Photo by The Georgetown Dish
Drawing of the apartment building planned for Connecticut Avenue at Military Road, NW, by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises
Drawing of the apartment building planned for Connecticut Avenue at Military Road, NW, by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises

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 yard sign against the 5333 Connecticut Avenue project (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) The yard sign against the 5333 Connecticut Avenue project

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.”

Richard Graham (left), the leader of the coalition against the projec and John Cooney, a next door neighbor (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Richard Graham (left), the leader of the coalition against the projec and John Cooney, a next door neighbor

“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. 

Linda Schmitt, head of Neighbors 4 Neighborhoods calls the project (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Linda Schmitt, head of Neighbors 4 Neighborhoods calls the project "an affront to our character and hour history."

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.”

Part of the SRO crowd at the Chevy Chase Community Center (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Part of the SRO crowd at the Chevy Chase Community Center

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.

15 Comments For This Article

Lukas

So why would this come up at the OP Meeting tonight? This is a matter of right project that has nothing to do with the proposed tweaks to the current zoning code.

Sure, people can be outraged about the proposal to build an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, but the last time I checked, this major road was filled with them from Dupont to Chevy Chase Circle. The outrage is that people who have enjoyed a vacant lot for the past 30 years will no longer have that amenity.

If they have a problem with property rights, maybe they ought to consider moving to Idaho and holing up with the preppers.

Simon

Absolutely no one opposing this building has a "problem with property rights". That's a foolish charge that is not backed up by any interpretation of the facts.

There are two distinct issues here:

i) The opaque process under which a developer, 20 years ago, negotiated a compromise to build on the vacant land....then didn't build....and now returns to the neighborhood with plans to construct a building that bear no resemblance to the compromise he negotiated first time around.

ii) The sense that community residents have been totally shut-out of a contemporary process giving them the chance to have input into a building that will dramatically impact life in this particular area of Chevy Chase DC.

No one is saying "don't build". We're saying "build responsibly and after a process that involves local input, consultation and transparency". Doesn't seem an unusual or unreasonable position to me.

Anonymous

This is a very good, very important article. Kudos to the Georgetown Dish for covering this.

I feel for these neighbors who are fighting against developers for their quality of life. I wonder how many of these council candidates, now sympathetic to the neighbors, would continue their advocacy if elected in April. Matt Frumin, typically sympathetic to developers, is one to watch.

Anonymous

I agree. Is there any Washington DC resident on the west side of Rock Creek that ever is in favor of development? They have had the luxury of enclave living and can't fathom anything else.

Dave

Lukas, the outrage is over the loss of a vacant lot -t o the contrary, the community has said they're not against an apartment building on the lot. But the proposed building is not at all like the other apartment buildings along Connecticut Avenue. The closest building along Connecticut that resembles the proposed design is IntelSat.

Previous buildings have put the density along Connecticut and have stepped down along the residential streets. The proposed building would be set back from Connecticut and puts the density along Military and Kanawha. The houses on the north side of Military will no sunlight at all at this time of the year.

There is nothing comparable on Connecticut Avenue.

Chevy Chase DCer

I find it funny that the first line of this article reads "Last Thursday, over 250 people filled the main meeting room at the Chevy Chase Community Center to protest..."

Protest is not what some of us were there for, we were there to learn more about what is planned. Once I read the Press Release on the 5333 groups website, I see that the Press Release was just copied, sorry that is not news reporting.

Lots of excitement about change. This is a prime example of NOT IN MY BACK YARD.

My take on last weeks meeting was a lot of loud spewing of unconfirmed information. It seems the neighbors feel they have some right to tell the property owners how and what to build. When it appears that this building is within the owners rights that the DC Law has put forward.

Actually the site needs something, and an apartment building is a great thing, the size of it is important so that it is able to pay for itself. Unlike the townhouse development that went in across the stree 20 years ago that went bankrupt.

Actually a well designed building will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Anyone remember all of the protesting for the Sunrise Assisted Living building just down the street about five years ago? While no one seems to complain about the vacant and abandoned looking homes next door - that were there before the project started and have stayed since.

Time to get all the facts at the next meeting on this before I get all upset that my neighborhood is being torn apart!

Lukas

Despite the admonition of subsequent posters, I stand by my original statement. As a matter of right proposal, the local residents to not have any legal recourse to "have input" into this project. Sure, if this were a PUD, then there would be a requirement for ANC and Zoning Commission review. If this were a historic district, then there would be design review as well as a testing of compatibility of the proposal to the historic district.

