By adding Balducci’s to Ladybird project, developers draw further criticism

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The former Superfresh site is slated for a mixed-use project. (courtesy of Valor Development)
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The Balducci’s chain of premium grocery stores will open its only D.C. location at the Ladybird, a mixed-use development proposed for the Spring Valley Superfresh site, the project team announced last week.

The news attracted fresh criticism about the Ladybird plans, which many neighbors argue are out of scale with the single-family homes abutting the project site. Valor Development hopes to construct 219 residential units atop 16,000 square feet of retail space at 48th and Yuma streets NW, and one of the two planned buildings would stand up to seven stories tall.

The earliest project plans had called for a full-size grocery store, which some community members had applauded — in particular given the closure of the Superfresh; its successor on the site, Fresh & Greens; and the nearest Safeway. Valor said in July that large-format supermarkets were no longer looking to add locations and revised its proposal to accommodate a much smaller grocer.

At its highest point, overlooking Massachusetts Avenue NW’s commercial strip, the Ladybird project would stand 88 feet tall including its penthouse level. (rendering courtesy of Valor Development)

News that this store would be a Balducci’s drew further complaints at the last Thursday’s meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, American University Park).

“You over-promised and under-delivered on a grocery store,” ANC 3E chair Jon Bender told the project team. “You spoke about Harris Teeter. My constituents aren’t going to shop at Balducci’s.”

The grocery plans also raised concerns about Wagshal’s, a locally owned market and deli that has been in Spring Valley adjacent to the project site since it relocated from Adams Morgan in 1939.

“Putting Balducci’s in will drive one of them out of business — Wagshal’s or Balducci’s,” said another resident during the ANC 3E meeting. “Mrs. James [a Wagshal’s chef] knows my children. Wagshal’s is a part of our neighborhood.”

Wagshal’s co-owner Brian Fuchs told The Current that the Ladybird project will be a challenge for his business regardless of the grocery tenant.

His company has rented 6,000 square feet of the old Superfresh building — which would be torn down as part of the redevelopment — for the last 20 years.

“With the new development project and Balducci’s possibly moving in, we are very concerned because this will displace our business dynamics that are a neighborhood fixture,” Fuchs wrote in an email. “This will affect our headquarters, Wagshal’s Imports and Fulfillment, Spring Valley Catering, Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ and 40 of our employees.”

Shelly Repp of Neighbors for Responsible Development spoke against the Ladybird project at ANC 3E’s July 20 meeting. (Brady Holt/The Current/July 2017)

The Ladybird project is due to go before the Zoning Commission on Jan. 11. ANC 3E took no formal action last week but will vote on Valor’s application at a special meeting on Jan. 3.

Bender warned Valor that he expects to vote against the proposal, partly as a protest vote. Commissioner Tom Quinn said ANC 3E is working on a memorandum of understanding with Valor but is still clarifying its provisions on parking issues.

The project did recently win the support of ANC 3D, which represents neighborhoods just across Massachusetts Avenue NW from the site. That commission voted 8-1 on Dec. 6 to support the plans, after rescinding previous criticisms by a 5-4 margin. ANC 3D chair Stephen Gardner, who introduced the rescission motion, cited what he called substantial improvements to Valor’s original plan during the last 12 months.

The former Superfresh supermarket at 48th and Yuma streets NW sits vacant as the site awaits redevelopment. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

The resolution includes a proviso that three members of the commission may call for a reconsideration of the approval at ANC 3D’s Jan. 10 meeting if they are unhappy with revisions Valor may make to the plan later this week.

At the Dec. 6 meeting, Valor’s Will Lansing said his company has tried to be sensitive to the scale of the neighborhood. But opponents feel that that is precisely what the proposed buildings are not.

“The congestion and density will absolutely destroy the community,” said Alton Place NW resident Sondra Mills, who said she will move away if the Ladybird is constructed. “It’s too big.”

But at the same meeting, many residents did speak out strongly in support of the project. One proponent, Phil Lerman, said he doesn’t want the Superfresh site to remain vacant. “My biggest fear is that if we nibble and bark and chase them away, the next developer will say it’s too much trouble,” he said.

This post has been updated to correct the date for the upcoming special meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E. It was rescheduled from Dec. 21 to Jan. 3 after The Current’s print deadline.