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enlarge for detail
Let's examine what's in the plan, what might change, and what points of contention there might be with the community:
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
|Looking at what is today Anglo Dutch and|
the parking lot with the ATM kiosk; here
it is New Village Park
|Townhomes behind Westbard Ave.|
retail; existing Kenwood Place
condos and parking lot at right
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.
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.
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
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
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