Monday, December 08, 2014

DOUGLAS DEVELOPMENT SEEKS EXTENSION FOR BETHESDA APARTMENT TOWER PROJECT

DC real estate powerhouse Douglas Development is asking the Montgomery County Planning Department for an extension of the 90-day review period for its mixed-use apartment project at 8008 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. The company's attorney says issues regarding right-of-way width and site design cannot be adequately resolved before the end of the current 90-day period.

In a letter to the department, Linowes and Blocher attorney Emily Vaias requested an extension of the review until the end of March 2015, so that the site issues can be adequately resolved. Planning staff is recommending the Planning Board approve the request.

8008 Wisconsin is currently planned to be 14 stories. The number of units has increased by 10 in the latest planning report, for a total of 140 apartments with up to 15% being MPDUs. That is more than the required 12.5% in Montgomery County. The number of square feet of non-residential use given in the latest staff report is now 75,222 SF. How much of that is for retail and restaurant space is not broken down. Given that the original retail/restaurant space was said to be only 4000 SF, I wonder if that 75,222 figure is accurate or includes more area than the retail space.

81 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe a typo at 7,500? I really hope they add more retail on the ground floor!!

Where did you find this out?

Anonymous said...

Dyer is lying scum - never believe his lies.

Anonymous said...

Dyer is perfectly OK with "concrete canyons" as long as they aren't in his neighborhood. NIMDY scum.

Woodmont said...

@7:42AM
You do know the difference between a downtown served by Metro and a suburban neighborhood that has no transit, right?

erol said...

To be fair, there are plenty of bit developments in areas without transit - Rio, Crown, etc.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I misspelled the abbreviation. Obviously it should have been "...NIDBY scum."

But I guess it's a good thing that the Purple Line won't go to Westbard. Bethesdans don't want their streets swarming with hillbillies from Westbard peddling moonshine and meth.

Anonymous said...

@6:20, development applications are publicly available. E.g. larger projects that make it onto the Planning Board's plate can be found here:
http://www.montgomeryplanningboard.org/meetings_archive/

Anonymous said...

9:01am: Actually, Crown Farm, Watkins Mill Town Center, etc. were planned with the promise that the CCT light rail (now BRT) would service those new communities.

There is no light rail or even BRT proposed for Westbard.

It's not smart growth to propose a new urban downtown with no real transit or office space.

Anonymous said...

Two things no resident has asked for, that we're gonna get anyway: a new Downtown Westbard and a new black box theater in downtown Bethesda.

Robert Dyer said...

7:42: Are you not aware that downtown Bethesda is an urban area? Concrete canyons are usually found in urban areas. Westbard is not an urban area. It is a residential community.

Anonymous said...

Bethesda has not been an "urban area" since time immemorial.

It started as a rural crossroads, then later became a suburban town, and then gradually became an urban area.

Yet you want to stop this natural evolution for Westbard, while you enjoy the fruits of Bethesda's urbanization, you selfish pig.

Robert Dyer said...

1:35: Replacement of suburban residential areas with urban sprawl doesn't sound like a "natural" evolution at all. It would be a Dr. Frankenstein-esque evolution forced by about 20 government officials in league with wealthy, out-of-state development firms. The only selfish people are those ramming a private profit benefit through at the expense of jammed roads, poor educational environment and reduced quality of life. Selfish indeed.

Anonymous said...

"Urban sprawl"

LOL... moron.

Anonymous said...

Since when did Westbard become this mythical Garden of Eden paradise that people are closing the gates to?
It seems like a boring suburban neighborhood that is family oriented. There are no bars or mass transit, and neither are part of the new plan.
What's the draw for young millenials?
I'd rather live in downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring.

Robert Dyer said...

4:39: That's right, urban sprawl - high-density growth away from Metro is the definition of sprawl.

Anonymous said...

If a Fortune 500 corporation relocated its headquarters to Westbard, would it be a good thing, or a bad thing?

Discuss...

Anonymous said...

If Dyer saw a Millennial walking on his street, he would probably call the police.

Steve D. said...

Hopefully there won't be much urban sprawl, but Westbard could probably benefit from a little sprucing up.

Wrol said...

