A few weeks ago, the group that owns the Apex Building indicated it was open to selling the property to help the state and county carry out a preferred design for the Bethesda Purple Line station.
On Thursday, a top official from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., sounded a different tune:
“We’ve not had sufficient time to complete our analysis at this time, but we believe that the plan that is currently proposed imposes significant burdens on the property owner that would limit interest in commercial redevelopment,” ASHP Senior Vice President and COO David Witmer told the Montgomery County Planning Board during a public hearing.
The Planning Department created a Minor Master Plan Amendment that offered the building owner more density in redevelopment. It was an attempt to entice the ASHP to raze the building or sell it to another developer that would.
“We believe the current plan requirements, such as the incorporation of two tunnels, integration of ventilaton, the new addition of a shell-ready Purple Line station and limitations to the ground level will significantly limit the ability to effectively utilize the additional density resulting from the modest increase in [floor-area-ratio],” Witmer said. “Without modification of the plan to better balance transit and commercial interests, and additional incentives outside the plan, we’re concerned there may not be sufficient benefit to us pursuing such a disruptive undertaking.”
Witmer went on to say “there must be benefits to us both now and in the future,” a possible reference to $5 million to $10 million of public money an outside Planning Department consultant said could be required to make up for losses during redevelopment.
“It’s not the answer we wanted to hear,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier told Witmer.
The preferred design for the station would include a separate tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail, more room for transfers from the Metro station and other improvements over the existing station design. But it would require the building owner to raze the property, a lucrative one that includes restaurants, offices and a popular movie theater as tenants.
The Maryland Transit Administration has also said it wants a clear indication of the ASHP’s decision before the end of the year or early next year, which Witmer testified was too short a time period.
Attorney Bill Kominers, from Bethesda-based firm Lerch, Early & Brewer, introduced Witmer and told the Planning Board he was representing the building owner. In August, the pharamacist group hired David Silver, with D.C. firm Holland & Knight.
It’s unknown why the ASHP made the apparent switch.
Other nearby residents testified about the bike tunnel during the public hearing.
The Planning Board is scheduled to take up the Minor Master Plan Amendment in a Nov. 21 worksession and submit it to the County Council on Dec. 6, yet there is no assurance the ASHP is willing to cut a deal.