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Bluemont Residents Reject Proposed Safeway Development

Safeway site sketchThe Bluemont Civic Association voted Wednesday night to oppose a potential mixed-use development at the Safeway site at 5101 Wilson Blvd.

The development, proposed by Safeway and local developer Mark Silverwood, would replace the current, aging Safeway and its large surface parking lot with a new store, and would build a 4-story, 160-unit apartment complex directly above that store.

Between the store and the apartments, plans call for about 400 parking spaces in an underground garage. From the Bluemont Civic Association newsletter:

The Safeway-Silverwood proposal calls for a building 65′ in height with a footprint that encompasses the entire site. This new “Lifestyle” Safeway, with a height of 20′, would occupy virtually the entire ground floor; four residential stories above the store would contain approximately 160 1-bedroom plus den and 2-bedroom apartments.

Below the store would be two levels of underground parking: the upper level with 190 parking spaces serving Safeway, the lower level with 212 spaces dedicated to apartment residents. Silverwood explained that approximately 10 of the apartments would qualify as affordable housing, and the building itself would qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold level certification.

The new store would contain an upscale deli, service meat counter, and a bakery. Extra space would be dedicated to fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other perishable items. A Starbucks would be co-located in the store — with indoor and possible outdoor seating — along with a drycleaners.

Silverwood and Safeway told residents that the apartment development is necessary in order to pay for the new store. In order to build the project, however, the County Board must first approve a rezoning of the Safeway site from “C-1,” or low intensity retail, to “C-O-1.0,” or moderate intensity mixed use.

Bluemont Safeway (via Google Maps)In a three-way vote, 56.6 percent of the 173 residents at Wednesday night’s standing-room-only meeting voted to oppose any rezoning of the site. Only 18.5 percent of residents voted in favor of the development, while 24.9 percent voted for a compromise resolution that would oppose rezoning “unless we have strong assurances that negative impacts to the neighborhood will not occur or will be mitigated.”

Most residents who spoke at the meeting spoke out against the development. Many expressed concern that allowing Safeway to develop the site would lead to more development.

“I worry that development will continue and destroy the residential character of our neighborhood,” said one resident. “This has consequences for the entire area. I don’t have any problem with the developer wanting to make money, but you really shouldn’t do that at the expense of our neighborhood.”

“This is not just NIMBY [Not In My Backyard],” said another resident. “This is the first step in our neighborhood, and it’s not going to be the last if we let it go. You say NIMBY, but nobody is going to look out for our backyards if we don’t do so ourselves.”

Others worried about traffic, noise, building heights, and parking issues.

Packed house at the Bluemont Civic Association meeting on 4/24/13“The traffic can’t handle 160 apartments,” one woman said. “[Safeway] can afford to build the store we want,” said a man. “And we want a store that represents the scale of our neighborhood.”

Unique in her views, one woman worried about theft, overcrowding and higher temperatures due to the development

“With the addition of more concrete right next to my house, we’re going to raise the heat in this neighborhood,” she said. “This kind of development actually lowers property values. For those of you operating under the assumption that this is going to raise your property values, think again.”

Those on the losing side, who supported the development, argued that the development is appropriate for a community like Arlington, which has high demand for housing.

“We’re considering whether to welcome 160 new neighbors,” said one man, who argued the development and others like it could help alleviate suburban sprawl and regional traffic problems. “We should be inclusive… [development] would be good for the character of our neighborhood.”

“I don’t understand the obsession with building heights in this community,” said another resident.

One resident worried that rejecting the Safeway/Silverwood development could open up the site to development the community would like even less — and might even result in the loss of the Safeway store.

“My concern is if we don’t work with Safeway, we don’t know what we’ll get,” he said.

The Bluemont Civic Association, now on record opposing the development, will try to assert its opposition as the development makes its way through Arlington County’s site plan process. Ultimately, the County Board will have the final word on the $50 million-plus development’s fate.

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