Most of the about 40 people who testified on Tuesday night at the Montgomery County Council’s public hearing on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan were residents against specific aspects of Planning Board recommended development.
Representatives from the Chevy Chase Land Company explained why they want a 150-foot tall building on Connecticut Avenue instead of a 90- or 120-foot compromise suggested by residents fearful of added traffic. And, in his first recent comments in a public setting, Newdale Mews apartment owner Rob Bindeman said his proposed revamping of Newdale would help, not hurt, the community.
“I’m not here to destroy a neighborhood, I’m here to save one,” Bindeman told Council members, some who have toured the homes of nearby neighbors who oppose the Planning Board’s recommendation to allow new, 45-foot high Newdale Mews apartments before the Purple Line is built and 55-foot high ones after the light rail is certain.
Bindeman has argued his desire to rebuild has nothing to do with the Purple Line, but instead the age and failing infrastructure of his buildings. He said his new apartments would remain some of the area’s most affordable and three planned buildings would be put far enough away and blocked by a new green buffer from the back of homes on Lynwood Place.
Residents in the Chevy Chase Hills neighborhood, many who waved sheets of paper reading “Dont Flood The Lake” during testimony opposing the Newdale Mews recommendations, argue the Planning Board should have agreed with Planning Staff’s recommendation to cap Newdale Mews redevelopment at 45 feet after the status of the Purple Line is certain.
“It’s a compromise upon a compromise upon a compromise and it favors developers over the residential community,” said Bill Sandmeyer, representing the Chevy Chase Recreation Association. “Redevelopment must respect our existing residential communities.”
Part of the 16-mile Purple Line that would run from Bethesda to Prince George’s County would run through Chevy Chase on the existing Capital Crescent Trail. The three-year process of creating the Sector Plan was spurred by the planned Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station near Connecticut Avenue and Chevy Chase Lake Drive.
“As a community, we are deeply concerned that the Planning Board paid inadequate attention to essential infrastructure issues. We trust you to delve more deeply,” said Chevy Chase Hills resident Julie Buchanan. “For example, it does not pass the smell test to say that 790,000 square feet of development will create the same amount of new traffic as the originally approved 250,000 square feet.”
Planners, developers and most residents agree that up-zoning for transit-oriented commercial and residential development around the station is needed. Most also agree with the Land Company’s desire to redevelop its aging strip shopping mall on both sides of Connecticut Avenue between Manor Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive.
But the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, started by Chevy Chase Village Board Chair Pat Baptiste and Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda, is against allowing a 150-foot tall residential building at about the existing site of the TW Perry, adjacent the existing 8401 Connecticut Avenue high-rise.
“The effect of adding 2.4 million square feet of development is going to overwhelm an already poor traffic situation,” said Baptiste, who like many others questioned the accuracy of the Planning Department’s traffic studies. “The character of Connecticut Avenue has a beautiful rhythm, a great feel. You get a feeling this is the gateway to Montgomery County. This would do great harm to that road.”
Representatives from the Land Company and associated with its redevelopment plans, including Hilary Goldfarb from Bozzuto Builders, explained to the Council how reducing the 150-foot building by just one floor would mean the loss of 25 apartments, necessary underground parking space and threaten the the town square planned by the Land Company for its redeveloped east shopping center.
“It is critical that both blocks of the shopping center are able to develop together, comprehensively at the same time,” Goldfarb said. “With 120 feet versus 150 feet, there’s an economic question as to whether that could work. The bottom line is a project squeezed at the top squeezes public use space at-grade. We’ve looked at all types of construction. The gracious open space plan designed by [architect] Cooper Cary is no longer achievable.”
To accomodate for the uncertain status of the Purple Line, the Planning Board recommended a two-phased implementation of the Sector Plan, something Baptiste and Burda emphasized should be kept.
Stacy Spann, executive director of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, asked the Council to consider allowing redevelopment for its Chevy Chase Lake Apartments before the Purple Line. The Planning Board recommending delaying any redevelopment there to phase two.
“The truth is, regardless of the Purple Line, the county needs more affordable housing,” said Spann, who added that tying HOC’s plans to build 400 units with a mix of affordable, working class and market-rate housing to the uncertain status of the Purple Line would hurt that mission.
Transit advocates from the Action Committee for Transit testified in favor of the Planning Board’s recommendations. One said he would have been happy with more density around the planned transit station.
A current and former tenant of Newdale Mews testified on Bindeman’s behalf and argued the buildings were indeed aging, a claim some opponents say Bindeman has yet to definitively proove.
Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, used the opportunity to express his opposition to dedicating the existing Trail as transit right-of-way. Bhatt is against Purple Line development on the Trail and argued it should be preserved.
Gigi Godwin from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Andy Shulman from the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and real estate agent Jane Fairweather testified in support of the Planning Board’s recommendation and the general strategy of placing mixed-use density around the Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station.
Rafe Petersen, a local PTA member, said the county should require an adequate analysis of added students to the overcrowded Bethesda-Chevy Chase school cluster before allowing any development project.
“The county must reassess its tools for projecting demographic trends,” Petersen said. “There’s a false notion pervading this process that families will not live in apartments.”
The first Council PHED Committee worksession on the Plan is set for Monday, March 18 at 2 p.m.