Wednesday, February 04, 2015

EQUITY ONE UNVEILS WESTBARD REDEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL (PHOTOS)

Equity One is showing the first images of its plans for properties it owns in the Westbard Sector of Bethesda, and previewed them at a media event on Wednesday. This was a somewhat unusual move, to reveal the renderings for reporters instead of at a large community meeting, or pre-submittal public meeting. The firm's Executive VP of Development, Michael Berfield, said he doesn't anticipate having a large meeting like those held last year again, saying that "at some point they become counterproductive." Instead, Berfield said, he is meeting with small groups, such as the Kenwood and Springfield Civic Associations.
Click on any photo to
enlarge for detail
The properties in question include the Westwood Shopping Center, Westwood Center II, Manor Care Springhouse nursing home, 2 Citgo gas stations, Westwood Tower apartments, and Bowlmor Lanes. All but Westwood Tower are shown as being demolished in the renderings. The early draft has specific heights and unit numbers, but those could change depending upon what ends up in the new Westbard Sector Plan, currently being rewritten by the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Let's examine what's in the plan, what might change, and what points of contention there might be with the community:

WHAT'S IN THE PLAN

The heights of the proposed new buildings will range from 50-75', and will total 500-700 new housing units along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road. Most of those will be condos, Berfield said. On the site of the current Westwood Shopping Center, virtually all parking is planned to be in an underground garage. That garage will offer 1100-1200 parking spaces, compared to the 1000 spaces there today. It is unclear if those numbers differentiate between spaces reserved for residents and spaces for retail customers.
Grocery store building on
left, Village Square across
from it
Three 50' retail buildings will front onto Westbard Avenue at the shopping center site, and the middle one will include a "village square" public space at the lower left corner. Behind those will be the townhomes, which are said to be 50', but appear to be as many as four-five stories including roof decks. The retail building nearest Westland Middle School is expected to house the grocery store. Giant is currently the anchor of the shopping center, but Berfield says that many grocery chains have expressed interest in locating there. Loading docks will now be hidden within the new buildings.
Looking at what is today Anglo Dutch and
the parking lot with the ATM kiosk; here
it is New Village Park
The proposal includes more green space than the Westbard Concept Framework Plan presented by county planners last November, with several small parks. These include Triangle Park, which would be across from today's Citgo II and driveway to self-storage, to the left of the proposed grocery store building; the aforementioned Village Square; Green Plaza across the street from the shopping center; and New Village Park, on the portion of today's parking lot where the ATM kiosk is, behind the newer houses at the corner of Ridgefield and Westbard.
Townhomes behind Westbard Ave.
retail; existing Kenwood Place
condos and parking lot at right
A potential library and/or community space is blocked off in the retail building approximately where Anglo Dutch Pools & Toys is located now. Berfield said Equity One remains open to including a new Little Falls Library on their site, but isn't sure that a majority of residents are clamoring for the existing library to be replaced at this point. He said a "library done well...could really serve a lot of different purposes" as a community center. A fountain circle along "The Drive," the street planned to run between the streetside retail and the townhomes, is one of several interior streets and intersections that could be closed to traffic for festivals, food truck rallies and other public gatherings as needed, Berfield said.

Under this draft plan, Westbard Avenue would remain 4 lanes, but curb lanes would have street parking outside of the morning and evening rush hour periods. The new configuration where it meets Ridgefield is designed to both discourage cut-through traffic into the Springfield neighborhood and allow for a larger New Village Park.

One major concern has been the future of the small businesses in the existing retail spaces on Westbard, such as Anglo-Dutch, Westwood Barber Shop, and Westwood Pet Center. Berfield said he doesn't anticipate major rent increases for those independent businesses in the new center. The biggest challenge for them, he predicted, will be the construction process, and relocating them in spots where they can be successful.

Berfield said the project is designed to complement the existing community around it, rather than create a new community. He said Equity One is not going to flip its Westbard properties, but plans to remain in the community for at least 30-40 years. Asked by a reporter if "the New Westwood" was the official branding for the new development, Berfield replied, "We're trying to stay away from a name" at this point.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE

The heights and density as designated now could easily change, either by more height being granted in the eventual Westbard Sector Plan, or by a requirement for more affordable housing. If the percentage required was higher than the standard 12.5% required by the county, Berfield said the density would have to increase. The grocery store building spot was designated as 80' height by planners last November; Berfield said they are sticking to 50' there for now.

