The latest new apartment building planned for Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle neighborhood is a 14-story, roughly 130-unit project on the Wisconsin Avenue corner occupied for 18 years by the Ranger Surplus store.
D.C.-based Douglas Development bought up the block and the Woodmont Avenue Beer and Wine house property last year. It’ll be the developer’s first foray into downtown Bethesda’s sizzling new apartment market, though probably not the company’s last.
Douglas also bought a block of buildings that includes the popular Tommy Joe’s and Pines of Romes restaurants a little farther south along Wisconsin Avenue.
This project, which attorney Emily Vaias hopes will be ready to break ground by 2016, would include 4,000-square-feet of retail on the Woodmont Avenue/Cordell Avenue corner. Most of that space would be dedicated to a restaurant.
Douglas selected architect WDG, the same firm that did the recently opened Gallery Bethesda just a few blocks away.
At a required public meeting on Tuesday, one next-door business owner and across-the-street building owner complained about the relative lack of parking the building will provide.
The proposal, which Vaias said the developer hopes to submit by the end of August, includes a two-floor garage with 77 parking spaces and access mid-block on Cordell Avenue.
Bruce Variety co-owner Linda Ridenour complained that didn’t seem like enough. The crafts and variety store moved to the house immediately next to the Beer and Wine store last year.
Ridenour’s building and store would remain, but she questioned if residents of the new apartment would seek parking in the public lot and street meters near her business, in effect preventing her customers form finding nearby parking.
“I invite you to come to that site and just observe what goes on,” Ridenour said. “I hope that the designers are processing in their mind what happens. People have to function with a car. You can wish it away as much as you want. You can say, ‘Oh, we’re all going to try to walk everywhere.’ Let’s be honest, it’s not the way people function.”
Joel Danshes, who owns the building that houses Sala Thai across Woodmont Avenue from the project, made similar criticisms. Danshes claimed Sala Thai already has issues with customers who can’t find parking.
Vaias explained that projects in downtown Bethesda — which functions as an official Parking Lot District — aren’t required to include any parking for residents because of the public parking facilities available. She also mentioned how many of those public garages are severely underutilized.
Danshes wasn’t hearing it. He suggested Douglas either dig deeper for a larger garage or reduce the number of units.
Patrick Cooper, a representative for Douglas Development, explained the financial balance that must be reached for a developer to proceed with a project.
“It is an absolute dance. You need as much density for the multi-family aspect to be able to subsidize the construction cost of the building,” Cooper said. “The deeper you go, you encounter bedrock. Construction costs go up astronomically when you have to deal with bedrock. The death knell for an owner is to overpark a building.”
One attendee of the meeting pointed out the concept of fewer than one parking spot per resident isn’t a foreign one. The person attempted to explain that many places, including D.C., seem to function just fine with fewer parking spaces.
Vaias pointed out that residents would be unlikely to park in one-hour or two- hour street meter spots, seeing as if they have a vehicle they would need to park it overnight in nearby public garages, or risk getting it towed.
Still, Ridenour and Danshes had their reservations.
“One would assume that a developer of that stature would have a civic conscience,” Ridenour said. “We’re asking you, please don’t take away our livelihood by robbing our customers and clients of parking.”
Vaias said she hopes the plan will go before the Planning Board in October. That hearing would allow for public comment.
The Woodmont Avenue/Cordell Avenue corner would also be rebuilt into a small pocket park as the project’s public amenity.