The Fleming Park Community Association hired land use attorney Norman Knopf earlier this year to help limit the number of townhome units allowed, keep a tree buffer along a popular bike path and ward off a second entrance it fears would bring traffic to the neighborhood.
Bethesda’s EYA and McLean-based real estate investment firm Streetscape Partners submitted an application in January for the townhomes on the forested grounds of the Grosvenor Mansion property, which includes two office buildings.
The Renewable Natural Resources Foundation and the Society of American Foresters are headquartered there (the Foresters are located in the historic mansion) and the development plan calls for razing the office building at 5430 Grosvenor Lane and removing its surface parking lot.
In its place would go the 153 townhomes, served by a grid of private streets and separated from the Capital Beltway by 11.9 acres of existing forest that would be dedicated to Montgomery County’s Legacy Open Space Program.
Knopf has long represented civic associations and neighborhood groups against development proposals, including three groups that defeated a bid to place an international private school called the Nations Academy on the Grosvenor Mansion property.
Those groups were concerned with additional traffic. Traffic is again a concern with the EYA proposal.
In its application, EYA said a Ride On bus stop and bus shelter on Grosvenor Lane, plus the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station half-a-mile away would help ease traffic issues. The developer also argued the project will generate less traffic compared to the office space allowed by a 1973 special zoning exception — except that the majority of that allowed office space was never built.
A traffic study by a consultant for EYA found the project would generate more vehicle trips than the existing office tenants generate. According to the study, the project would generate 89 trips during the morning peak hour and 118 trips during the afternoon peak hour, an increase of 66 morning peak trips and 100 afternoon peak trips from existing conditions.
The 35-acre property is bounded to the west by Fleming Avenue, to the north by Grosvenor Lane, to the east by I-270 and to the south by the Capital Beltway and Fleming Local Park.
A September update from the Fleming Park Community Association said the group had new concerns after meeting with Planning Department staff and seeing staff’s alternative designs for the property:
The planning staff’s alternative is a slight improvement over the EYA proposal since it recommends reducing the number of units (although only by 9) and replacing the phalanx of townhouses planned for the east side of Fleming with single-family homes. The houses would front Fleming Avenue, but would have garages facing to the inside of the new development. However, these garages may not be large enough to accommodate two family-size cars and planning staff’s recommendations do not take into account our concerns that development residents and their visitors will end up parking on Fleming.
Furthermore, the planning staff’s recommendations contain two additional items that will have enormous negative impact on our community. Planning staff are recommending that a portion of Fleming Avenue north of the park entrance (and contiguous with property to be developed by EYA) be widened to 30′ of pavement to conform with county code. The widened portion of Fleming would include two lanes, plus parking on the west side of Fleming. This would make that portion of Fleming wider than any other street in the neighborhood, excepting Broad Street and Grosvenor Lane itself. The widening of Fleming will likely cause a significant increase in traffic (including cut-through) on Fleming, and on Kingswood and Lone Oak. This will pose a safety hazard to the many joggers, cyclists, and pedestrians (including children) who use Fleming Avenue and the bike path.
Also alarming is the planning staff recommendation that a second entrance to the development be located on Fleming near the park and Lone Oak. The community has been vehemently opposed to this second entrance on Fleming because of the increased traffic it will bring to the streets of our neighborhood and because of safety concerns for those using Fleming Park and for individuals using the bike path to commute or exercise.
We have met twice with planning staff, and although they say they understand our concerns, they stand by their alternative plan.
The project must get approval from the Planning Board and the county’s Board of Appeals, which must amend the existing special zoning exception for the property.