I asked if Bowlmor Lanes could return in the new development. "Bowlmor is a great tenant," he said, and did not entirely rule out having the bowling alley/nightspot remain one in the future.

Berfield also said rooftop restaurant spaces weren't out of the question on Westbard Avenue.

POINTS OF CONTENTION

I think Equity One did respond to some of the concerns raised by the community last fall, specifically in terms of public space, and building heights on the Westwood Shopping Center side of the street. The grocery store building looks a bit higher than the others, though, and the townhomes seem a bit too high, as well. It's a positive that there are more parks than the single Village Green proposed by county planners. That being said, there are no large-scale green spaces appearing in any Westbard Sector proposal so far. While that can't and shouldn't be Equity One's burden to solve alone, I think planners have to determine where such spaces will be, if not along Westbard Avenue, in the plan rewrite.

Where could things be improved in this plan? First, I think having virtually no surface parking is going to displease a lot of people. That is a major change from today's setup. Very few people enjoy driving into a dungeon to park when going to the grocery store or to pick up the dry cleaning. It seems like going to the store to grab a box of milk is going to be much more of an ordeal than it is today, having to navigate narrow streets, jaywalkers and garages.
Unless you own a helicopter, this
is not the view you will have
navigating Westbard Avenue
Second, some of the images are a bit deceptive. The aerial view makes green roofs look like vast green spaces in the development. They are not. The low-flying helicopter view does not accurately reflect the concrete canyon effect that will be created on Westbard at street level. That particularly will be the case as you pass the buildings where the Westwood Tower parking lot and Bowlmor are today. Combined with the Bethesda Row-style design, this is a major change in character for the area.

I also think that the residential buildings along Ridgefield may be too high, particularly the one on the nursing home side. It would seem that garden apartments or houses might be more compatible with the single-family homes next to that site. Right now it seems too urban in character for the entrance to a suburban community. The one on the nursing home site would also loom over Kenwood. Again, 75' is just too high for this location, in my opinion.

The community was very clear about 45' being enough at the charrette in November. Not one single resident got up to speak in favor of the plan, and 250 people attended the meeting. So 75-80' should not be on the table at this point. I would also like to have more details on the proposed buildings across Westbard and along Ridgefield.

Right now, there is no gas station shown for Westbard Avenue. I think the Citgo stations have to be seen as a major amenity for residents, for both gas and quick repairs, like getting a tire leak plugged.  If this is to be a Main Street, every real Main Street in America has at least one gas station. I personally haven't heard anyone complain about having a neighborhood service station. One of these should be kept.

Before any of these individual buildings can be approved, the County is going to have come up with a cap on how many units can be sustained by roads and schools in the Westbard area. If Equity One gets 500-700, how many does that leave for other developers such as Capital Properties or landowners down on River Road? That number needs to be known. The planners cited a potential 1927 units at total buildout of the entire Sector Plan area in November.

Most noticeable, is the cookie-cutter nature of the designs. Yes, that rounded-corner grocery store building has appeared again. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt if these are just placeholder designs for the eventual architecture. But I can't tell right now if I'm on Westbard, at Bethesda Row (minus the arch and Bethesda Lane), University Mall, Crocker Park or any number of other outdoor town centers. I'd like there to be some design elements that leave no question that I'm on Westbard Avenue, a distinctive community.

Ultimately, the school issue will have to be addressed, as well. This plan does not include a school site, and the Little Falls Library site is too small for an elementary school under MCPS standards. The idea of elementary school students sharing facilities with a large middle school doesn't sound very realistic, and certainly not ideal. We also have yet to hear of any ideas from the State Highway Administration for how they will increase capacity on River Road to handle all of the new residents commuting into DC in the morning.

I do think the greater detail provided by Equity One will assist in getting a sense of what the greater sector plan should consist of, as opposed to the colored squares on a map that have been used during the Sector Plan process.

