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Apex Building Owners Say Purple Line Station Deal Is Possible

by Aaron Kraut — January 15, 2014 at 9:05 am 898 5 Comments

Purple Line ventilation tower near CCT tunnel, before surrounding development projects, via Montgomery County Planning DepartmentThe group that owns the Apex Building said a deal to tear it down is possible, though it reiterated its view that the increased density offered by the Planning Department is not enough to attract redevelopment.

Montgomery County and the Maryland Transit Administration are hopeful the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which owns the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., will raze or sell the building so a better Bethesda Purple Line station can be built underneath.

In December, the Planning Board approved a Minor Master Plan Amendment that would allow whoever redevelops the building to build to 250 feet.

At the County Council public hearing on the Plan on Tuesday, ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David Witmer again said the additional height is not enough to attract a developer to buy the property and raze it.

The MTA plans to build the Purple Line in the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under the building, using the existing columns and structure to shape the station.

The optimal design officials are pushing for can only happen if the Apex Building is demolished, allowing the state to build a more spacious station with a separate tunnel for the Trail and an elevator connection to the Metro Red Line on the same side of Elm Street. Otherwise, Trail users will have to go on nearby roads to cross Wisconsin Avenue.

But the optimal design would leave the redeveloped building without any identifiable space for underground parking, which Witmer said was the most prominent issue deterring redevelopment interest. It’s also unclear if the ground floor of the redeveloped building could be occupied by retail.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who chairs the Council’s Planning Committee, asked Witmer if a deal to raze and redevelop the building is possible.

“Is it possible that you would do this? I just have to ask because it’s an extraordinary request, an extraordinary situation in which to find yourself,” Floreen said. “Is there a circumstance under which you people would say, ‘Sure, we’ll evict our tenants, we’ll take down our building.’”

Witmer said a deal is possible, though the extra zoning alone does not make it financially feasible for ASHP.

“It would have to be a scenario in which we can assure we’re adding value to our organization,” Witmer said. “That said, we do think it’s possible and we wouldn’t be engaging experts and meeting with developers and doing the other work we’re doing if we didn’t think there was some possibility of success.”

Witmer also mentioned a report from an economic consultant hired by the Planning Department that found rezoning the property won’t cover the potential losses for the ASHP. The report, which came out in September, said $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to close the gap.

After planners presented the Minor Master Plan Amendment, Councilmember Roger Berliner said one of his concerns was preserving and improving the small grassy area near the Trail tunnel known as Woodmont Plaza.

“People are concerned with not having enough green space,” Berliner said. “We have an opportunity to create a really fine public space there. The plans haven’t done that.”

If the Apex Building is not redeveloped and the default Purple Line station is built, planners have warned that “tail tracks” of the light rail system could extend into the Plaza and a required ventilation tower would serve as an eyesore.

Berliner said he’s wary that a redevelopment deal for the Apex Building might encroach on that space, near the Landmark Bethesda Row Theatres. There are also unresolved questions about which land owners own which parts of the space.

“It just breaks my heart how long this space has sat there,” Berliner said. “It is such a prime space for something wonderful to happen.”

The Council’s Planning Committee will take up the Plan on Jan. 27. Witmer said the short timetable for making a deal — the MTA wants a decision early this year as it pitches the Purple Line to federal officials — is also making the process more difficult.

“Thank you for engaging with the county. I know this wasn’t something that you sought out,” Councilmember Hans Riemer told Witmer. “If we’re able to bring this together, it’s going to be a huge benefit to Bethesda, to Montgomery County.”

Image via Montgomery County Planning Department

  • Really???

    The lack of foresight is frightening. The fact that this hasn’t been in the plan for the past 5 years and then all of the sudden it comes up should be embarrassing for everyone in County Government.

    “It just breaks my heart how long this space has sat there,” Berliner
    said. “It is such a prime space for something wonderful to happen.”
    Berliner’s heart doesn’t seem to be broken about The Capital Crescent Trail being clear-cut with noisy trains every 3 minutes drowning out any peace and quiet on the trail, but a tiny patch of grass is going to break his heart?

    “Thank you for engaging with the county. I know this wasn’t something
    that you sought out,” Councilmember Hans Riemer told Witmer.

    More like – “I’m sorry we weren’t thinking about how to end a $2-4 Billion transit line

    in its most heavily used station (Bethesda) and at the last minute we realized no one had came up with a plan so now we have to beg you.”

    Sounds like the same “Leadership” that can’t build a transit center in Silver Spring – Who’s head has rolled because of THAT fiasco?

    In the words of the SNL newscasters…REALLY????

    Apex building owners, I’d get EVERYTHING in writing – especially time frame. In fact whatever time frame they give you, double it.

    • Wayne Phyillaier

      “”I’m sorry we weren’t thinking about how to end a $2-4 Billion transit linein its most heavily used station (Bethesda) and at the last minute we realized no one had came up with a plan so now we have to beg you.”

      That is more than a little overstated. MTA has had plans and drawings for years for the Bethesda Station Purple Line platform and elevators. MTA will follow those plans if the Apex Building owners are not interested in redeveloping. The Bethesda Purple Line Station will not be as spacious as it could be if we redevelop Apex, but it will still work well for transit users – It will give easy access to both the Purple Line and Red Line Metro platforms by elevators at the corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Ave., with easy transfers from either transit rail line to the other.

      • Jon Sheckman

        Mr. Phyillaier, are you one of the leaders of the group “PurpleLineNow”? Perhaps you can share with us where your organization gets its funding, and your relationship to the Chevy Chase Land Company — which stands to benefit considerably from completion of the Purple Line? I’m sure we’d all be curious.

        • Wayne Phyillaier

          Jon: Your question has nothing to do with the discussion here, but it is a question often asked to draw attention away from the merits of the Purple Line. The Purple Line stands or falls on its value to the entire community.

          But if you want to know more about Purple Line NOW, all you need to do is go to http://www.purplelinenow.com. The board is listed there and you can see I am on the Board as its treasurer. Regarding funding, the website homepage lists our sponsors for our current fundraising event at its bottom. More than 1/2 of our funding comes from these events, one every two years, and you can see from the sponsor categories that CCLC is not our largest sponsor, and we have many individuals as sponsors. Our total funding is a tiny fraction of what the Town of Chevy Chase is spending on lawyers to fight the Purple Line.

          My personal profile is on my website at http://www.silverspringtrails.org I receive no compensation of any kind for my activity on the board of Purple Line NOW. However, I do hope to benefit cosiderably from completion of the Purple Line. I live in Woodside, and look forward to seeing the CCT completed into my neighborhood after all of these years, and look forward to having easy access to an 8 minute transit ride to Bethesda from the Woodside station.

  • CC Public Transit Advocate

    With all due respect everyone, I ask this: Are those of you touting the glories of the Capital Crescent Trail USERS of the trail? Because, frankly, I do use the trail occasionally and am amazed at how deserted it is, especially during weekdays. I’ve walked the trail, in the middle of the morning and the afternoon, and have been ALL ALONE. ZERO other users. And not a less-traveled stretch, too, but the stretch through Chevy Chase. So methinks that all of you bemoaning the fate of your precious trail are protesting a bit too much. I, for one, will welcome the day when the trail will be put to its best possible use: As a conduit for off-road, fast, clean and safe public transit, with a biking and walking trail running alongside of it. Heck, a paved trail alongside the light rail – like they have in Portland – likely will be safer and easier to use than what we have now. Enough is enough. This Chevy Chase obstructionism is getting to be ridiculous.

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