After almost six hours of detailed examination, the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved the plan for 143 townhouses and 10 single-family homes in the forested area surrounding the historic Grosvenor Mansion in Bethesda.
Over the objections of residents living in the adjacent Fleming Park neighborhood, the Board agreed with planners’ recommendations to have developer EYA build a controversial second entrance to the development on Fleming Avenue.
Neighbors objected to that entrance, arguing additional traffic would pose safety risks and force them to move their parked cars on what is now a small neighborhood street.
But the neighborhood association, which hired anti-development attorney Norman Knopf, didn’t have much of a leg to stand on when it was revealed residents are technically parking illegally right now because of the small size of the road.
The Preliminary and Site Plans approved Thursday will make EYA widen the road to meet the county’s Road Code and allow for existing residents to park on the other side of the street. Among other issues, County Fire and Rescue requires any development of more than 99 units to have a second access point for emergency vehicles.
Knopf and many neighbors argued the proposal brought too much density, didn’t contribute enough to Fleming Local Park and would mean the loss of precious forest.
One resident even spoke using an extended metaphor comparing the development to having a “350-pound linebacker come sit next to me in an airline coach seat.”
“I know he has the seat rights, even though he spills well over on either side,” she said. “But our linebacker is going to cause a lot of misery.”
EYA will have to build bollards and a green space to block any vehicular access from the Fleming access road to the existing office space, thanks to a confusing zoning rule put in place by another county agency. The main access to the community will come on Grosvenor Lane.
Knopf also successfully argued to get EYA to build its single family homes fronting Fleming Avenue a foot farther apart from each other. Knopf said it would help protect tree root zones, though it wasn’t immediately clear that was the case. The Board agreed to make the modification to make the homes more compatible with the existing homes across Fleming Avenue.
Eight trees will have to be removed to make way for a retaining wall to separate the development from the park, in addition to the 8.41 acres of forest that will be cleared. The developer will not be responsible for mitigation, but it will dedicate 11.3 forested acres at the south end of the property to the Montgomery Parks Legacy Open Space program.
Another substantial change in the approval from the one staff recommended was an additional $400,000 in payments from EYA to the county’s school facilities fund. EYA President Bob Youngentob argued his company wouldn’t have had been subject to the payment had the plan not been delayed by suggested changes from planning staff.
Youngentob argued it was an example of how onerous the county process is on developers, but the Board commissioners said that issue was out of their control.
Youngentob did not say when EYA hoped to get final approvals to allow construction.