All images courtesy S9 Architecture/Perkins Eastman
All rights reserved

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

"which are said to be 50', but appear to be as many as four-five stories including roof decks. "

What's with the "but"? The math adds up.

I'm impressed Dyer seemed to not infuse any bat-shit crazy into this post. Good job. Granted, it was so verbose I only skimmed most of it, so maybe I missed the crazy.

Anonymous said...

4-5 stories along the street equals "concrete canyon"? Seriously?

Anonymous said...

Big concern to Kenwood Place residents is parking - we love our open parking and don't want to lose it. Looks like gates are inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry Hogan solved the school overcrowding issues in the state of the state. Charter schools can take residence in any empty industrial or retail to provide school choice for the Whitman cluster.

Anonymous said...

5:44am what's the reaction overall from KP owners? Does this help or hurt condo values? KP is unique in that the units are huge compared to modern condos.

Anonymous said...

Is Whitman really that much better than say Richard Montgomery for example?

RM is highly rated as well and one can buy a good house in Twinbrook for a fraction of what a Westbard EYA townhouse is gonna cost.

Anonymous said...

Today's contest:

Find a more appropriate term to describe a row of 4-5 buildings, given that "concrete canyon" is such an extreme exaggeration.

My entry: "Brick-facade glen".

Or, the developer could design facades comprised entirely of fake logs. That could be a "log cabin holler".

Anonymous said...

How tall is Betheada Row? 4 stories? More in Bethesda Lane with a slight setback with the first tier of roof decks? Seems about the same and quite cozy still. And obviously do quite well.

Anonymous said...

Umm 4-5 stories is a "concrete canyon???" I guess if someone moved here from Nebraska, they might think so. Buildings in the Bethesda and Friendship Heights CBD range from 150-250 ft. I would say 50-75 ft is a serious step down from that height, and creates an appropriate "neighborhood" scale. Not to mention a couple 150-200 ft. buildings already exist on Westbard and River Road.

I personally prefer garages to surface lots. It's just an inherently more efficient way of supplying parking--significantly more spaces on the same amount of land. It's usually a shorter walk to the store entrance from your space even on a busy day.

The Whole Foods down the street in Friendship Heights has a great parking garage. I always find a space within about 50 ft of the door.

"townhomes, which are said to be 50', but appear to be as many as four-five stories including roof decks."

50' = "four-five stories"

In any case, thanks for posting an article that was fairly balanced, and a relatively reasonable read.

Flynn said...

Oh man that whole foods friendship heights garage is a thing of beauty. Super wide lanes and parking spaces. Always empty, although I'm sure the shops wish it were filled more with people coming to their stores. So many places validate there too.

Anonymous said...

On the Equity One site: 50' heights along are acceptable to me as a long-time, neighborhood resident. 75'-80' heights are not.

75'-80' heights would overwhelm the area and are incompatible with the nearby single-family development.

As to the other aspects of Equity One's plan:
--Would appreciate retention of a gas station. It is a true neighborhood amenity.
--Green space as proposed is appreciated-- but not if it requires 75'-80' heights.
--Architecture in the renderings appears pedestrian.

Schools and congestion remain a concern.

Robert Dyer said...

5:36: Yes, it's urban in character, which is not appropriate for a suburban neighborhood. Right now you can actually see a good distance from many points on Westbard Avenue. Not so with this walled-in canyon design. There are 50' canyons in the Old West, by the way. But at least they aren't man-made.

Robert Dyer said...

7:54: I certainly accept that there are some people who prefer garages. They're certainly great when the weather is bad, and you have several grocery bags to get out to the car. But for convenience purposes, I walk much farther from my parking space in the garage at Target than I do to enter the Giant at Bethesda Row or Westbard. The whole process takes longer. Remember, you're going to have to navigate a Bethesda Avenue situation to get into this garage - jaywalkers darting out from behind parked cars, people crawling around trying to get street parking, people trying to pick somebody up at the curb because parking is inconvenient, etc. That's not the case there today, so it would be a step backward, in my opinion.

The townhomes pictured could well be 50'. Maybe it is an illusion from the rendering that they appear taller. They are also at a higher grade.

Robert Dyer said...

