Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Montgomery County planners are painting an increasingly ugly picture of what Bethesda's Purple Line light rail station will look like if the Apex Building isn't torn down.

In a pointed memorandum clearly meant to sway public opinion, planners suggest that the Woodmont Plaza open space at Bethesda Row will be riven by 100' railroad tracks, required for maintenance purposes. And that the station's mandatory ventilation smokestack on the same plaza will now significantly exceed the 92' height described months ago.

They also say that the Apex's support pillars will restrict passenger movement on the station platform, and that the platform's curve will cause gaps between it and the trains.

The memorandum lays out a so-called Minor Master Plan Amendment process, a controversial amending of the outdated Bethesda master plan, without the full public process the latter entails.

This proposal will be formally presented at a Planning Board hearing July 22.

The final staff amendment draft will be given to the board on September 16, 2013.

On November 7, 2013, the board would hold a public hearing on it, and address that input in a work session on November 21.

A final vote on the amendment would be held on December 5, and it would go to the County Council the next day.

The council has reduced the study area for the amendment east of Wisconsin Avenue. In contrast to the map shown previously, that would have torn a path of destruction across the Central Business District, the study is now confined to Elm Street and Elm Street Park east of 355.

Planners say that they will also begin an early revision of the Bethesda CBD sector plan simultaneously. This is unusual, as particular developers want nearly every sector plan moved up on the schedule. How this is possible is not explained in the memo.

One other advantage of demolishing the Apex is that the Elm Street south entrance to the Metro could be incorporated into whatever building would replace the Apex. So would the smokestack. And the railroad tracks would extend only 30' into Woodmont Plaza (gee, thanks!).

Let's cut to the chase:

All of the limitations of the station under the Apex were well known over 20 years ago.

What changed?

The size and scope of the Purple Line.

Once meant to be a MARC-style diesel train running from Silver Spring to Georgetown, and - by 1990 - a Bethesda to Silver Spring trolley, in both cases, the Purple Line was a single track system.

In recent years, the Purple Line exploded into a two-track system with a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and grass median. And will now run on streets all the way to New Carrollton.

So, of course you have a problem fitting a massive right-of-way under a building you designed for a different, single track project.

But that's not local residents' fault.

What we have now is essentially an indirect double-blackmail going on:

"Citizens, you go along with this plan and rushed process or you'll get a very ugly result."

And for the owners/developers/investors who will gain from redevelopment of the Apex Building, an attempt to get maximum profit and government incentives out of Montgomery County (and potentially, taxpayers' wallets) before agreeing to any plan.

Can you blame them?

Neither the board nor the council has been upfront with the public about just who is behind the Apex redevelopment scheme. The ownership denies wanting to redevelop, yet demolition could not proceed without their acquiescence.

We need to hear a lot more about the details on every aspect of this before rushing to judgment under manufactured pressure. And an amendment like this sets a dangerous precedent for future abuse by politicians and planners who seem desperate to give away the store to developers at every turn.


Anonymous said...

It's pretty clear who who was behind the original Minor Master Plan proposal, a developer on the east side of Wisconsin Ave:


Those properties were cut out of the Minor Master Plan area by the Council. This is as much about convincing the owners of the Apex Building to redevelop as it is to convince residents that it's a good idea. Also, it's pretty evident that building a better Purple Line station is a good idea. County and MTA people also say it will be cheaper.

Robert Dyer said...

For the planning department to give December 31 as a deadline for written agreement to redevelop the Apex, and December 31, 2015 as deadline for demolition, clearly they must have at least one developer on the line.

With public money involved, everyone needs to put all the cards on the table here - what's the plan, who will profit, and what is fair value?

We know the Apex ownership is behind Door #1. Who is behind Door #2 and #3? The public has a right to know. And is this particular process, even if it holds merit, worth setting a bad planning precedent for future abuse?

Anonymous said...

Follow the money...

Anonymous said...

The Apex building is an outdated, crappy building set back with a terrible TERRIBLE movie theater. Get rid of it, add better parking and street-level retail...the public wins. But the real issue...I don't want the purple line. It will lead to more crime, more people (transients).... I pay a LOT to live in bethesda, and its like a bus brininging in people to a casino in AC for 3 hours of slots.