Thursday, June 10, 2021

Donohoe, Carr unveil plan for 5500 Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights (Photos)

Bethesda-based The Donohoe Companies and D.C.-based Carr Companies unveiled their proposal for 5500 Wisconsin Avenue in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Chevy Chase at a required public meeting last night. The virtual meeting had one of the largest attendance totals of any development presentation in the pandemic era, indicating strong resident interest in the future of the property, which currently hosts one-story retail spaces and an adjacent Courtyard by Marriott hotel. More than 87 residents watched the online presentation.

Donohoe Senior Vice-President Jad Donohoe represented that company, noting his firm's five-generation history in the D.C. area. He added that Donohoe has been active in Chevy Chase for 60 years, and that his father built and managed the original Holiday Inn that is now the Courtyard on the property. That hotel will remain on the site; Donohoe's plan would only redevelop the low-rise retail portion of the property. This is also not the first time that The Donohoe Companies has partnered with Carr.

Original massing proposal

New massing proposal -
5500 Wisconsin in yellow,
existing hotel in blue

The proposed new building would be 180' tall, around 18 stories. This is less than the maximum height allowed on the site with an MPDU bonus, which is 216'. The building's massing has been updated from an earlier proposal, and reflects the base-under-recessed-tower design encouraged by the 2017 Bethesda Downtown sector plan. This will allow greater airflow and light to pass through the property, the presentation renderings indicated. 

5500 Wisconsin would be rental apartments, with up to 380 units atop ground floor retail, and 5 to 6 tenants in that 15000 square feet of retail space. Unlike Montgomery County elected officials, Donohoe was frank about the decline of retail in Friendship Heights. In recognition of this, the firm is not seeking retail tenants of the price-point found when Wisconsin Avenue there was referred to as "Montgomery County's Rodeo Drive." 

Site location

Donohoe said there is a problem with retail in the neighborhood, and that it predated the pandemic. As a result, the company wants to focus on retail tenants who will serve residents who are within walking distance.

Woonerf design for interior
street to be shared by pedestrians,
cyclists and motor vehicles

But where much of the avenue has declined into empty storefronts and aging structures, Donohoe plans a significant upgrade with improved streetscapes, and a Woonerf shared street that will run between the new building and the existing hotel. 5500 Wisconsin would be the first new rental apartment building constructed in Friendship Heights since Wisconsin Place over a decade ago. The Woonerf could also head off a common neighbor complaint at many buildings, the lack of pull-off space for delivery trucks that end up blocking sidewalks and travel lanes.

Possible overhead features for the Woonerf

The architect for the project predicted the final architectural design would fit in well with the nearby Highland House and Willoughby high-rise properties. It will include a penthouse club room and pool. SK+I is the architectural firm for the project.

Diagram of ground floor uses

15% of the units will be moderately-priced MPDUs. This is the first building in Friendship Heights to include MPDUs, the developers said.

Map showing how the project will improve
connectivity between parks in the area

Donohoe said a concrete restoration and repair project will be performed at the hotel this year. But overall, he said the hotel tower is in relatively good shape.

Design inspirations for the Woonerf

Some residents expressed concern about the building being rental apartments as opposed to condos, citing recent crimes in the neighborhood. "We don't want more of that," one said. Others said they welcomed rental tenants, hoping it would bring more youthful residents to a neighborhood with a high population of senior citizens. 

Possible Woonerf overhead design features

Concerns of senior citizens were on the front burner last night. Residents warned against using hardscaping options like cobblestones, as many residents are unsteady on such surfaces. With many also using wheelchairs, residents asked that retail spaces have wide entrances. The nearby Starbucks at 5454 Wisconsin does not have that now, one resident mentioned. 

Features to activate Wisconsin Avenue

One attendee hoped that some of the retail would be targeted toward the many retirees in the neighborhood. Another stressed that restaurants and gathering spaces are very important to the community, and that they would like to see both in the new development.

Activating the Hills Plaza streetscape

If you missed the meeting and want to weigh in on the project, you have two opportunities in the coming weeks. Representatives from the project partners will be at the Friendship Heights Farmers Market in Hubert Humphrey Park this Saturday, June 12, 2021, and again on July 3. There is also an official project website online now.

Renderings courtesy SK+I Architecture


Anonymous said...

Would the pool that is proposed for the new apartment building be shared with the Holiday Inn? Or will the hotel guests lose that nice amenity?

Anonymous said...

Looks like a nice infill project. Some nice views to the west, overlooking the village square. The shared street is a nice idea to get parking deck and loading dock access off the main streets. Too bad it doesn’t maximize the allowable height and density, being only steps from the Metro. Friendship Heights could use a cool and iconic tower to boost its stoic image. Combined with a new multifamily mixed use development at Mazza Gallerie, perhaps Friendship Heights could someday begin to appeal to a younger crowd.

Jad Donohoe said...

Thank you Robert!

If anyone has questions about the project, you can reach out at or go to Thank you.

-Jad Donohoe

Anonymous said...

The downward spiral and cheapening of Friendship Heights is accelerating. Those attendees asked some very good questions. Oh well, it had a good run while it lasted. Too bad.

Robert Dyer said...

9:51: Thanks,Jad - I've just added a direct hyperlink to that website in the article.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense to move the high-end stores closer together. Perhaps Brooks Brothers could move into one of the vacant shops in The Collection, when it comes time to clear the 5500 Wisconsin Avenue site.

And maybe move Roche Bobois there, too - it's on the far southern end and, if memory serves, is the last remaining high-end store on the District side.

This way they would all be between Western Avenue and South Park Avenue.