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Chevy Chase Lake Hearing Brings Out Development Opponents

by Aaron Kraut — March 6, 2013 at 9:30 am 15 Comments

CORRECTION 11:20 a.m. This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that about half of the testimonies given at last night’s Council public hearing were against aspects of the Planning Board-recommended Sector Plan, not “most.”

The rest were given by development companies or associated consultants in support of controversial aspects of the Plan or others associated with groups that expressed support of the Plan in general.

About half of the 37 people who testified on Tuesday night at the Montgomery County Council’s public hearing on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan were residents against specific aspects of Planning Board recommended development.

Representatives from the Chevy Chase Land Company explained why they want a 150-foot tall building on Connecticut Avenue instead of a 90- or 120-foot compromise suggested by residents fearful of added traffic. And, in his first recent comments in a public setting, Newdale Mews apartment owner Rob Bindeman said his proposed revamping of Newdale would help, not hurt, the community.

“I’m not here to destroy a neighborhood, I’m here to save one,” Bindeman told Council members, some who have toured the homes of nearby neighbors who oppose the Planning Board’s recommendation to allow new, 45-foot high Newdale Mews apartments before the Purple Line is built and 55-foot high ones after the light rail is certain.

Bindeman has argued his desire to rebuild has nothing to do with the Purple Line, but instead the age and failing infrastructure of his buildings. He said his new apartments would remain some of the area’s most affordable and three planned buildings would be put far enough away and blocked by a new green buffer from the back of homes on Lynwood Place.

Residents in the Chevy Chase Hills neighborhood, many who waved sheets of paper reading “Dont Flood The Lake” during testimony opposing the Newdale Mews recommendations, argue the Planning Board should have agreed with Planning Staff’s recommendation to cap Newdale Mews redevelopment at 45 feet after the status of the Purple Line is certain.

“It’s a compromise upon a compromise upon a compromise and it favors developers over the residential community,” said Bill Sandmeyer, representing the Chevy Chase Recreation Association. “Redevelopment must respect our existing residential communities.”

Part of the 16-mile Purple Line that would run from Bethesda to Prince George’s County would run through Chevy Chase on the existing Capital Crescent Trail. The three-year process of creating the Sector Plan was spurred by the planned Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station near Connecticut Avenue and Chevy Chase Lake Drive.

“As a community, we are deeply concerned that the Planning Board paid inadequate attention to essential infrastructure issues. We trust you to delve more deeply,” said Chevy Chase Hills resident Julie Buchanan. “For example, it does not pass the smell test to say that 790,000 square feet of development will create the same amount of new traffic as the originally approved 250,000 square feet.”

Planners, developers and most residents agree that up-zoning for transit-oriented commercial and residential development around the station is needed. Most also agree with the Land Company’s desire to redevelop its aging strip shopping mall on both sides of Connecticut Avenue between Manor Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive.

But the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, started by Chevy Chase Village Board Chair Pat Baptiste and Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda, is against allowing a 150-foot tall residential building at about the existing site of the TW Perry, adjacent the existing 8401 Connecticut Avenue high-rise.

“The effect of adding 2.4 million square feet of development is going to overwhelm an already poor traffic situation,” said Baptiste, who like many others questioned the accuracy of the Planning Department’s traffic studies. “The character of Connecticut Avenue has a beautiful rhythm, a great feel. You get a feeling this is the gateway to Montgomery County. This would do great harm to that road.”

Representatives from the Land Company and associated with its redevelopment plans, including Hilary Goldfarb from Bozzuto Builders, explained to the Council how reducing the 150-foot building by just one floor would mean the loss of 25 apartments, necessary underground parking space and threaten the the town square planned by the Land Company for its redeveloped east shopping center.

“It is critical that both blocks of the shopping center are able to develop together, comprehensively at the same time,” Goldfarb said. “With 120 feet versus 150 feet, there’s an economic question as to whether that could work. The bottom line is a project squeezed at the top squeezes public use space at-grade. We’ve looked at all types of construction. The gracious open space plan designed by [architect] Cooper Cary is no longer achievable.”

To accomodate for the uncertain status of the Purple Line, the Planning Board recommended a two-phased implementation of the Sector Plan, something Baptiste and Burda emphasized should be kept.

Stacy Spann, executive director of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, asked the Council to consider allowing redevelopment for its Chevy Chase Lake Apartments before the Purple Line. The Planning Board recommending delaying any redevelopment there to phase two.

“The truth is, regardless of the Purple Line, the county needs more affordable housing,” said Spann, who added that tying HOC’s plans to build 400 units with a mix of affordable, working class and market-rate housing to the uncertain status of the Purple Line would hurt that mission.

Transit advocates from the Action Committee for Transit testified in favor of the Planning Board’s recommendations. One said he would have been happy with more density around the planned transit station.

