PLAN ALTERNATIVE IS
Another www.RobertDyer.net Exclusive!!
Last night at the meeting of our Springfield Civic Association, handouts containing a few pages of the Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights' alternative Westbard Sector Plan were distributed.
My initial reaction was surprise, in that the blueprint (in the robertdyer.net exclusive image displayed above) looked like what Capital Properties would propose, not what the neighborhood would want. When it was made clear that this was in fact the CCFH counterproposal, I was a bit flabbergasted. I think the title at the top of the page says it all: "Westwood Village." How does a shopping center become a village - and benefit the neighborhood in the process?
The CCFH plan, designed by graduate students at Catholic University, does contain 2 positive elements in my initial examination of it:
1. It obviously offers lower building heights than CP's 12-story towers, and presumably less density than the 1500 units proposed behind closed doors with the CCFH (not the residents).
2. It eliminates the wacky new road CP wants that would run from River Road to Westbard on the current American Plant property.
Unfortunately, in most respects, the CCFH plan does not reflect the interests of the neighborhood. Anyone familiar with the tactics of the negotiation process in any situation would know that you should start with a position most advantageous to you. That gives you room to move toward the opposing side in an inevitable compromise. Under the CCFH plan, we would already have compromised significantly before negotiations have even begun. That weakens our hand.
I'm quite troubled by the 2 new roads(!) in the CCFH plan; I had not even imagined roads within the Westwood Shopping Center property under the CP plan. I'm equally troubled by the significant 4-story garage parking. It's being revealed in Rockville Town Center and Clarksburg that garage parking is an utter failure in the suburban setting, and scares away grocery chains and other retailers who know their customers are uncomfortable with garage parking.
At last week's Rockville council meeting, councilmembers and Town Center business tenants alike proclaimed the town center as failing in part due to the poor overall design, and garage parking. And like Rockville, the CCFH plan is still proposing condos and townhouses for which there is no demand. In fact, the failed Town Center (which I predicted) is the albatross now for Royce Hanson (Dr. Yes) and his right-hand man, Rollin Stanley and their strange concept of future development in Montgomery County. RTC is quintessential Hanson-Stanley down to the dungeonesque garages. If you build it, they won't come, ladies and gentlemen. Let's stop this failed experiment now; enough environmental and economic damage has been done already.
When I stressed the fact that Westbard is a neighborhood shopping area, and that the CCFH plan looks like Bethesda Row, the CCFH representative stated that they are trying to offer a realistic plan. And that there will be 1.5 million county residents in a few decades.
Well, I would say, let them move in to all those vacant mixed-use condo buildings in Rockville, Bethesda, and North Bethesda!
Speaking of grocery stores, it is absurd to think that Giant would move across the parking lot. Giant has a 90-something year lease, and just finished renovating the store. There is no way they will tear that down. And I believe Giant has made that clear already, and they are entirely correct and justified in taking that position. We like Giant right where it is.
Here's another problem, and I've addressed this in the past: The CCFH does not speak for our neighborhood. Period. The Planning Department better accept that soon, and Capital Properties needs to recognize that as well. The CCFH covers a huge area. Frankly, people in Friendship Heights or Glen Cove may like or dislike a plan, but it's the people in Springfield, Westbard Mews, Kenwood Place, and Kenwood who'll have to live with it. That's why any advisory board is going to have to be weighted with extra residents of each of those neighborhoods.
Instead, the process continues to unfold behind closed doors. Some kind of meeting is happening between the CCFH and somebody (at the Planning Dept.?) tonight, and the CCFH has discouraged our association from telling us where it is. The explanation is that the room is small, and it will be packed. Our association president suggested the meeting be moved to the site where our SCA meetings are held, so that all interested residents would be able to attend. His suggestion was rebuffed, and the meeting stays - for all intents and purposes - closed tonight.
We, the citizens, need to be involved in this process soon, or we are going to push back in the political arena. Make no mistake, CP is restricted by current zoning from building that same-old mixed-use-Dr. Yes-Rollin Stanley development. CP knew that when they acquired the properties. If they want to change the zoning, they have to work with the neighborhood.
A plan like this CCFH proposal just doesn't reflect popular opinion. I mean, just examine the map. "H = Coffee Shop?" Ever heard of Starbucks? We have two Starbucks in the shopping center right now.
Don't misunderstand me. We are at the beginning of this process, and everything is subject to change. And I've said before, CP could go a long way towards getting the neighborhood on board by proposing something bold, unique, and architecturally-appealing. The CCFH plan is simply a hodgepodge of every mixed-use project in contemporary Montgomery County. Mixed-use is a failure throughout the county, as the many empty apartments and boarded-up storefronts attest. Wake up! The exclusive zoning concept made sense for a reason, and it ought to stay that way, with all due respect to Dr. Yes and Mr. Stanley. (In fact, Rollin Stanley himself has acknowledged the pathetic cookie-cutter architecture going up every week in the county).
One clear source of the CCFH plan's blundering is the list the designers supplied in the glossy book passed around at last night's meeting. (Which we were supposed to digest in a few minutes, while trying to listen to the CCFH speaker simultaneously). They used as their touchstones a number of failed mixed-use projects around the area.
Why weren't the succesful ones used as models instead? They include the Shops at Sumner Place (a.k.a. Little Falls Mall), the Collection at Chevy Chase/Chevy Chase Giant shopping center redevelopment, and the Damascus Centre. You might even include the Fallsgrove center on that list. These are all 2-story centers zoned as commercial. They are well-designed. They have ample surface parking. And they work.
Mark my words, as they have done everywhere from King Farm to Clarksburg to Twinbrook, the developers will mysteriously "win over" a handful of residents. Those lucky few will shuffle zombie-like to charette microphones, and speak forcefully, using developer-supplied talking points. "This is a win-win." "It's inevitable." "That big parking lot is terrible for the environment." (And putting buildings in the same spot is an improvement?) "Our shopping center is dilapidated and outdated; this will be upscale." Etc., etc.
Remember when I told you that the chambers of commerce and boards of trade really run things around here? Well, rumor at last night's meeting has it that the "COG" - Council of Governments - wants to turn Westbard into a "transit hub." This could involve a bus station or a Purple Line extension to Northern Virginia. The plot thickens.
The rest of us are going to have to stand up and say "no" to the same-old overdevelopment scheme. If you were unable to attend last night's meeting, I've posted a photo of the document above - you should be able to zoom in on it.
Better yet, I've posted a video on the Robert Dyer Channel. I and my power finger tell you everything you need to know about what's wrong with the CCFH plan in one minute and 28 seconds. You won't find this exclusive Westbard coverage in the Washington Post or Gazette. Only www.RobertDyer.net has the Robert Dyer Channel exclusive series, "Westbard: The Last Stand." Watch the newest episode, filmed last evening, right now!