Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Richard Cohen Searching for
Allies to Back Massive, Urban
Redevelopment in Westbard Sector

Friendship Heights Cannot Speak for
Westbard Sector Neighbors

Those who have followed some of the development debacles such as Fallsgrove and Twinbrook know how the game works. One of the first steps developers take, when they are pressing for an unpopular redevelopment, is to win over some token allies in the neighborhood. So be prepared for that as we inch slowly but surely toward zero hour on Westbard. It has been said that Capitol Properties' Richard Cohen has attempted to make contact with a member of the Friendship Heights Committee regarding his plan vs. an alternative plan put forward by that committee.

Now let me stop right here. It must be said that, first of all, the Friendship Heights Committee does not speak for those who live in the communities bordering the Westbard Sector. Although it has been working on this and other issues, it is not an official body which can represent individual civic associations. It is our Springfield neighborhood, as well as Westbard Mews, Kenwood Place Condominiums, Westwood Tower, Park Bethesda, Kenwood and Sumner residents who must have the final say on anything that happens in the Westbard Sector.

Second, so far the aforementioned actual neighbors of Westbard have yet to see the Cohen plan. He has shown it once to the Friendship Heights committee, and now is reaching out to that committee again. The problem with this is that he is talking to the wrong people, and making a terrible blunder diplomatically and economically. Things would go much easier if Capital Properties would come to us, the residents, and show us the plan. To play the devil's advocate, for the sake of argument, why not design a spectacular and unique Westbard Sector concept that will excite the imagination and build genuine support in the neighborhood?

Instead, we are only hearing about a plan. And the rumors sound like a concept that is not only too big, but the same tired, old, mixed-use brick buildings. Dead on arrival.

Third, we haven't been allowed to examine the Friendship Heights Committee's alternative plan yet. Furthermore, we have not signed off on that plan and it should in no way be a starting point for any negotiations. For example, I am hearing about the alternative plan having 4-story buildings. Depending where on Westbard that would be, I and many others would oppose that. We certainly don't want a four-story Westwood Shopping Center. What we do want is improved amenities, and at least one sit-down, upscale family restaurant. And Giant should offer in-store dining like Harris Teeter and Wegman's, and further expand its selection. For example, why can't they sell Zatarain's or Phillips Seafood frozen dinners, or Hungry Man Heroes frozen sandwiches? But other than that and the horrible new logo that destroyed the venerable Giant brand, why would we redevelop a grocery store that just remodeled?

Finally, Mr. Cohen is wasting his time and energy communicating only with a committee that, by name, represents a community several miles away which will be entirely unaffected by the Westbard Sector redevelopment. Our County Council and Dr. Yes and the Planning Board should stop being wined and dined by the Capital Properties Bethesda-based lobbying firm, and start engaging the Westbard Sector Plan and the surrounding neighborhoods. They'd like to win allies among us - and they doubtless will find a handful of nouveau-riche residents who find our venerable Westbard simply inadequate for their champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But they'd better worry about winning a majority of us over.

Can CP design a fabulous new Westbard Sector that is a neighborhood amenity, and not a regional destination and miniature city? Can they accept the reality that, unless a rail line is extended to the area, only 15% of the residents use public transportation? Or will they go ahead with 12-story buildings and thousands of new cars in the neighborhood?

We won't know until they come and talk to us, and let us in on the plans.

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