6:58: True, but that is in an urban district near Metro. The closer comparison I'm making is with the parts of Bethesda Row that aren't in the Upstairs apartments/Bethesda Lane area for the Westwood Shopping Center-area renderings.

Having said that, the buildings across Westbard - of which little was shown so far - appear to be at least as tall as Upstairs, which is definitely inappropriate for this suburban residential location at Westbard. Remember, the existing Westbard high-rises are non-conforming properties under the new zoning.

Robert Dyer said...

6:23: "Concrete gardens."

Robert Dyer said...

12:17: Well said; good points all around.

Anonymous said...

The 500 to 700 new housing units will lead to gridlock worse than downtown Bethesda.Plus, those three pedestrian crossings on Westbard opposite the Westwood shopping center are an accident waiting to happen. Unless the county adds traffic lights, pedestrian injuries and car accidents are likely. With all this traffic slowing, Westbard will become a bottleneck for commuters and trucks.

Robert Dyer said...

3:00: True. Also, I'm wondering, does Westbard actually look wider in this rendering? Meaning that it will take longer to cross? The median shown would provide a pedestrian refuge that isn't there today, though. I know a lot has been said about it being difficult to cross Rockville Pike in White Flint, but I've never had a problem. Then the "solution" involves adding medians and two BRT lanes, thereby making the crossing more difficult, not less.

Hopefully the new alignment of Ridgefield is going to address the truck turning ratio requirements, speaking of trucks.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the buildings planned for Ridgefield Rd are indeed too high and may I point out that it is a *very* bad idea to have, as it appears on the drawings of the buildings that will replace Manor Care, only one vehicle exit from those condominiums and that directly onto Westbard Ave. Yes, cut-through traffic from River Rd. to Mass. Ave. will probably be reduced by the realignment of the Westbard/Ridgefield intersection, but it will in some part be replaced by all the traffic generated from those new condominiums. Those cars will almost certainly all exit onto Westbard and immediately turn left into the new Westbard/Ridgefield intersection. This could all be avoided by having another entry/exit from those condos directly onto River Rd.

And while I am at it, I also feel that any on-street parking along Westbard Ave. south of the Westbard/Ridgefield intersection is another really poor idea. People will double park waiting for someone to pull out so they can get that space. Further exacerbating traffic flow is the fact that so many people are *so* poor at parallel parking that they will hold up traffic while they back up/go forward/backup until they finally get into the spot. That area should be a 100%, 24/7 no-parking zone. Period.

Anonymous said...

This will be great for the Little Falls shopping center on Sangamore---we'll all go there!

Robert Dyer said...

7:52: I've actually had another resident tell me today that they will do that, as well. They shouldn't underestimate people's preference for surface parking, especially in the suburbs.

Robert Dyer said...

6:44: There are definitely several traffic circulation issues in the plan that will have to be worked out during the process.

Anonymous said...

"Right now you can actually see a good distance from many points on Westbard Avenue. Not so with this walled-in canyon design."

Oh, those fabulous vistas of Westbard's car repair shops that will be utterly destroyed by 4-story buildings.

"[T]he buildings across Westbard...appear to be at least as tall as Upstairs, definitely inappropriate for this suburban residential location at Westbard."

Except that Upstairs is just one block away from the "suburban residential location at Edgemoor", which is actually closer than these proposed buildings would be to the single-family-home areas of Westbard.

"[A] Bethesda Avenue situation...jaywalkers darting out from behind parked cars, people crawling around trying to get street parking"

This is exactly what you encounter in a surface parking lot, except that the pedestrians aren't labeled "jaywalkers" in that situation.

"[D]oes Westbard actually look wider in this rendering? Meaning that it will take longer to cross?"

LOL, looks like you've got all your bases covered.

Anonymous said...

@ 4:34 AM

Beat me to it. I was going to make the same comment about pedestrians in parking lots. Not to mention runaway shopping carts.

Robert Dyer said...

4:34: Nope. The vistas are of trees in Kenwood, Somerset, Green Acres and the Westland/Little Falls Library site. And, most significantly, of Little Falls Stream Valley Park (although that's a little bit smaller than it was before your folks on the County Council sold part of it for private profit). #Oops

Actually, the single-family homes are yards away from this project on Westbard and Ridgefield, not blocks. Some houses border the shopping center and the nursing home. You're obviously not familiar with the area. If you'd done your homework, you would know that.