These same residents rejected the historic district proposal a few years ago citing "property rights" as their main cause. Well, now they will have to respect the property rights of the developer, who is well within their rights for this project.

They can complain all they want, but the zoning on this site appears to be pretty clear. At this point, it shows the true Ward 3 colors of NIMBY "we have ours" attitudes. Keep rationalizing your perspective though, it is fun to read.

Kyle-w

Simon,

Re-read what you just wrote! You said no one has an issue with property rights. They BY-RIGHT, have the right to build what they want to build. They own the property, and have the right. Then you say you want to meddle with someone elses property, that they have the right to build what they like.

If you respect property rights like you said (but clearly don't) then the idea that you would have any input at all is a joke.

Anonymous

Whether people like it or not, Connecticut is and always will be a major thoroughfare in this city. The site is arguably within walking distance of a metro station. It is also served by Metrobus. Arguing that a few hundred residents it will have a measurable impact on traffic on the area sounds pretty chicken little to me. (And come on, it would be sandwiched between a number of tall buildings on either side that already exist).

That said, if there was an agreement in place (that was formal enough to be relevant today) then it should be respected or renegotiated. Otherwise, the owners have the right (remember property rights?) to build as zoned.

I personally don't like the glass design either for that area (not to mention that glass is usually among the most energy wasteful facade options) that should be addressed through formal channels that exist.

Anonymous

If it were a historic district, it would have to go to HPRB and HPRB has to give ANC "great weight" in their consideration. But the neighborhood rejected a historic district a couple of years ago. I wonder how many people were against the historic district then and against this building now.

Dan Miller

This proposed building is .7 miles from a Metro station, and served by a bunch of bus lines on Connecticut. To argue that it should contain single-family homes is ridiculous. Too often, "build responsibly and after a process that involves local input, consultation and transparency" means "we're going to use this expensive and slow process to stop anything from being built".

Anonymous

As for the claim there was a "unanimous straw poll," a question was asked whether people supported the building in its current form. Well, I don't like the glass, so I don't support the current form. But I absolutely support the developer's right to develop this property with the precise number of units they are proposing.

I sympathize with the neighbors because Cafritz thusfar has refused to talk with them. The only important issue to be resolved is the legal question of the alley closing for the property that was approved by the City Counsel without any neighbor opposition. That is a permanent designation, as I understand it, but the neighbors did not oppose because of the PUD that was negotiated. On one level, that sounds like tough luck for them. On the other hand, it identifies a problem with the PUD-Alley closing process.

I am doubtful the City Council would revisit their action and "unclose" the alley, assuming that could even happen. But this gap in the process might be the basis for a nice court case.

Anonymous

So glad I no longer live in Ward 3 DC anymore. The picture of the meeting hall says volumes to me. It's the same old NIMBY crowd. Be happy someone actually wants to improve and build more in the neighborhood. You might actually then get retail shops and restaurants to improve and move into the area. Be happy you might have a new building instead of just another NORC building (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community). Yes it is true nothing stays the way it was, change is constant. If that is threatening or disturbing then please move. It took 10+ years for the new Giant in Glover Park to be approved and for construction to begin. Benchmarks like that only encourage developers to provide less transparency (not more). Believe it or not some people actually want things to become better than they already are now. I say this but also acknowledge this crowd and their agenda don't really care about those things though and having nothing better to do than thwart everything on principle however misguided.

sbc

It may not seem unusual or unreasonable to you, but it does to me. They own the land. They are building something on it that they have every right to build under current zoning and other types of laws. It will bring construction jobs to DC, and the District will get more property taxes. If it attracts more residents to DC, it will also bring more income taxes.

The fact that the builder waited a long time to develop the land makes no difference to me. And the fact that they didn't want to talk with neighbors about their by-right development is fine with me too. Why would they want to talk to a bunch of folks who are going to oppose and nitpick what they have every right to build? Cafritz doesn't owe anyone "local input, consultation, and transparency." They just have to follow the District's laws and regulations. When nearby homeowners bought their property, it was on them to check what the giant vacant lot next door was zoned for.

And it's not like this is some quiet enclave of single-family homes. It's one block south of the Kenmore and one block north of Chevy Chase Towers (each large apartment buildings) on a major traffic artery.

No Dog in This Fight, but...

That is one seriously ugly building. Seriously, that rendering just looks awful. I'd be upset too if it were proposed for my neighborhood. I wonder how much furor there'd be if the developer was proposing an attractive, more traditional looking building- even at the same proposed size and scale- instead of this glass-clad "K Street office building."

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