Agreed! Westbard looks pretty shitty now.

Robert Dyer said...

10:38: While there would be some traffic issues, obviously, a Fortune 500 corporate HQ would make more sense than the current plan for 2 reasons. First, it would not add to school overcrowding and government services costs like the current plan proposal. Second, it would provide high-wage jobs which would allow employees to afford the expensive housing nearby. That would reduce some of the traffic impact.

The Westbard area was once home to the Marriott HQ, and a NIH office building (now the Park Bethesda). There also used to be office space on the lower floors of Westwood Tower. So the commercial area there historically was a job center. You would still have to limit building heights in a suburban area, but one of many weaknesses in the current plan is that it includes no office space. You can't have "smart growth" without high-wage jobs.

Robert Dyer said...

Steve, I agree. That's why I used the example of the new Osborne Shopping Center, which just opened in Upper Marlboro a couple of weeks ago. We've been told by Montgomery County that developers have to build high-density residential to get a return on investment. That's not true. The Osborne Shopping Center was replaced with the new Osborne Shopping Center - a new, modern strip mall with a sea of free, surface parking. They have a brand-new Safeway as the anchor tenant. The parking lot was packed. Residents are happy. The Osborne owner is happy.

3 successive owners of the Westwood Shopping Center declined to update or expand the property for decades. I don't think neglect gets rewarded with a Powerball payout for out-of-town developers. I don't agree with Wrol's harsh assessment, but I don't believe Stockholm Syndrome is a good planning tool. Just because planners and politicians dropped the ball for decades, residents shouldn't be victimized by high-density urban development, and overcrowded schools and roads.

Flynn said...

I live ok Westbard and agree it is an eyesore as it stands now!!!

Robert Dyer said...

Flynn, would you agree that updating shopping centers does not require adding urban density or getting rid of gas stations?

Anonymous said...

2:22 PM -

Because Westbard residents really want PG County as their role model.

Flynn said...

Sure. But let's think about why the developers are doing it. For money, right? Which indicates some degree of the market asking for it? I don't want more traffic and school crowding either, but let's think long term for a second. They wouldn't do it for no reason.

Tina said...

That's actually a really good question. So residents hate it which I get. But the developer wants to do it. What's their motive? They wouldn't do it unless they thought there was money in it. Meaning they think people will spend their money and use it. So that ultimately means people want it? Just not the vocal west bard residents? Not saying this is fact. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Why is Dyer trying to keep people who want to live and work in Westbard, out of Westbard?

Why is Dyer trying to keep landowners from using their property as they see fit?

Anonymous said...

8:03PM: There's a planning process. Guess what, you can't build whatever you want on your property. The Planning Board has to take a holistic view and examine impacts.

Anonymous said...

"Holistic view"?

What are you, some damned hippie?

Robert Dyer said...

Flynn, would you say a fair trade-off would be big profits for developers who don't live here, don't have to deal with the traffic and won't be sending their kids to our Whitman cluster schools --- in exchange for --- longer commuting times, more auto emissions, buildings looming over backyards, kids taking gym class in a hallway at Pyle MS, and not having a music room at Wood Acres ES - does this really sound fair to you?

Robert Dyer said...

Tina, the developer wants to do this, of course. But the current zoning does not permit it. Therefore there has to be a very good and substantive reason to allow the developer to go beyond the current limits. That reason, that would justify degrading school and road capacity, and quality of life for existing residents, has yet to be articulated by developers or planners. Where is the big payoff, beyond for the developer and the elected officials who get the developer checks?

Robert Dyer said...

5:44: What do you find wrong with Prince George's County?

Robert Dyer said...

8:03: 1. Do you believe that population in a given area should be allowed to outstrip school and road capacity there?

2. No one is going to "work" at Westbard under the scenario you favor. There is not a single square foot of office space proposed in the current plan. That means there will be no jobs nearby for the rich people who will be able to afford the new luxury apartments that would be built. Just more barista and jeans-folding jobs like the ones the County Council has created for the last decade.

3. You seem to be confused. The developers can file a sketch plan today for every single property on Westbard and Ridgefield, for buildings up to 45'. No one is stopping them. The problem is, they're asking for more than what's allowed. That's when nearby homeowners get involved.

