Friday, July 14, 2006

Ward 3 Vision

A new development is going on up the street from where I live. It used to be Babe's Billiards, but now the squat building is painted completely flat black, and proclaims that "Maxim Condos" are coming soon. Being the web-addicted person that I am, I checked out Maxim's website, curious to see what I could expect. I read, in the neighborhood section, that "Tenleytown is today one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Washington, prized for its architectural diversity as well as its sophisticated urban environment. Surrounded by trendy shops and caf├ęs, vibrant streets and urban parks, Maxim at Tenley is moments from the upscale shopping of Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase, while Georgetown's legendary nightlife and boutiques lie directly down Wisconsin Avenue." Hmmm, well, I am not so sure about the "surrounded by trendy shops and cafes and vibrant sttreetscapes" part. Not that is couldn't be...

No floorplans available yet, no real inkling of what the building will look like when it is done, no indication that it will be anything other than very pricey custom built condos with the requisite granite counter tops and hardwood floors. I dream of... a street level with new coffeeshops, nifty shops, maybe another restaurant or two to keep me from driving to Bethesda or Georgetown to dine out... But I know that this new development is by the books and within the current zoning laws, as with many others in the works or just completed, as with all the new developments along Upper Wisconsin Avenue if the anti-growth neighbors have their way.

The stretch of Wisconsin Avenue from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights has a lot to recommend it. It also has a huge amount of underused space and wasted potential. Imagine if this block had shops and restaurants and shaded benches all the way up to Friendship Heights. Added residents, too, in condos built atop the shops? I don't see the problem. I like the hustle and bustle of people on the street. We could use a wider variety of residents here. Most of them will be riding Metro and walking. More would be walking if there were more to walk to! We're not talking skyscrapers here, but a few taller buildings with more housing options would be welcome in the neighborhood. Build up from what is already paved or built on, I say, and leave room on the ground for parks and green space.

I am a city girl and I love living in the city. I love walking up the street to drop off my kid at school, stopping at the grocery store, the drug store, the movie store and even Starbucks on my way home. I love being able to take Metro to visit downtown, and not even thinking about the hassle of parking. I love filling my car up with gas only once a month. If I didn't have kids I probably would fill it even less.

I am continually frustrated by the argument that a development does not have merit because it does not adhere to the current zoning laws. The zoning laws for this stretch are ridiculous. Enacted before Metro was even open at this location, the laws don't take into account best transit oriented development ideas. The government should be FORCING more mixed use development around Metro stations. Encouraging neighborhood serving and locally owned retail while building in housing opportunities for more tax paying residents to patronize the retail and keep it thriving. Everyone moving into the District does not need (or want) a yard, a car. Leave the surrounding neighborhoods as they are and build RIGHT on the commercial corridors.