The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved a controversial plan for a seven-story, approximately 120-unit apartment in a neighborhood of townhomes near the Bethesda Metro station.
The 4831 West Lane project from D.C.-based SJG Properties raised the ire of many residents in the neighborhood, who said the building was too tall, would attract too much traffic to one-way and narrow roads and does not fit the area’s residential character.
But the Planning Board, in a hearing that dragged on for more than three hours and highlighted inconsistencies in the area’s Sector Plan guidelines, ultimately decided existing traffic problems shouldn’t discourage density just 900 feet from the Bethesda Metro station.
The Board voted 3 to 1 to approve the roughly 120 units (with 15 percent of those units reserved for affordable housing) despite neighbors’ pleas that 120 units would bring more traffic and more of the type of delivery trucks and service trucks that already clog up one way Montgomery Lane and narrow West Lane.
Board Chair Francoise Carrier proposed limiting the project at 100 total (85 market rate) apartments, which SJG attorney Pat Harris said would be the limit of what is economically feasible for the developer.
But Commissioners Casey Anderson, Norman Dreyfus and Amy Presley argued the Bethesda CBD Sector Plan calls for high density development close to the Metro station, while also recognizing it calls for the neighborhood in question to retain a townhome like character and pedestrian-friendly Montgomery Lane from the Metro to Arlington Road.
Vice Chair Marye Wells-Harley left before the Board voted.
To assuage resident concerns of increased service truck traffic on the streets, SJG included three loading dock stations on its building. But many argued delivery men and contractors rarely go where they are supposed to, instead stopping for a few minutes in the middle of Montgomery Lane or West Lane.
To discourage delivery men from stopping on Montgomery Lane, where the front lobby of the apartment is proposed, Harris said the lobby would be locked except to residents and all service trucks would be directed to loading docks.
“This project complies more closely with the Bethesda Sector Plan than any on this street,” Harris said. “Quite honestly, we’re a little taken aback by the level of opposition to this project.”
Residents and resident associations from the major surrounding communities, The Chase, the Villages of Bethesda, the Edgemoor and the Town Homes all sent letters in opposition of the project and came to the hearing yesterday. One resident claimed all 29 residents of the Town Homes were opposed.
“The Sector Plan says it should be townhouse in nature,” said one resident of the Edgemoor Condominiums. “This big bulky office-like square building is not the character of the area.”
The Planning Board’s approval does not guarantee the project will go forward. The issue will go before a county Hearing Examiner on Jan. 11 before ultimately going before the County Council.
Rendering via Montgomery County Planning Department