Pepco bought the property at 5220 Wisconsin Ave. -- currently a classic car dealership -- for $14.5 million earlier this fall, said Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey.
Real estate firm Akridge, the previous owner, fought with residents for years over plans to build a seven-story, 13,000-square-foot apartment building with retail space on the bottom. Those plans were approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission in 2007, but Akridge never began construction. Akridge spokeswoman Lisa Steen declined to comment on the sale of the property, referencing a confidentiality agreement.
Pepco already has a substation on the lot next door, 5210 Wisconsin Ave., but the power company needs to meet expanding demand in the area, said spokeswoman Mary-Beth Hutchinson.
Though the company has not developed designs for the property, it usually matches substations to the rest of the neighborhood, she said. For example, a substation on Westmoreland Circle resembles "a nice house with landscaping" and a substation at 33rd Street and K Street N.W. in Georgetown resembles the surrounding condo buildings.
In fact, Pepco doesn't like residents to know when a building houses a substation for security reasons, said Hainey.
Before Pepco moves forward with its plans, it will need approval from the Public Service Commission, which has not received an application, according to spokeswoman Kelli Armstead. Pepco also plans to meet with local residents and business owners, said Hainey.
Local officials and some neighborhood groups are not thrilled with the change in plans for the property.
"I'm deeply disappointed," said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, Ward 3. Mixed-use development would "add to the energy and liveliness of that part of town" by increasing foot traffic, especially next to the Metro station.
Pepco has a responsibility to the community to help it grow, said Tom Hier, steering committee chair of local advocacy group Ward3Vision, but "a blank facade basically sucks life away from the street."
Though the used car lot currently occupying the property wasn't the best use of the space, a substation will be worse because people won't interact with it, said Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jonathan Bender. He suggested that Pepco put retail close to the street and the substation behind it.
But Pepco avoids building mixed-use properties because of security and maintenance concerns, said Hainey.
Besides, not all residents are vying for more retail.
A high-rise would have been too large, creating an "oppressiveness to the walkability of the area with the tall buildings looming over the sidewalk," said Marilyn Simon, a board member of the Friendship Neighborhood Association. She declined to comment on Pepco's plans for the property.