Robert Dyer said...

9:18: Holistic is just the enlightened Bethesda way of saying the Planning Board and Council have to consider all of the interests, not just the developer's. The interest of the affected landowners nearby trump those of the developer when the developer is seeking more than the zoning currently allows.

Wrol said...

Are you referring to those donation checks you listed earlier? That small money is hardly big payoffs. So where is the motive? Since you already have claimed them guilty.

Wrol said...

So if BRT went to Westbard then you would be ok with decelopment there on par with these other developments?

Bob, thoughts?

Wrol said...

I agree with the black box theater - where the heck is that guy getting his info on demand? Or he just personally wants to do it?

Anonymous said...

The gas station thing - it's not up to the county or public. Whoever chooses to do business there it's up to them. You could always start one.

Steve said...

Robert, I am sure we don't know the financial situation anywhere close to just making wild guesses on profitability. So if the developer says they need height to make a profit, who are we to argue?

Anonymous said...

What do you think is wrong with PG County?

Wrol said...

1) #1 is going to happen no matter where you live as populations grow in dense urban areas such as the DC metropolitan area.

Anonymous said...

Land values in Upper Marlboro are not comparable to land values in Westbard. That's a bad example.

Robert Dyer said...

Steve, I think the best evidence they don't need height to profit is A) Equity One's own statement that the shopping center is profitable today, without changing anything, and B) the Osborne Shopping Center in Upper Marlboro, where they replaced a strip mall with a nicer, newer strip mall. So it's clearly possible to profit without urbanization.

Robert Dyer said...

5:46: Actually, the gas station issue is entirely up to the county, as the zoning for those stations determines whether they can be redeveloped as housing or not.

Robert Dyer said...

5:48 AM: I don't see anything wrong with Prince George's County. The only planning mistake they made was to demolish the Capital Centre, and give away the huge economic development boost the Bullets and Capitals would have been for them once the Metro station opened there. Other than that, Gorgeous Prince George's has been cleaning MoCo's clock in terms of planning over the last decade.

Robert Dyer said...

Wrol, it will only happen where elected officials abdicate their responsibilities, and kneel to developers. Rockville has a tighter APFO than the county, and we'd do well to follow their lead.

Robert Dyer said...

7:14: Each project is relative to its own market. The same logic holds. For example, the Westbard Giant is the most profitable store in the chain. Besides, Equity One said they would profit from this property even if they left it as is. Nothing's stopping them from staging construction of a new strip mall that would be profitable, as well. They could move the tenants over to the new building, then demolish the existing one and put a second strip center there.

Robert Dyer said...

Wrol, I don't believe BRT can be compared to Metro. There's also no room on River Road for it east of Ridgefield. Marc Elrich has assured me BRT will not allow urbanization of suburban areas like Aspen Hill or Democracy Boulevard. Is he right, or is my instinct that BRT is a Trojan horse for urbanization correct? You seem to be suggesting my suspicions are correct. Just keep in mind that Larry Cole said there wasn't going to be the ridership necessary, then later cooked the forecast when that displeased the developers.

Steve said...

Robert, I'm sure Equity One's calculations are better than ours.

Anonymous said...

So then compare Rio, Crown and those other developments that went in where there is no mass transit. Why no opposition there? The thee commentor used planned BRT as a reason it was ok.

Flynn said...

Sure they could. But it sounds like they don't want to do what you suggest.

Flynn said...

Ah I hope there is more retail! Is there a source link I can read to find more?

Robert Dyer said...

7:53: RIO is not like Crown in terms of residential density. Crown, King Farm, Watkins Mill "town center" and other developments were planned specifically around the Corridor Cities Transitway. I did oppose the level of density of some of those projects, by the way. Ultimately, the public was fooled, as the County Council pulled a bait and switch, replacing higher-ridership rail with 1960s bus.

Robert Dyer said...

Flynn, they may not want to do it. But what they do want to do is not permitted under the current zoning, and is opposed by "85-90%" of residents, according to one of the county planners. So the planning board and council have two options - scale back heights and density, or just do an unethical giveaway for the developer, and say, "the residents be darned!"

Anonymous said...

