Fannie Mae developer seeks landmark status for Tenleytown building

Plans call for retaining the existing Fannie Mae building and developing the area behind it. (rendering courtesy of Roadside Development)

Amid plans to redevelop the Fannie Mae headquarters into a mixed-use complex, the project team received positive reception for its proposal to secure a landmark designation for the 1958 building at 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Richard Lake, co-founder of Roadside Development, said he hopes that landmark status — which would regulate and restrict alterations to the building — would go a long way toward putting residents at ease with the large-scale development.

The Roadside team lavished praise on the red-brick building, graciously set back from the street behind an open lawn, citing the quiet elegance of its architecture and its resemblance to Colonial Williamsburg. The company’s plan includes renovating but generally maintaining the main 1958 building and replacing subsequent additions that sit behind it. The company also intends to spruce up the site’s outdoor spaces, Lake told the Historic Preservation Review Board last Thursday.

“We wanted the building and the architecture to actually respond a little bit more to the landscaping, as opposed to doing it in the reverse,” Lake said at the presentation.

Whether or not Roadside’s request for landmark status is successful, the development will move forward. “Regardless of a designation, we would utilize and celebrate the structure … and breathe new life into it,” Lake said.

In addition to the existing three-story Fannie Mae property, Roadside’s project is set to include six new buildings up to eight stories high and two public amenities: a garden and a town square.

For decades, Fannie Mae’s sprawling front lawn has been closed to residents, but Roadside wants to change that. “We want to make the space a public realm,” Lake said. He imagines uses such as picnics, cultural performances, sculpture gardens, film screenings, ballet shows and festivals. Lake said such liveliness will “drive patrons off Wisconsin Avenue to ensure commercial success.”

Angela Bradbery of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park) sees a public garden as “an excellent idea.” She also said Lake and his team have been good about “keeping people in the loop.” Following the company’s November acquisition of the property, Roadside has hosted three community meetings — most recently, at McLean Gardens on Tuesday.

In terms of retail, Roadside is considering adding a hotel, a health club, restaurants and shops to the complex. Most notably, Wegmans, a chain grocery store, has sent a notice of intent to Roadside indicating a strong interest in the site. Currently, Wegmans is set to occupy 80,000 square feet on the site, according to Lake. Due to the property’s slope, Lake said, Wegmans would be partly underground, only partially visible from Wisconsin Avenue.  

The prospect of a new large-scale supermarket has faced some resistance in the neighborhood. Earlier in the year, an online petition in protest of the planned supermarket garnered 60 signatures. “While no one wants to see the building go unutilized, it is imperative that any redevelopment is done without the type of destination retail traffic that will grind our streets to a halt; be it big box, large scale grocer or otherwise,” the petition reads.

Preservation board member Gretchen Pfaehler agreed that a new Wegmans may pose traffic issues for residents, but said the subject is under the purview of the D.C. Department of Transportation. “I can see a lot of conversations with DDOT in your future,” Pfaehler said.

According to Transportation Department spokesperson Maura Danehey, the site is in the early stages of a comprehensive review to assess the potential impact on roadways and suggest mitigation options. The site is being examined along with its neighbor at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. NW, which is also being redeveloped.

ANC 3C plans to invite Roadside to a meeting after the company submits a large tract review application, Bradbery said. The company will also return to the Historic Preservation Review Board in late September.

Roadside and the North America Sekisui House jointly acquired the 10-acre parcel for $89 million. Lake hopes to break ground soon after Fannie Mae vacates the space in January 2019.