Ground Broken on Controversial Northwest D.C. Development Project

After a dozen years of neighborhood battles, officials broke ground on Cathedral Commons, a large new development in northwest D.C.

It was a typical 1950s shopping area – small scale with lots of parking – but it was outdated for decades. Now, after a dozen years of zoning fights, lawsuits and neighborhood battles -- one of the city's longest property disputes ever -- work is finally beginning on the $130 million mixed-use housing and retail project.

Cathedral Commons will be on Wisconsin Avenue in the shadow of the National Episcopal Cathedral. It will replace a 1950s Giant food store, a long-gone McGrory’s, a massive parking lot and other retail outlets.

The fight took its toll on neighbors. Eleanor Oliver was there in the early 1950s when the old Giant was built despite neighborhood opposition.

“And the same arguments surrounded building this Giant as now surround building the future Giant that’s going to be here -- hopefully before I die,” she said. “When they finally said that there would be no more obstacles, that they were going to pass on it, and they turned down all the lawsuits and everything, we said, ‘Yes!’"

The old giant closed in April, a sign that new construction was not far away, but the battles left some neighbors not speaking to one another.

Mayor Vincent Gray and developers say despite the battles, the new project will bring new life and new retail to the neighborhood for the first time since the 1950s.

“The neighbors have a vested interest, and they're within their rights to have a vested interest, and if the developer doesn't know how to work with them, the developer probably ought to find another line of business to be in,” Tom Bruzzoto said.

The new development, which will include a Giant food store three times the size of the previous one – is scheduled to open in 2014.

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