What if neighboring residents for want it but others that would use it do? Just curious what the rules say there. So say x residents don't want it and YX do.

Flynn said...

So now that those developments have been built despite your objections, are they successful? As indicators of West Bard development success perhaps?

Robert Dyer said...

5:33: Crown is not completed yet. King Farm was a bomb in terms of smart growth and economic development; much of the office space required to fulfill the "Live Work Play" boast is now being converted to residential. Watkins Mill has an empty space where the town center was supposed to be, as does Clarksburg. In terms of traffic, they've been a planning disaster, as I-270 commuters can attest.

I don't think jamming thousands more cars and people into the equivalent of 2 city blocks at Westbard could be deemed a success, unless your sole measurement is developer profit. There's a lot more to successful planning than private profit.

Robert Dyer said...

5:29 I'm not sure what your question is - do you mean what if nearby residents don't want it, but further-away county residents do? Equity One's Michael Berfield has promised the new retail and restaurants won't be ones that are regional draws, so theoretically, further away residents aren't going to want it. But, obviously, the adjacent neighborhood's opinion takes precedence over outsider opinions. We're not talking about a critical highway, hospital or fire station for the public good here. Just luxury apartments and chain retail shops for private profit.

Anonymous said...

I am further away and I want it. That's not no one.

Anonymous said...

So all those places in your opinion should not have been built?

Anonymous said...

So that sounds like the county needs to step up and incentivize gas stations....

Robert Dyer said...

8:21: Why would you want Westbard to be urbanized as sprawl overdevelopment?

Robert Dillon said...

It's pro business. Adds jobs. More tax base. Nicer area since it's so ugly now. If they do get to go higher that means they will have to provide concessions to improve other things in the area. More density in a fair location. Just some thoughts off the top of my head.

Granted I agree they have to make sure the schools can handle it, etc. What's the analysis on tax base growth paying for the new students? Among other things more taxes will pay for.

Also have they said what they would pay into to help the school situation?

Robert Dyer said...

Robert, I have not heard of any payment beyond what is required. I don't think the jobs argument applies to this proposal, as it contains no new office space for high-wage jobs. There will actually be a net drain of income taxes in Westbard, as all of the new jobs will be baristas or folding jeans. We would actually lose a great number of higher-paying skilled labor positions such as auto mechanics and tradesmen who work there now.

Alas, the theory of the new tax base covering services, schools and infrastructure has been utterly debunked in Montgomery County. The county has added housing units at up to an 800% increase in some parts of the county over the last decade. Yet we are running a structural budget deficit as far into the future as can be projected! It turns out the new taxes are outstripped by new costs for public services and infrastructure to support the new development.

I think Mr. Starr might have some interesting stories for you about the MCPS budget problems, years after explosive growth of housing and "growing our tax base."

As far as improving the area, all that's on the table for now is daylighting Willett Branch, a good idea, but uncertain to happen and hardly worth the downsides of urbanization and losing necessary services residents count on. I don't see the concrete canyons as an improvement over what is basically a commercial shopping and services area - I don't think residents are asking for Rodeo Drive when just wanting to fill the gas tank or get a hamburger at McDonald's.

That far from Metro, I don't think higher density makes sense.

Jamie Dyer said...

Yes please. Source link please! Thanks Robert. Love this kind of news.

Robert Dyer said...

8:22: I would not have approved them at that level of density. Development beyond downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring should be single-family homes and garden apartments. Much better for the environment, and the lower density curbs effect on roads and schools.

Wrol said...

So what happens when our population outstrips your suggested density levels? As Bethesda now outpaces precious levels for example. Do we change? Or only allow Bethesda and silver spring to add density per your suggestion?

Robert Dyer said...

Wrol, I think we do have to change, and come to grips that infinite development is not sustainable. We have two edge city urban districts in downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring. There is plenty of "old" property to be redeveloped there. But we are under no obligation to provide unlimited housing at the expense of quality of life for current residents, for that Rollin Stanley mythical idea that "They're coming." They're only coming if the luxury apartments are built to house them, and we're not under obligation to provide that. Arlington County is having a similar difficulty in admitting it is basically fully developed. They, like MoCo, are now trying to throw poor people out in the street to make room for Rich White People.

