Thursday, November 20, 2014
SUBURBAN TO URBAN: WESTBARD PROPOSAL COULD ADD 4972 NEW RESIDENTS, 3758 CARS TO NEIGHBORHOOD
The future of the Westbard area of Bethesda is at a crossroads - will it remain a suburban residential area, with a commercial area that provides essential services to residents? Or will it become an urban area of concrete canyons, despite not being within walking distance of any Metro station? This is what ultimately the Montgomery County Council will decide. But right now, the planning process affords the opportunity for residents to be heard.
Residents have clearly spoken against the high-density proposal on the table now. As you can see in greater detail today in these images from the Plan Westbard web site, the plan as proposed would entirely change the character of the area from suburban to urban.
This first image is virtually identical to what one would find in an urban town center near a Metro station, such as Bethesda Row or Rockville Town Square. The current sight lines to the forested tree canopy around the borders of the commercial area are all blocked by buildings. These 80' buildings will also impose themselves over the single-family homes of the Springfield neighborhood behind the Westwood Shopping Center, the Westbard Avenue homes on the other side of Ridgefield, and over the existing Kenwood Place condominiums.
If you are familiar with the Chevy Chase area, you will notice this second image is almost identical to what you would see while driving south into Friendship Heights - yet there is no Metro station to be found in the Westbard area.
There are a handful of non-conforming high-rises from an earlier time in the Westbard Sector Plan area. However, these are no longer allowed under current zoning, and placed far apart, they do not create the canyon effect clearly visible in the images immediately above. But the new structures combined with the existing towers would create a definitively urban character, out of context with the geographic location and low-density neighborhoods around it.
With schools and roads already jammed, it is unclear how this part of Bethesda could possibly handle the 4972 new residents and 3758 new cars that would be generated by 1927 new units. If anything, River Road would lose capacity under the new plan, with narrower lanes and new traffic signals. There's no guarantee of approval of a new elementary school on the current Little Falls Library site, as it is not large enough under current MCPS standards. And that doesn't even begin to address overcrowding at Pyle MS and Whitman.
Just the idea of 4972 more people, and 3758 new automobiles along two one-block strips boggles the mind. All of them will have to travel out of the Westbard area in the morning, as there is no new office space proposed for them to "live where they work," and no Metro within walking distance. And the "smart growth" folks say this scheme will reduce automobile use?