Bluemont residents will have to wait a bit longer for a new grocery store in their Arlington County neighborhood as Safeway Inc. tries to find a new developer to build one for it along Wilson Boulevard.
Developer Mark Silverwood and his Reston-based The Silverwood Cos., which was picked to redevelop the aging Safeway at 5101 Wilson Blvd. last spring, broke off his partnership with the grocer over the summer because of push-back from a group of Bluemont residents who said the building was too tall for their liking.
Silverwood told me he was disappointed in how residents responded to his proposal to build a larger Safeway and about 160 apartment units above it. And he said he’s not so sure a new team will be able to make the numbers work, given how residents in the area feel about development in their backyard.
In a nutshell, the big challenge for future developers will be to build something that’s big enough to be profitable but not so big that it sets off another neighborhood dispute.
Silverwood initially approached Safeway about a decade ago to pitch the company on a new store but was rebuffed at the time. Safeway decided to revisit the prospect and put out a call to developers in spring 2012 seeking proposals for a new mixed-use project at the site. Silverwood beat out several other bidders, including Chevy Chase-based The JBG Cos.
Members of the Bluemont Civic Association opposed the project because Silverwood wanted to build a taller building than the county’s zoning allows without specific approval. Residents wanted the project capped at 35 feet instead of the 40- and 60-foot options requiring county approval.
Safeway spokesman Craig Muckle said the company wants to partner with other developers to build a new store and hopes to pick a new team by the end of the year. And Muckle believes other development teams will be able to come up with something workable, despite the challenges Silverwood encountered.
The civic association updated its members on the project in its September newsletter, which I was given by a Bluemont resident. The group noted more than half its members voted against Silverwood’s proposal and in favor of a smaller building. The project didn’t, however, make page 1 of Bluemont’s “Neighborhood News.” That prime real estate was reserved for a piece about the group’s efforts to get a bocce court at Fields Park.