Betty Anne said...

Where can we see the letter?

Frank said...

Is there a source link we can see the letter?

Simone said...

Anywhere or way the public can get involved in the review process past the first public meeting they had a while back?

Any link to the letter? Thanks Robert.

Anonymous said...

"I would not have approved them at that level of density. Development beyond downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring should be single-family homes and garden apartments. Much better for the environment, and the lower density curbs effect on roads and schools."

You cannot be seriously saying that single-family homes are better for the environment than high-density development?!?! This is one of your most baseless claims.

To house 100 families in single-family homes, you would consume far greater amount of land than would a 150-unit high-rise apartment. All the infrastructure: sewers, electricity and streets would use many more resources than a single high-rise building. Emergency services would have to travel much longer distances to reach every home than to reach one single high-rise structure.

Robert Dyer said...

7:33: Single-family homes absolutely are better for the environment than apartment towers. They have natural green space and heavy tree canopies on all sides. That provides cleaner air, and less stormwater run-off. Suburban neighborhoods also generate less heat into the air to exacerbate the greenhouse effect than urban areas. Thermal maps from satellites clearly demonstrate that urban areas are heat islands.

The biggest sustainability benefit of single-family homes is that their low-density naturally limits the total population who can inhabit a particular area. That reduces exhaust emissions from idling vehicles caught in traffic. So single-family homes and garden apartments are clearly the wisest planning decision outside of downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring.

G. Money said...

Dyer, that is some truly absurd reasoning. Here's why:

Single family homes (SFH) house a single family (or maybe a few roommates if it's a rental). Apartment towers may have hundreds of units. Granted, not every unit will have a full family living in it, but you'd probably need on the order of 100 SFHs to house that many people. The typical apartment tower probably takes up no more than 10 SFH-sized lots. That leaves you with 90 extra lots with structures on them. If you build an apartment tower, you could completely devote all 90 of those lots to green space. Now, you could choose not to use those lots for green space, in which case you might lose the environmental benefits, but that doesn't make the apartment tower worse itself worse for the environment.

Regarding heat islands, that is an area of concern, although the effects on the greenhouse effect are indirect. More importantly, there are known mitigation techniques that can and should be used in any new development (especially in an area like Westbard that can clearly afford it).

Regarding emissions from traffic, building low-density housing just pushes the population further out, which is why we have people commuting to DC from WV and Frederick. Those people driving back and forth generate WAY more emissions that someone living in Westbard. So by increasing density close to the city, you may increase emissions locally due to an increase of local traffic, but you will definitely ease overall emissions by creating more options for people to live closer to the city.

Don't get me wrong, I have no skin in the game as far as the Westbard plan goes, other than that I'd prefer the bowling alley to stick around. But you need better arguments than the ones you've presented, because they are (mostly) simply wrong.

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money, first of all, I'm suggesting that we would be reducing the total number of people being added to the county population by favoring single-family homes and garden apartments outside of our two edge city downtowns. Second, there will be no green space at all around the buildings under the current proposal. Just a postage stamp "town square," and a thin linear park along the Willett Branch (which may never be built at all). Where's the park that was promised 30 years ago, and ended up as houses instead?

If the thousands of new cars the plan proposes to bring to Westbard are stuck in traffic, and the existing commuter traffic is slowed even further by them, that means much more auto emissions, not less. Emissions from cars idling in traffic jams (different from regular emissions during uncongested road driving) have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of Americans each year. So the current plan will not help air quality or public health at all.

Then you add in the folks you're referring to who are coming from farther away, and the idling emissions picture gets even worse.

There is no Metro station at Westbard, so planning urban development there is not smart growth. It is sprawl.

My arguments are based on the proposed plan details, scientific data on emissions, thermal imaging that proves cities generate more heat than suburbs, the lack of Metro service at Westbard, and common sense - dropping thousands of people and cars into the equivalent of 2 city blocks is a pretty horrific piece of planning.

G. Money said...

You said, "Single-family homes absolutely are better for the environment than apartment towers." You didn't cite specific plans, you made it sound like a generic principle. Either way, the proposed plan may not contain significant green space, but who's to say that concessions to include more green space couldn't be forced in order to get the deal through?

