After Two-Night Hearing, Superfresh PUD Decision Still a Waiting Game

by Nena Perry-Brown

Rendering on Yuma Street NW, courtesy of Torti Gallas Urban. Click to enlarge.

Four years after the community first saw a redevelopment proposal for the former Superfresh grocery site in Spring Valley, a vote on whether to approve the development remains on the horizon, even after a two-night zoning hearing this week. 

The current planned unit development (PUD) application calls for a 214-unit mixed-use building and five townhouses at 4330 48th Street NW (map) along with a MOM's Organic Market grocery store. As the proposal has evolved, neighbors have voiced various criticisms, and there have been organized campaigns among groups who would prefer to see a project which is either one or two stories shorter, has a larger grocery store (or none at all), and/or more affordable units.

All of those dynamics, and more, came to the fore over the course of the Zoning Commission hearings this week. The city's overall housing production goals, and the apparent lack of new housing construction, particularly affordable housing, in Ward 3 could make denial of the application a hard sell for the commissioners. 

"This is a heavy lift for me," Chair Anthony Hood stated, referring to recent stats on affordable housing distribution as "alarming". "Right now, this policy is outweighing a whole lot of stuff that's not happening over there, and I think this brings some balance. I'm really having an issue with this affordable housing. I don't see where you're doing your fair share."

ANC 3D and 3E representatives testifying in support of the application agreed, noting that the 29 affordable units this PUD provides would be a 50 percent increase over the current affordable housing stock in the Ward.

"Frankly, we think that this is an issue of equity, and the fact that all of the benefits that are in our neighborhood should be available to everyone," ANC 3E representative John McHugh testified. "We're not pulling our weight, to be frank, so I think, within reasonable and appropriate development, we should be building things like this to rectify that."

William Clarkson, testifying on behalf of Spring Valley Neighborhood Association, agreed. "It is important to note that, since 2015, only 53 IZ units have been built in Ward 3. None of those 53 units are located in ANC 3E or ANC 3D, the two affected ANCs."

Some of those who testified in opposition also expressed a desire to see more affordable housing, including Shelly Repp of Citizens for Responsible Development (CRD).

"As a matter of principle, I don't see why we would oppose it," Repp said in response to Commissioner Peter Shapiro's hypothetical of whether CRD would support a smaller building which is majority affordable.

Will Lansing of project developer Valor Development said in rebuttal that the team has reviewed the financial feasibility of the project since Monday's hearing and can increase the residential area set aside for inclusionary zoning from 11 to 12 percent. Under the 11 percent allotment, there would have been roughly 29 units affordable to households earning up to 50 or 60 percent of median family income.

Affordable housing wasn't the only point of contention during the hearings, however. 

CRD's testimony picked up where they left off on the previous application, playing a "simulation" video dramatizing how the development could worsen pedestrian safety in the existing alley behind the site, and enlisting Curt Westergard, an expert witness on visual impacts, to question whether the development team is still intentionally submitting misleading renderings.

While Westergard conceded that the building seemed to be rendered accurately in the latest round of submittals, he testified that the trees depicted were oversized and positioned in such a way to diminish the visual impact of the buildings.

"You can't have a 120-foot tree; it's botanically impossible," he stated, clarifying during cross-examination that he was referring to the mid-Atlantic climate; Ward 3 Vision representative John Wheeler noted that he'd found several trees in Prince George's County taller than 120 feet in a Google search.

Ultimately, the Zoning Commission closed out Thursday's hearing with a request for the applicant and opposition to add more exhibits and information to the record over the next few weeks. A final vote is now scheduled for November 18th.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/after-two-night-hearing-superfresh-pud-decision-still-a-waiting-game/15987

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