A current and former tenant of Newdale Mews testified on Bindeman’s behalf and argued the buildings were indeed aging, a claim some opponents say Bindeman has yet to definitively proove.

Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, used the opportunity to express his opposition to dedicating the existing Trail as transit right-of-way. Bhatt is against Purple Line development on the Trail and argued it should be preserved.

Gigi Godwin from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Andy Shulman from the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and real estate agent Jane Fairweather testified in support of the Planning Board’s recommendation and the general strategy of placing mixed-use density around the Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station.

Rafe Petersen, a local PTA member, said the county should require an adequate analysis of added students to the overcrowded Bethesda-Chevy Chase school cluster before allowing any development project.

“The county must reassess its tools for projecting demographic trends,” Petersen said. “There’s a false notion pervading this process that families will not live in apartments.”

The first Council PHED Committee worksession on the Plan is set for Monday, March 18 at 2 p.m.

  • Amy R.

    That guy Bindeman says he wants to “save” a neighborhood. What does that mean? is that poor neighborhood dying? Will new, dense buildings rescue that neighborhood?

  • Watcher

    “Save the neighborhood”? What a joke! This is a developer seeing dollar signs and nothing more. I’m not sure how the “new green buffer” would provide a better screen than the current buffer of mature trees he has stated that he intends to cut down.

  • Julie Barrie Buchanan

    I agree, Amy R. I’d love to hear what he thinks he’s saving the neighborhood from!

  • Ted

    Saying that most of the people who testified were residents opposed to the plan is inaccurate. I was there, and the split of testimony between those who support and oppose the plan was roughly 50/50.

    • Ajay Bhatt

      My take on an apples to apples comparison
      Residents – 5 against to 1 for
      Residential Community Groups – 5 against to 1 for
      Business Groups and Developers – 0 against to 5 for.

    • Ann K

      I was there also Ted and want to point out that the room was full of people on the waiting list who were not given a slot to speak against the plan. The format was designed to allow both sides the opportunity to present their cases. As Ajay noted, the vast majority of supporters were developers (or people the developers hired to support their cause) who are seeking the zoning that will maximize their profits rather than provide the best solution for the community.

  • Maria

    As Mr Bindeman needs to renew his multi-family apartment buildings, I want to point out that NOBODY opposed the construction of new buildings the same height and density as they are now. He does not need to save the neighborhood!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Joe

    Well, I particularly appreciated that a group of residents from homes that range from 700k to a little over a million were so concerned about the amount of affordable housing in the neighborhood. Also, the additional units would result in a marginal increase in vehicle traffic. The norm for down county apartment dwellers (i.e. young professionals) have 1 car to a unit that is only driven out of necessity. Giggling and waving signs at a professional meeting does not bring validity to a point of view. This was my first time to a hearing like this and I was embarrassed of how these adults behaved in the environment.

  • Maize

    Bindemen’s claims continue to be a joke. Under his plan he would be booting his current residents out when he knocks down the current buildings. Where would they live when this happens? What about when he doubles rent on the new luxury apartments he plans to build? Let’s get real…the only thing he cares about is making more money. He is a business man, so I get his objectives, but I don’t agree with his plan.

  • Scout

    But let’s at least be honest here..Bindeman does not intend to save the neighborhood- he plans to kick out his current tenants to rebuild and double the rent. And, let’s not forget that he has been asked to show why simply renovating the buildings at their current heights and densities is not a workable solution…he has provided not a single shred of evidence…only more hyperbole.

  • neighbor

    wow, NIMBY much?!?! You are ok with a huge highrise across the street, but not a small building in your backyard…totally ignoring how the increase in property values after development may help your fellow neighbors.

  • jrule

    This is supposed to be transit oriented development. Its not unreasonable to think the Purple Line being funded should proceed drastic changes to the neighborhood.

  • Wayne Phyillaier

    Ajay Bhatt is off the mark when he opposes “changing” the status of the trail to a transit right-of-way. Those who know the history of the corridor know this has always been a transportation corridor, and the County would not have purchased the corridor from CSX if not for future shared use with transit. It is fair to ask the county to revisit its past decisions, but it is not fair to assert that the trail was here first so we can’t now be asked to share the corridor with transit..

  • Julie Barrie Buchanan

    With all due respect to “neighbor,” the Chevy Chase Hills neighborhood testimony focused on the impact of the overall development on our neighborhood, not exclusively on Newdale Mews. Certainly individual homeowners who abut that property focused on that, but much of the community outrage directed at this plan comes from the massive overreach of the overall proportions of the plan.

  • Julie Barrie Buchanan

    I find “Joe”‘s statement particularly odd and disturbing: that based on the purported value of our homes, my neighbors aren’t concerned about affordable housing in our county. I, along with my neighbors and most of humankind (I hope!), care about and support many causes and issues that don’t directly and personally affect my interests. What a bleak world we’d live in otherwise. I might be insulted by his assertion, if it weren’t so patently absurd.

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