Likewise, your arguments about increased traffic rely on a large number of assumptions. Why can't increased Westbard development be contingent upon concurrent improvements to public transportation? One of the objections I saw previously was that the busses along River don't run frequently enough. Well, how about increasing that frequency? There are other options for transportation besides Metro and cars.

And again, the whole point of increased density closer to the city is that people won't have to drive in from farther away. Those people don't have any public transit options. And while idling emissions are different than driving emissions, you'll have to produce some actual numerical analysis if you want to convince me that the proposed Westbard development will actually increase emissions.

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money, I think if you just compare the tree canopy and green lawn space in the neighborhoods around Westbard to those in downtown Bethesda, the factual difference becomes immediately apparent. The developers can certainly offer more green space, given that they've apparently included essentially none at this point.

I would say the difference in bus service connections to Metro vs. being walking distance to Metro is substantial. That has been one of the tenets of so-called "smart growth," and I have to admit I'm somewhat entertained by this awkward backtracking by some "smart growth advocates" on this holy writ. TOD is out the window?

Increased traffic + more traffic signals on River Road + no projects proposed to increase capacity on River Road + 90% of residents driving to work + having to now drive to Gaithersburg for auto services = more auto emissions. That's an actual increase.

Let's stick to urban growth in urban areas, so we don't have kids taking gym class in the hallway at Pyle (which they are doing *now* before even adding the additional units you're advocating for) to subsidize the profits of out-of-town developers.

Anonymous said...

Robert, you make completely false claims. You have to look at greeenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis not the aggregate number. Obviously urban area emit more greenhouse gases than sprawling suburbs on the aggregate, but you must look at per capita emission. Each person emits much less greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas than does each person in sprawling suburbs. That's a fact.

Robert Dyer said...

6:15: Not if they're stuck in traffic. There is also very little offset of pollution by mature trees in urban areas.

G. Money said...

Dyer, you are making unsubstantiated assumptions about the increase in traffic and congestion. Obviously it is possible that these will increase, but the question is by how much? For example, you estimated (rather wildly) a number for how many new cars would be added as a result of this development. But how much of an increase is that in percentage?

You've also claimed that 90% of residents would drive to work. Do you have anything to substantiate that number? You seem to be basing this on an idea that people can't get to/from Westbard without a car. That is patently false. The CCT is heavily used as a route for both walking and biking between Westbard and Bethesda. Friendship Heights is actually closer than Bethesda, although less convenient - but certainly an option and and obvious target for increased bus transit options if development occurs.

It should also be noted that Bethesda's metro station is overtaxed and literally falling apart right now, and both Bethesda and Silver Spring are already rapidly developing, so it's not like people are trying to argue for developing Westbard instead of those locations.

And, again, I'm not even saying Westbard needs to be developed. Notice I've not gone after your claims re: Whitman. I'm just saying that you can't cherry pick potential problems, or rather you can but you'll get blasted for it by people who understand the facts.

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money, everything I've said is backed up by solid data. The 3758 cars estimate is based on the latest U.S. Census data. As you know, since those latest numbers were depressed by the recession and high gas prices, they are very conservative, lowball estimates. I'm being extremely fair by using those low numbers, to say the least. Imagine what the actual number might be with cheaper gas and a better economy.

Again, for transit use, there was a survey done of residents only within about a mile of Westbard a few years ago which found that 91% of respondents commute by car in the morning and evening. Some of those might park at a Metro station, but their first leg is by car for 91% of residents.

That can be backed up anecdotally by simply monitoring the bus stops on Westbard and Ridgefield - very few people are there, and even fewer are residents. Anecdotally, I personally have noticed a slightly higher number of residents near Massachusetts Avenue seem to use buses. Not sure why that is, but perhaps going into American University as workers or students?

There's no doubt the CCT is there, but the survey was taken while it was there, and tells us that those of the income level who can afford housing in that area overwhelmingly use automobiles. They often are younger professionals with children, and have multiple school and errand trips to run besides their commute before and after work.

The height and density of the Westbard plan need to factor in those trends, as well as the extreme demand for schools in the Whitman cluster.