Yes, I do have all my bases covered.

Robert Dyer said...

6:40: And there are no pedestrians and shopping carts in garages? As it stands now, you can take the road parallel to the Kenwood Place Westbard Circle if you want to avoid pedestrians. You can get around much faster now than you can on Bethesda Avenue.

Anonymous said...

"if you want to avoid pedestrians"

Are you the type of person that honks at pedestrians who are legally crossing a crosswalk while you're trying to make a right turn on a red light?

Anonymous said...

If Westbard Avenue is widened, and as a result, pedestrians take longer to cross it, does that mean that Dyer will have to honk longer when he is making a right-turn-on-red onto Westbard and he encounters one of the residents of the nursing home in a wheelchair in the crosswalk?

Anonymous said...

"Actually, the single-family homes are yards away from this project on Westbard and Ridgefield, not blocks. Some houses border the shopping center and the nursing home. You're obviously not familiar with the area. If you'd done your homework, you would know that."

And other homes border the 17-story Kenwood Condominium, the 16-story HOC apartments, and the 10-story Park Bethesda.

And the nursing home itself, as well as the commercial building right across the street are both three stories, so by Dyer's definition Ridgefield Street is already a "concrete canyon".

You'd think that Dyer would actually know his own neighborhod.

Robert Dyer said...

2:32: If you did your homework, you would know there are no residents in the nursing home - it closed two months ago.

Robert Dyer said...

2:56: Great job making a fool of yourself. No homes border on The Kenwood or Westwood Tower. No single-family homes are adjacent to Park Bethesda. All 3 buildings are non-conforming high-rises - you couldn't build any of them today.

The buildings planned for the nursing home and Westwood Center II sites are 75', not 3 stories.

You'd think that you would be smart enough not to challenge a lifelong resident with completely fake information.

Anonymous said...

"Non-conforming", therefore they don't exist. LOL

Also, you need more on your resume than just "lifelong resident".

And admit it, you'd honk at nursing home residents if they got in your way while making a right-turn-on-red.

ADKINS said...

As a life-long resident of Greenacres and living directly on River Road I am very concerned about the increased TRAFFIC this is going to create heading into DC. My parents have already sacrificed part of their front lawn for the previous expansion of River Road 50+/ years ago. I think a fair estimate of 600 new units would mean at least 600 more cars on our roads. Are you kidding me??? How is this plan going to benefit anyone when you can't go from point A to point B? The cranes, flatbeds, and dump trucks will be parked in the travel lanes all day everyday for years, just like Bethesda! Has anyone involved in this plan ever spent even 1 day in this community?

Robert Dyer said...

5:29: Bordellos exist, but that doesn't make adding new ones legal. "LOL" "LOL"
Lifelong resident trumps carpetbagger any day of the week.

I've never honked at the (now-vacant) nursing home's residents. I think you're projecting your behavior onto others.

Anonymous said...

A building that is higher than the existing code permits for newer buildings is the equivalent of a bordello? That's an odd analogy. You're either implying that those three buildings are literally illegal but no one has gotten around to tearing them down, or that there are bordellos around here from decades ago that have been legally "grandfathered". Or possibly both. Who knows. Your mind works in strange ways.

Anonymous said...

I think the garage at the Bethesda Row Giant is a good example of a garage done right. Since it's directly under the store, it's a short walk up to the store. Hopefully they do similar at Westbard.

Robert Dyer said...

6:46: Neither. The buildings are grandfathered, but could not be built today.

In Montgomery County, the MoCo political machine considers anyone with basic common sense to be strange. The guy with all the fake facts, false info and no knowledge of the Westbard area, and who thinks the low-density suburbs nowhere near Metro should be urbanized, telling me *I'm* strange. "ROFL"

Anonymous said...

ok, so now I will start going to Sangamore Safeway. I HATE parking garages, especially for grocery shopping

ADKINS said...

Oh, I see, the transportation problem will be solved with shuttle buses to the local metro stops. This is the new "Urban " form of Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. Brilliant!