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East Washington project loses Metcalfe's, looks to add more stories
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Zellers says the height of the development could increase from 10 to possibly 13 stories.
Zellers says the height of the development could increase from 10 to possibly 13 stories.

Residents near the 800 block of East Washington Avenue could be in for a double whammy of disappointments for a proposed development at that site.

Not only has their dream grocery store dropped out of the proposal, but now the developer is looking to add an additional three stories to the project.

Metcalfe's Market representatives and project head Otto Gebhardt III sent a statement Monday to Ald. Ledell Zellers and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association President Joe Lusson announcing that the grocery store has dropped out of the project.

Sited on the north side of the street, the mixed-used development in the resurgent corridor was to include not just a grocery store, which has long been on the neighborhood's wish list, but a rooftop farm that would grow produce for it.

"It's a huge disappointment," says Lusson, who sat on the committee that sifted through the proposals for the site. "The neighborhood was really excited about Metcalfe's. One of the reasons the committee chose this development because they liked the rooftop farm."

But Lusson and others are hopeful that Gebhardt will find a different grocer to fill Metcalfe's shoes, even if it doesn't include a farm. In fact, Gebhardt will have to -- the deal with the city is contingent on the project including a grocery store of at least 50,000-square-feet, says Aaron Olver, the city's economic development director.

Gebhardt could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday. But the other changes in the works for his development might concern neighbors.

Zellers, who represents the area, says that Gebhardt would like to add additional stories, from 10 to possibly 13.

Zellers says she expects the extra levels would bring the development up to the height limit for the area. But Lusson is not thrilled by this news, saying "That's a different plan than was approved."

The city and Gebhardt signed a purchase agreement for the project on July 18, in which Gebhardt agreed to buy the 4.5-acre site for $3.15 million and develop it in two phases. Olver says the company had 180 days after signing the agreement to hash out final details and move onto the next phase of negotiations and planning. That gives the company until mid-January.

Olver says he isn't certain what the city will do if Gebhardt cannot meet the terms of the purchase agreement.

"We're still moving forward under the belief the project remains on track," he says. "We're fairly confident that Gebhardt is going to move forward -- as confident as you can be in the real estate market."

Zellers says she's hopeful the company can find a grocery store in that time frame, noting that Metcalfe's and others have reported there is market demand for one in this area.

Lusson adds: "The neighborhood is counting on" a grocery store.

Zellers has called a neighborhood meeting for next Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., in the John Wall Pavilion at Tenney Park to allow Gebhardt to update residents about the project and talk about changes he would like to make.

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