 3.5 acres of land adjacent to a block where the 60-store Mazza Gallerie and Neiman-Marcus opened for business last month. The proposed new retail center would cost more than $50 million.
Garfinckel's would occupy one major portion of the center and a major department store would be located along wisconsin Avenue in the three-story mall, informed sources said. Bloomingdale's has expressed an interest in the location, they reported. A total of 50 stores is envisioned.
According to Henry Cord, acting assistant director of the Metro real estate office, the transportation agency currently is studying three options for the bus site -- keeping it as it is, developing the location in a joint venture that would include new bus facilities, or selling the land outright to a private developer.
Although Cord said no estimate of the land's market value has been made, real estate industry sources speculated yesterday that a sale would bring somewhat more than Metro's $8.5 million investment in the property.
Cord said three developer groups have expressed an interest in the site: HSL Corp., an Exxon affiliate involved in building the 145,000-square-foot Mazza Gallerie; Western Development Corp., of Washington, and a group that includes the architectural firm of Skidmore Owings & Merrill and the law firm of Danzansky & Dickey.
The most advanced development plan to date is that of Western Development, a local firm that built an innovative shopping center in Great Falls, Va., and which recently announced plans for a multimillion-Dollar luxury housing and retail center at the southwest corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M street in Georgetown, along the C&O Canal and surrounding the Rive Gauche restaurant.
Herbert Miller, a partner in Western Development, did not return several telephone calls from a reporter over the past two days. As described by city officials, some of whom attended a District Building presentation by Miller last Nov. 30, Western's proposal is as follows:
A preliminary site plan has been drawn by the Yah Yee architects of Southfield, Mich., which would not affect the Paul Brothers Oldsmobile dealership or the relatively new building on the corner of Jenifer Street and Wisconsin Avenue, housing a Riggs Bank branch, Magic Pan restaurant, movie theaters and Herman's sporting goods.
Metro's bus servicing and parking would be located on the roof of the new structure and buses would be driven there on a 44th Street ramp. Western Development also would construct two entrances to the subway system's Friendship Heights station --one with entry to the shopping mall and the other to public sidewalks.
Miller reportedly urged consideration of the project because of its potential tax revenues. The Mazza Gallerie, when fully occupied, is expected to generate annual sales of up to $30 million.
D.C. municipal planning director Ben W. Gilbert said yesterday that Miller's concept is innovative adn one that city officials should consider in their "delicate balancing" of economic development needs, proper use of the bus site and impact on surrounding residential neighborhoods.
In particular, Gilbert cited the "ingenious use of roof space" for the Metrobus facility.
Gilbert said part of the land involved is zoned for the proposed retail development and the rest is designated for residential construction. "We're trying to work out a plan with the developers that would be compatible with Friendship Heights," Gilbert added.
However, John Engel, a resident of the neighborhood and president of the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, has expressed strong opposition to the proposal.
In a letter to D.C. Council member Jerry A. Moore (R-at large), whose transportation environmental affairs committee first heard of Miller's plans last November, Engel said the zoning for much of the land was changed to residential from commercial early in 1974 by a unanimous Zoning Commission.
"Since the opening of the Nelman-Marcus store, traffic backups have become severe, especially at rush hours and on Saturdays . . . We Anticipate a frequently intolerable traffic situation, without even allowing for any additional commercial construction . . ." Engel stated.
Any consideration of rezoning for the bus site should wait until the subway system is in operation along Wisconsin Avenue in the early 1980s, and the potential shift from auto to subway travel can be assessed, Engel added.
The Metro authority acquired the land in 1973 when it took over former assets of the D.C. Transit System. It was the most valuable single piece of property taken over from the former private bus company at the time, with an estimated value of $6.5 million.
Since then, Cord said, the authority has invested more than $2 million for expansion and renovation of a facility that is crucial to daily bus service in the area.
About 180 Metrobuses are parked and serviced at the garage, which is operated 24 hours a day. Although Metro officials have expressed a willingness to build a new parking lot and garage elsewhere, environmental considerations of relocating to another neighborhood have made the search for land difficult.
In addition, Metro officials want to locate a garage close to the congested part of the city, thus eliminating long trips for drivers from city routes to a distant location.
A transportation base for decades, the Wisconsin Avenue location was a streetcar barn at the turn of the century, when the surrounding Friendship Heights area was part of a rural countryside away from the capital city.
Today, the burgeoning complex of retailers near Western and Wisconsin Avenues -- on both sides of the Maryland-D.C. border -- has been described as making for a "new Fifth Avenue."
After World War II, the Chevy Chase Center complex was constructed across the line in Maryland and Woodward & Lothrop built a branch store across the street. Neighborhood growth since has included branches of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, said to be the most profitable stores for those companies outside their Fifth Avenue flagships.
Kenton Center, which featured small stores and attempted to eater to an exclusive audience, failed during the recent recession. It was at Jenifer and 44th Streets, but space in that complex now is being grabbed up in the wake of the recent opening of Neiman-Marcus across the street.
Woodies sought to develop a major office and retail complex on the site of its store in Maryland but his been blocked by Montgomery County action to reduce permitted development at the intersection.
The retail firm has appealed the zoning decision in court and is planning a major renovation of its Chevy Chase store, even if the expanded project is not permitted.
Lord & Taylor also recently completed a major rebuilding of its store, across Western Avenue in the District of Columbia.
The Metro authority, meanwhile, is proceeding with commercial development of other sites it own. A shopping mall and office building is under construction at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, and Metro will seek bids for land across from Van Ness Centre early this year. A combined retaile-office-subway entrace-bus station is planned for that site. CAPTION: Illustration, Dotted lines show Metrobus garage and lot along Wisconsin Avenue NW. In middle is Mazza Gallerie and Neiman-Marcus, at top right is Lord & Taylor. Barely shown at bottom right is the corner of Woodward & Lothrop. A proposed shopping center would cost about $50 million, By Ken Feil -- The Washington Post; Map, Bold shaded portion locates center area, By Dave Cook -- the Washington Post