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Purple Line Station Plan Provides Limited Chances For Public Input

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 7/29/2013, 12:00pm  ET

Apex building, 7272 Wisconsin Ave.An end-of-the-year deadline from the Maryland Transit Administration means limited opportunities for residents and other stakeholders to comment on zoning changes that could be coming to the area around the proposed Bethesda Purple Line station.

Montgomery County planners must work fast to convince the owner of the Apex Building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) to redevelop or sell the site in order to allow the MTA to raze the structure and build what officials argue is a better Purple Line station under it.

To encourage redevelopment, the county Planning Board and County Council might grant property owners in the area more density as part of a Minor Master Plan Amendment.

The Planning Board gave planning staff the go-ahead to start work on the Amendment on July 22. On Friday, planners debuted a website and Twitter account to keep residents up-to-date. Planning staff also plans regular e-mail updates, a “web-based tool to enable the public to provide insights and recommendations about how the station ought to work for users and neighbors alike,” and staff participation in community meetings.

Planners also promised to hold an open house to preview the staff recommendations before the plan heads to the Planning Board on Sept. 26. But in the plan’s Scope of Work, staff admits that a tight schedule and difficulty with scheduling outreach events when residents are on vacation in August leaves little time to discuss how new density or the station might impact the surrounding area.

A typical Master Plan update involves years of community outreach, multiple open houses at each stage of the planning process and multiple Planning Board worksessions.

For this plan, there will be one “open-house-style preview” of the staff recommendations before Sept. 26, sometime after school starts on Aug. 26.

The Apex building owners, who own the building through a retirement fund and have so far been reluctant to redevelop it, aren’t the only landowners who stand to benefit from increased densities around the station. Federal Realty Investment Trust, which owns and operates Bethesda Row, has property within the boundaries of the plan. So does JBG Cos., which owns the office building just south of the Purple Line station site on Bethesda Avenue.