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Council Hashes Out Building Heights, Zoning Changes At Chevy Chase Lake

by Aaron Kraut — July 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm 233 2 Comments

Rendering of Chevy Chase Land Company's proposal for a 150-foot building at Chevy Chase Lake, via Chevy Chase Land CompanyA bid to limit the proposed centerpiece of residential redevelopment at Chevy Chase Lake to a 90-foot height was denied Tuesday by the Montgomery County Council.

Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) sent a letter to colleagues on Monday proposing a 90-foot amendment to the Council Planning Committee-recommended 120-foot height.

Berliner had Council staff member Jacob Sesker do a financial feasibility study of a 90-foot building at the site, on the east side of Connecticut Avenue just north of a planned Purple Line station. Sesker’s analysis found a 90-foot building, as first proposed by county planners then changed to 150 feet by the Planning Board, would be economically feasible.

The developer, Chevy Chase Land Company, has argued a building shorter than 130 feet would mean a lower building with a wider footprint that would compress the adjacent open space.

The Land Company recently proposed a 130-foot compromise, down from the Planning Board recommendation. Residents in a group called the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee wanted the height to remain at 90 feet because of concerns about additional traffic before agreeing to 120 feet before the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan was sent to the Council.

“I respect the views of those who believe that because this parcel sits next to a future stop for transit, that we ought to maximize the housing thats available there. I would say to you that I do think it’s important also, another value, is harmonizing redevelopment, particularly in the downcounty with the existing character and integrity of a neighborhood,” Berliner said. “Are we really retreating on some fundamental principal on smart growth when we’re giving up 75 units and still creating 1,450 new units?”

The 1,450 unit figure is roughly the amount of new units recommended for the entire Chevy Chase Lake Sector.

Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) supported Berliner’s amendment, but the other seven councilmembers voted against it.

“We’re starting a dangerous precedent. Can you really ever build anything in Montgomery County, can you attract additional investment?” Councilmember George Leventhal said. “Now you need to convince not just the Planning Board but former planning staff [referring to Sesker]. That’s not going to be great for our business climate in the long run.”

An amendment from Councilmember Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) to make the height 130 feet was also voted down, so the height will remain 120 feet as recommended by the Planning Committee.

The Council agreed to move up the redevelopment of the Housing Opportunities Commission apartments to the pre-Purple Line phase of the Master Plan in order to accelerate the development of affordable housing.

By an 8-1 vote, the Council also agreed to change the trigger for the second phase of redevelopment. Now, construction on phase two projects will only be allowed to begin once construction on the Purple Line starts. Councilmembers were concerned the recommended approach, which would allow phase two development to begin once the Purple Line is funded, would leave significant lag time between the new development and the opening of the Purple Line.

Berliner and other councilmembers said phase two development shouldn’t be allowed to go forward without the new transit system to help transport new residents and visitors to the already traffic-clogged area.

“I feel like that’s been the fundamental promise that we’ve wanted to make to our community,” Berliner said.

On the controversial Newdale Mews apartments, Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) proposed an amendment that would allow building owner Rob Bindeman to build up to 50 feet on the Purple Line side of the apartments and remain at the recommended 45-foot limit on the side that backs up to a neighborhood. The building wouldn’t rise above four stories.

The existing height of the apartments is 35 feet. The amendment passed by a 6-3 vote, with Berliner, Elrich and councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large).

Rendering via Chevy Chase Land Company

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  • Outraged

    How does the County Council justify going against the overwhelming support by the 21 surrounding neighborhood associations that compromised by agreeing to 90 foot heights instead of working against the development entirely?

    The Planning Staff’s original recommendation was 90 feet because they knew the neighborhood could barely support that much.

    What was the purpose of months of “outreach” if the County Council was going to do the bidding of the Chevy Chase Land Co anyway?

    This is a clear example of the County Council not working in the best interests of county residents.

    I’m curious how many of the Council Members or Chevy Chase Land Company executives want this type of large scale development replacing their quiet neighborhoods – my guess none.

    Why not Propose this type of development in Takoma Park where there’s METRO ALREADY?

    Unfortunately, traffic will only be worse as a result of this decision and the potential Purple Line – but they don’t care because they don’t live there nor do they commute through the area.

  • Secede Now

    We need a representative on the Council who lives in Bethesda-Chevy Chase (Berliner lives in Potomac), and we need a Planning Board Member who lives closer to us than Luxmanor (home of Francoise Carrier).

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