A Citizens Advisory Board on Tuesday night chose not to take a side on the controversial aspects of Chevy Chase Lake development, but presentations by one developer and a group of residents served as a potential preview of arguments the County Council will hear when the issue goes before it in a public hearing on March 5.
The Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, represented by Chevy Chase Village Board Chair Pat Baptiste and Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda, said their main qualms with the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan recommended by the Planning Board are in three areas:
1. The Planning Board-approved 150-foot height for a building adjacent to the existing 150-foot office building at 8401 Connecticut Avenue. Burda said the building, roughly at the site of the existing TW Perry store and part of the Chevy Chase Land Company’s development proposal, could be lowered to coincide with the planning notion of stepping down development from the highest point. Burda said “it’s a puzzle,” as to how traffic wouldn’t be adversely affected by the density, despite Planning Staff’s conclusion that there won’t be that much traffic added to the area’s two already failing intersections. (Chevy Chase Lake planner Elza Hisel-McCoy said earlier that 80 to 90 percent of the traffic in the area comes from school thru-traffic).
Steve Robins, a land-use attorney representing the Land Company, said it would not be economically viable to put the density farther away from Connecticut Avenue and would not be fair to nearby single family home residents to put the density elsewhere on the Land Company’s property, which includes the aging strip shopping centers on either side of Connecticut Avenue between Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Manor Road.
2. The Mewdale Mews Apartments (owned by Bethesda-based Landmark Realty) were recommended for redevelopment after the Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station is built by Planning Staff. But the Planning Board moved that redevelopment into phase one (pre-Purple Line) of the Sector Plan.
The Board, after hearing Landmark argue there were structural issues with the some of the apartments and they should be redeveloped sooner rather than later, allowed those buildings to reach 45 feet before the Purple Line station and 55 feet after. That angered many of the residents who live directly behind the buildings, on the west side of Connecticut Avenue, who voiced their displeasure with the Planning Board’s recommendation last month at a town hall meeting with Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac).
No representative from Landmark spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. Burda said residents have seen little evidence that the apartments have structural issues.
3. Burda said the Planning Board recommendation for two sectional map amendments, instead of a simpler pre-Purple Line and post-Purple Line phasing, was “a bit unusual,” especially since “the sole reason for upzoning this area was the coming of the Purple Line.”
Burda and much of the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee support the Land Company’s plan for roughly 780,000 square feet of mixed-use development around a town square at the existing Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center on the east side of Connecticut Avenue. (Some residents don’t want a proposed 80-foot high, 120- to 150-room hotel on the north end of the development because of concerns about night-time activities.)
Burda said rezoning in every other part of the area should be completely contingent on the Purple Line coming. The proposed Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station would sit where the Capital Crescent Trail crosses Connecticut Avenue, providing the focal point of redevelopment and part of the reason why planners feel there would not be significant additional traffic from all the recommended zoning changes.
The public hearing on the Sector Plan before the County Council was moved to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 and should be packed with testimony from residents, developers and planning officials.
On Tuesday, the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board agreed to draft a letter to the Council that pointed out areas of agreement and Burda’s three outlined areas of disagreement, rather than taking sides on the specific controversial issues in the Plan.
Another area of agreement between the Land Company, the Corridor Committee and Planning Board commissioner Casey Anderson (who attended the meeting on Tuesday) was that the Maryland Transit Administration should be pushed to build an elevated rail with open space beneath it instead of a wall of fill dirt beneath the rail that Burda said would divide the community.
In worksessions before the Planning Board, MTA officials said the fill dirt approach was cheaper. The Advisory Board agreed to support open space beneath the rail in its letter.
“This is an issue where if you put that in a letter, the interested parties could wave that in the face of MTA, that this is something we need to push the state on very hard,” Anderson said.
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department