Wegmans confirms plans to open first D.C. grocery in Ward 3

Wegmans would go into the existing building's lower level, but not before late 2021. (rendering courtesy of Roadside Development)

The much-anticipated redevelopment of the Fannie Mae headquarters at 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW will be anchored by the District’s first Wegmans supermarket, the project team announced this week.

Other details are also emerging on plans for a robust project with diverse retail, residential units and a sizable community space on the existing front lawn.

Roadside Development purchased the site, located a few blocks south of the Tenleytown Metro station, for $90 million in December and has been working with surrounding communities since then on ambitious plans for the site, whose 1958 main building has been occupied since 1979 by Fannie Mae.

On Sunday night, Roadside confirmed widely circulated rumors of an 80,000-square-foot Wegmans grocery store on the existing building’s lower level, with an entrance at the rear of the property. The rest of the site will most likely have 600 to 700 apartment and town house units, including at least the minimum allotment of affordable housing required under inclusionary zoning rules.

Other possible elements of the project — a 130-room hotel with a public spa; a movie theater; and cultural arts space — remain more tentative, according to Roadside’s Richard Lake.

The development team hopes to lock down all of its users by the end of this year, Lake told The Current. Fannie Mae plans to move out next November; at that point, Roadside would begin demolishing the site’s rear parking garage and mitigating a fuel plume within it before moving on to construction. Wegmans is not expected to open until late 2021 at the earliest.

Most observers have cheered the promise of the well-liked grocery store coming to their area. Some dissent has cropped up, though, with vigorous debate among Wegmans enthusiasts and project critics on the Cleveland Park community listserv.

Meanwhile, some 60 residents have signed an online petition protesting the prospect of a “big-box store” such as Wegmans bringing an influx of foot and vehicle traffic to the neighborhood. Wegmans locations run from 75,000 to 140,000 square feet, with this store on the smaller end of that spectrum. By contrast, the Giant at Cathedral Commons a few blocks south is approximately 56,000 square feet.

“This would ruin the neighborhood!” one signatory wrote on the petition page last Monday, before the Wegmans rumors were officially confirmed. “I can’t even believe that this would be entertained.”

The New York-based Wegmans has more than 90 stores in six Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states including Maryland and Virginia, but this location would be its first in D.C. Though the store had been in talks to partner with the Walter Reed redevelopment in Ward 4, Wegmans currently has no plans for more than one location in the District, according to spokesperson Catherine Timko.

For the other retail openings at the Fannie Mae site, Lake and his team are taking into account resident feedback from 63 direct emails and a community survey that attracted 228 respondents. According to the results, neighbors are particularly interested in bakeries, cafes, chef-inspired restaurants and an art house cinema.

Though Lake admits hospitality isn’t at the top of his priority list for the site, Roadside has been in negotiations with numerous hotels, including several that would be new to the D.C. area. Lake stresses that none of these hotels are large in scale.

“We’re not looking to do a run-of-the-mill hotel. We have no interest in that,” Lake said. “You may not stay there, but you may go there for dinner, or you may go to the spa, or you may do a weekend getaway there.”

Underground parking will likely be available for every resident of the complex, Lake said. Roadside will complete and unveil a more detailed traffic study for the development within the next couple weeks, Lake said.

While neighbors are generally very excited about the project, concerns remain about traffic and parking, according to Angela Bradbery of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (Cleveland Park, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, Woodley Park).

“There are approximately 700 units of residential in McLean Gardens over a much wider swath of area,” said Bradbery, a McLean Gardens resident. “If you also have shops and restaurants, I think people are wondering about traffic on Wisconsin, which already gets pretty gridlocked in the morning around Sidwell Friends. Also, the concern about having adequate parking on site — it still might be easier for people to come and park in the neighborhood and just kind of walk in.”

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

The project will be constructed as a matter-of-right without needing zoning relief, according to Lake. There would be few changes along Wisconsin, though — an existing U-shaped driveway would become an L, and some trees from the rear of the property would be dug up and moved to the front.

Roadside is considering possibilities to discourage or prevent drivers from cutting through the residential neighborhood to access the site’s new retail. One option is extending 39th Street NW behind the Fannie Mae complex as a private road that would be accessible only to residents of the new development, according to Lake. The traffic study results will guide those plans, he said.

Neighborhood leaders have largely expressed support for the project, with minor reservations. American University Park advisory neighborhood commissioner Jonathan McHugh told The Current he wants to see the developer address concerns about new residents exacerbating existing overcrowding issues at nearby schools.

Susan Kimmel of Ward 3 Vision hopes Roadside will coordinate with developer Donohoe, which plans to redevelop the 4000 Wisconsin building next door for mixed use. A Donohoe representative didn’t return a request for comment; Lake told The Current he’s open to collaborating with his next-door neighbor and thinks the two projects “actually work well together and enhance each other.”

The team has already completed a draft application to designate the Fannie Mae building as a historic landmark, with plans to submit the formal application next month. The project will proceed with the same plans whether the landmark application is approved or denied, Lake said.

This article has been updated to correct the date that Fannie Mae first moved to 3900 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Though the building was constructed in 1958, Fannie Mae first moved there in 1979.