Purple Line Station Changes Could Come Quickly

Area that would be subject to redevelopment in a new Bethesda Purple Line station plan, via Montgomery County Planning Department

Planners on Monday will present their plan for encouraging redevelopment of the Apex Building, in order to allow for an agreement on a preferred Purple Line station design before the end of the year.

The Bethesda Purple Line Station Minor Master Plan Amendment will seek to convince residents and the owners of the Apex Building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) that razing the building in exchange for more density will allow for a better Purple Line station below it.

And planners have a very short timeframe to do it.

The Maryland Transit Administration, which is building the Purple Line light rail, says it must have an agreement to raze the Apex Building by Dec. 31. The MTA is entering the final stages of its request for federal funding for the estimated $2.15 billion, 16-mile light rail that will end at Bethesda.

To get it done, the Planning Department plans to offer more density to the building owner and a few building owners around 7272, which now is home to the Regal Movie Theaters, offices and a restaurant. Planning staff has contracted with an economic consultant to determine the minimum amount of redevelopment necessary under current market conditions to profitably redevelop the building. It must be demolished by Dec. 31, 2015, so the MTA can construct the station.

But staff doesn’t just have to convince the usual stakeholders that the density for a better Purple Line station is a good idea. It also has to convince the Apex Building owners, who so far have shown no interest in razing the building even in exchange for more density.

Former Planning Department interim Director Rose Krasnow was frank when discussing the issue last month, saying she hadn’t yet even got the owners on the phone.

The Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave.Planners and MTA officials say the benefits to being able to construct the station with no building on top of it are many.

It would mean a dedicated tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail under Wisconsin Avenue, instead of the existing plan to move bike and some foot traffic to the busy intersection of Bethesda and Wisconsin Avenues. There would be a more efficient dual-platform configuration free of impediments to pedestrian movement on the platform,  straight platforms without gaps between the train and platform and maintenance “tail tracks” that extend only about 30 feet into Woodmont Plaza (instead of the proposed 100 feet).

It would also allow the incorporation of the ventilation tower into the building design, instead of out in the Plaza, and the relocation of the Bethesda Metro South Entrance from the Elm Street right-of-way into the design for the new building, which the county believes will save it money on the project.

If their scope of work is approved by the Planning Board on Monday, planners will go out almost immediately and present the plan to community groups, prepare a staff draft on Sept. 16, hold a Planning Board public hearing on Nov. 7 and work on it in time for a Dec. 5 approval.

Staff then wants to transmit the plan to the County Council on Dec. 6 in order to allow notice for a Council public hearing before the winter break.

The Council already has some familiarity with the Plan. The Council’s Planning Committee recommended including $100,000 in this year’s budget for the hiring of a consultant to help planners complete it.

Image via Montgomery County Planning Department

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