Friday, September 25, 2015

The developers speak: Westbard Public Hearing Part III

Three developers currently prepared to redevelop their properties in the Westbard Sector testified at the public hearings on the Westbard Sector Plan Thursday. Representatives of Equity One and EYA, the two development firms currently proposing to redevelop 22 acres along Westbard Avenue, Ridgefield Road, and part of River Road, commented on the Westbard Sector Plan public hearing draft yesterday. The other significant player on Westbard Avenue, Capital Properties, also offered testimony through a development attorney.

Michael Berfield, Executive Vice-President of Development for Equity One, released the following statement following the two public hearings on Thursday evening:

“Equity One appreciates the opportunity to participate in these public hearings. We have been very pleased with the support that our plan has received from the community and believe that it is a reflection of the time and effort we put into finding out what the surrounding neighborhoods wanted to see on these properties. We look forward to continuing the public review process and are hopeful that the final result will allow us to deliver the vibrant mixed-use development envisioned.

“Our plan is the result of significant outreach to the community and also reflects Equity One’s own experience in developing first class shopping environments. We are gratified with the response we have seen at our community meetings to this plan and believe it will provide tremendous benefits to the surrounding neighborhoods. While we understand there are still concerns about other elements of the sector plan, we are confident that the redevelopment proposed for our sites addresses the concerns of the majority of the surrounding communities, and we look forward to being neighbors for a very long time.”

Earlier in the day, Aakash Thakkar, a Senior VP of Development with EYA, testified at the afternoon hearing. "This site is not downtown Bethesda," he acknowledged. "We recognize this is a location more neighborhood in nature." Thakkar said EYA is targeting its townhomes and other proposed residential buildings on the Equity One properties toward empty nesters, which would prevent "a significant impact on schools."

He said the company's Park Potomac and Little Falls Place projects in Montgomery County reflected that demographic, although neither of those developments were in the coveted Walt Whitman school cluster, which has been shown to generate students at a higher rate in multifamily housing.

Meanwhile, Capital Properties took a less diplomatic approach. The firm indicated that it plans to seek high-rises right next to the Westbard Mews and Westwood Mews townhomes, arguing that their non-conforming high-rise, Park Bethesda, somehow justifies it. But Park Bethesda could not be built today under current zoning. Mews residents who testified during the hearings said townhomes would be more appropriate adjacent to their own.

CP also made pretty clear that it intends to use the spectre of a connector road linking Crown Street to River Road to blackmail the Mews communities into accepting their plans. Otherwise, it was intimated, they will not allow that road to be shifted onto their private property further up Westbard Avenue.


Anonymous said...

An apropos article for today:

Anonymous said...

@ 6:34 PM - great article.

I love reminding these NIMBYs that their own homes were built by "greedy developers" on pristine woodland.

Robert Dyer said...

6:59: The difference is, there wasn't anything here but large plantations and farms. In this case, they're trying to drop a city onto an already fully built out neighborhood. There isn't much "pristine woodland" on tobacco plantations, by the way.

Anonymous said...

That's the way ALL cities develop, you dunce.

K Street used to be a "neighborhood" not that long ago.

Anonymous said...

"CP also made pretty clear that it intends to use the spectre of a connector road linking Crown Street to River Road to blackmail the Mews communities into accepting their plans."

Eeeek! A small connector road! Connecting to a big road! We are DOOMED!

Robert Dyer said...

9:32: It's not the road itself so much as whether it will be right next to the homes along Crown Street, or buffered inside of the Capital Properties development. It's Capital Properties' land, so the ball is in their court, putting them in the proverbial catbird seat.

Anonymous said...

"the ball is in their court, putting them in the proverbial catbird seat."

{rolls eyes}

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Aakash Thakkar of EYA for his comments. He is correct that Westbard is "neighborhood scale", not downtown Bethesda. He is also correct that a higher proportion of senior housing would reduce congestion concerns.

This project should be greeted enthusiastically by the community if proposed heights are reduced to 50 feet and the proposed green zones are preserved. The irony here is that Equity One's previous projects have often featured low-rise retail, and EYA has been a leader in sustainable, town home-scaled development (their new town homes on Little Falls Road are a case in point). These developers can do an excellent job in delivering a sustainable, walkable, neighborhood-scale project (heights in the 50 foot range).

The problem is that the planners and, to date, the developers have supported a project that is well beyond the scale appropriate for Westbard. Graphics issued by the Planning Department show building heights of up to 75 feet (Westbard Avenue), 80 feet (the back of the Giant site) and 100 feet (Kenwood). These heights are appropriate for Metro-served downtowns, not a neighborhood-focused commercial area in a settled, single-family zone.

There is a compromise position here. Lower heights (50 foot maximum) and density would permit developers to deliver projects that serve the community, embrace the planners' green vision and create market returns on invested capital. That is a win-win-win result.

--Leanne Tobias

Anonymous said...

Re 9.32:

My concern is that the "small connector road" and the proposed Westbard project generally will divert traffic to an already unsafe Massachusetts Avenue-- where a bicyclist was struck by a car and killed less than a month ago. In addition, the new Intelligence Campus on Sangamore Road will bring 3,000 new workers into the area, many of whom will use River Road, the proposed connector road, and Massachusetts Avenue for access. Add up to 5,000 new residents at Westbard (proposed rental capacity) and thousands of new shoppers, and you have a traffic and road safety nightmare. That's at least 10,000 people traversing a largely suburban area on the weekdays.

Summary: It's not only the "small connector road". It's bringing thousands of vehicles daily into a largely single-family area where the road system (even with the "small connector road") is insufficient to handle them. Also obvious: a good deal of overflow traffic will begin cutting through single-family neighborhoods, creating even more of a safety issue.