With new zoning in place, Montgomery County must wait on the owners of Bethesda’s Apex building to pick a redevelopment plan before hashing out any deals involving public money.
The county wants the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., to raze it so the state can build a more spacious Bethesda Purple Line station below.
But the ASHP has repeatedly said new zoning alone (the County Council approved a plan to allow a 250-foot tall building on the site) won’t be enough to make redevelopment worth its while.
Steve Silverman, director of the county’s Department of Economic Development, said any talks about public money going the ASHP’s way are on hold until the group makes a specific development proposal — if the group makes one at all.
“All these numbers that are flying around from consultant reports and stuff like that don’t bear any relationship to anything specific that we’re aware of,” Silverman said. “It’s complicated because there are a lot of moving parts.”
The first part would have to be a willing buyer for the property, which now includes the ASHP offices, the Regal 10 Movie Theater and ground-floor retail and restaurants such as Food & Wine Co. That buyer would have to be willing to raze the building before construction of the Purple Line and come up with a design that would allow for elevators, escalators and a pedestrian plaza to service the station and Metro Red Line platform below.
The ASHP says it would need a development offer that makes losing its headquarters and profitable tenant base worth it.
According to an outside consultant commissioned by the Montgomery County Planning Department, it could also require $5 million to $10 million of public money sent ASHP’s way to close the gap.
David Silver, the attorney representing the ASHP, told the Washington Post this week that the group is waiting for “detailed proposals from several developers in the next 30 days.” He also said the ASHP would need a plan that provides enough money to “tear down a perfectly good building.”
“We’re pressing them for sooner rather than later,” Silverman said. “We’re just waiting at this point for them to come back with a specific proposal.”
On Tuesday, Council staff and Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said taking the building by eminent domain was not an option, chiefly because the process would take too much time. The Maryland Transit Administration hopes to begin construction on the 16-mile light rail in late 2015, pending a funding decision from the federal government.
“This isn’t a straight transaction between the county and the owner of a building. If we were going to pay for the building, that would be one thing,” Silverman said. “The wild card is whether there is a ready, willing and able buyer. The question here is what is going to make up the Association’s [financial] hole and then some, because they don’t have to move.”
The default design for the Purple Line station would be built around the Apex Building’s existing foundation. County officials are hoping that doesn’t happen because the station would not include a separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel and could mean tail tracks that extend out into Woodmont Plaza. It would also likely include a required ventilation tower that planners worry would serve as an eyesore on Bethesda Row.