Zoning Commission questions scale of eight-story Tenleytown project

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The proposed mixed-use building at 4620 Wisconsin Ave. NW would be eight stories and 88 feet tall. (rendering courtesy of Urban Investment Partners)

Developers of a large Tenleytown residential and retail project need to provide stronger justification that their proposed eight-story building adheres to the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, the Zoning Commission ruled Monday.

If ultimately approved, the project would redevelop 4620 Wisconsin Ave. NW into 146 apartments above ground-level retail.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E (Friendship Heights, Tenleytown) supported the Urban Investment Partners’ project last month after both parties agreed on a lengthy community benefits package. Developers submitted a planned unit development application to build additional density on the site, in exchange for amenities that include renovating a vacant National Park Service building for public use and constructing a new park.

While speaking in favor of the project, zoning commissioners voted to ask Urban Investment Partners to flesh out its justification for the proposed 88-foot height. Commission chair Anthony Hood said that the area is marked for development in the four- to six-story range. The Tenleytown Neighbors Association filed an 11-page letter opposing the project, mainly arguing the height is too tall given the site’s zoning classification and its distance from the Tenleytown Metro station, where the Comprehensive Plan calls for concentrating density.

Hood said he thinks “it’s a great project,” but also said he was persuaded by the opposition’s arguments. Commissioners unanimously said they wanted to see Urban Investment Partners address them fully. “We’re asking for additional information before final action,” Zoning Commission member Robert Miller said.

Project approval could come at the Zoning Commission’s Dec. 11 meeting.

The commercial building at 4620 Wisconsin Ave. NW is slated for redevelopment. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Since first submitted in November 2016, the project has been scaled down in size in response to community controversy over the height. ANC 3E negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the developers, with provisions requiring Urban Investment Partners to lease part of the retail space to a sit-down restaurant; install solar panels and a green roof; and bury utility lines on Wisconsin Avenue.

The building will also include 15 affordable housing units, representing 10 percent of the total square feet of residential space. A below-grade parking garage will hold 58 spaces for automobiles and 60 bicycle spots.

ANC 3E commissioners backed the proposed density along Wisconsin Avenue, as did pro-growth groups like Ward 3 Vision. “In fact, we believe that it would be a waste of urban design opportunities not to construct a building of significant size at this location,” Susan Kimmel, director of Ward 3 Vision, wrote in testimony on the case

Meanwhile, opponents continue to argue against the project. The Tenleytown Neighbors Association said the appropriate time to push for much larger buildings in this section of Tenleytown would have been during the update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan — and that this was not done. Accordingly, they said, the idea of dense development at 4620 Wisconsin is inconsistent with the District’s planning principles.

Urban Investment Partners argues that the zoning relief is not inconsistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan “or the character of the surrounding area.” The D.C. Office of Planning supports the argument that this location is legally appropriate for development at the proposed scale.