Chevy Chase Residents Oppose Big Connecticut Avenue Apartment Project
Last Thursday, over 250 people filled the main meeting room at the Chevy Chase Community Center to protest the 11-story, 300,000 square foot glass apartment building planned by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises for the long-vacant parcel at 5333 Connecticut Avenue, at Military Road (southeast corner).
The neighbors’ opposition, supported by a unanimous straw poll, focused on two issues: 1) the size, height and design of the proposed building, especially the glass exterior, along with parking, pedestrian and traffic problems; 2) the lack of information and opportunity for community input, including by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4 G, for a project that will be the largest in Chevy Chase in nearly a half century.
This was explained in a January 2nd letter to the ANC from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs that pointed out that because 5333 Connecticut Avenue is considered a “matter-of-right” project, it needs no zoning approval nor is there a “statuary requirement for ANC review and/or approval of the proposed building plans.”
“This is a K Street office building that’s being jammed onto a parcel with single-family homes on three sides,” according to Richard Graham, head of the just-organized 5333 Connecticut Neighborhood Coalition, “It’s at odds with everything else along the Connecticut corridor and in the Chevy Chase D.C. neighborhood. What’s the point of having an ANC if it doesn’t review a project this is this big project—indeed it should be subject to increased scrutiny.” He also mentioned that the community only found out about the plans when his wife was prompted to look on the Internet after she noticed activity on the site.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who attended the meeting, responded to the residents with a commitment for a traffic study and a meeting, tentatively set for later this month, of the community with the owner, the developer and the project’s architect.
Graham and others at the meeting emphasized the community’s desire for development at 5333 Connecticut Avenue. In fact, two decades ago, community negotiations with Cafritz produced a deal that, on the one hand, allowed the property to be consolidated with a City Council-approved alley closing and, on the other hand, neighborhood agreement for a substantial, but smaller brick-exterior building with set-backs. This led Cheh to suggest that the community’s lawyers look into a possible review of the project in light of the negotiatied benefits Cafritz is now taking advantage of while none flow to the community.
Candidates in the at-large April 23rd special council election were queried as to their reaction to the proposal. Former At-large Councilmember Michael Brown pointed out that because he lives in Chevy Chase, he is particularly sensitive to the situation. “I’m willing to support the residents and hope the plans change.” Matt Frumin, a lawyer and a Ward 3 ANC commissioner, said that even though the negotiated “contract evolved over time” and circumstances have changed, “the developer of a project of this magnitude should reach out to the relevant community.” “Kudos to the community for its activism in addressing the scale and scope of this proposed project,” said Paul Zukerberg, also a lawyer who is running on a platform of marijuana legalization. “Community input and transparency … are essential in making sure this development has a positive impact on this already wonderful neighborhood.”
The most colorful and pointed comment came from candidate Pat Mara, Ward 1 member of the State Board of Education: “I’m laughing out loud, this is so bad. It must be a joke. Of course I support the residents of Chevy Chase in opposing this monstrosity.”
The 5333 Connecticut Ave project is expected to come up at the meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 6:30 pm at Wilson High School, organized by the city's Office of Planning to discuss their effort to update the District's zoning code.