What new details did we learn last night?
- Equity One's traffic studies will be released in the next month
- The Preliminary Plan will be submitted before the end of the year; a public hearing should be scheduled 6 months later; the project's Sketch Plan hasn't been approved yet, and is scheduled for a February 2 review by the Montgomery County Planning Board
- The demolition of Bowlmor Lanes could be over ten years away, Brown said, unless Regency Centers and Bowlmor agree on a relocation within another new building prior to the expiration of Bowlmor's lease in 2028
- In contrast, the demolition of Manor Care and Westwood Center II - and possibly the Citgo closest to them - has been moved up. They will now be destroyed and redeveloped in the first phase of development, which is expected to begin in 2018 if Montgomery County approvals and legal issues go the developer's way
- Brown expressed little concern over the lawsuit filed by a group of residents in September, predicting it "will run its course through the court system." A resident who spoke in opposition to the development, on the other hand, told the crowd the lawsuit is the only way to reduce the size of the proposed development
- Equity One has agreed to realign Westbard Avenue, to connect directly with River Road. This was a concession heavily lobbied for by the Springfield Civic Association, to reduce cut-through traffic in Springfield. It does not appear there will be a signal at the new Ridgefield-Westbard intersection, which could pose a safety issue for Springfield residents trying to get to River Road across 4 lanes of two-way traffic. There will be new signals on Westbard at two intersections with roads into the shopping center
- Power lines will not be moved underground as it stands now, Brown said
- Underground parking garage ramps have been realigned to create an additional 1/2 acre of green space at the shopping center site. Residents who were underwhelmed by the total amount of green space currently proposed groaned at that, with one saying, "Oh, jeez." "Thank you," Brown replied
- Each building on the Westwood Shopping Center site will have a loading facility. The Giant store's will be under the building, but above-ground, Brown said. He added that hours of deliveries will have to be worked out with partner EYA, which is building townhomes close to 2 of the loading dock areas. But it's unclear how Giant could stop its around-the-clock deliveries at its most-profitable store
- Specific land dedication for the Willett Branch greenway park - where it abuts Regency Centers property - will not be mapped out until the Site Plan stage, Brown said
- An underground stormwater facility beneath the Manor Care site will be "relocated," Brown said, and the western-most parking lot facing River Road there will be turned into green space next to the 34 townhomes EYA will build on that site
- There's unlikely to be access to the Willett Branch from the Bowlmor site, due to the 45' slope between them, Brown said
- Affordable housing units (MPDUs) will be integrated into each phase of the development
- Parking will be 10% above the minimum required, Brown said. 1-and-2-bedroom apartments will be allotted 1 space; 3-bedrooms will get 2 spaces. Townhomes will have 2 spaces in a garage underneath each home. There will be 1100 customer parking spaces beneath the new Westwood Shopping Center. "That equates to a lot of cars, obviously," Brown said in a moment of candor
- Asked if the new buildings would extend into the Willett Branch stream buffer, Brown replied, "We're still working through that. It's not finalized. The sector plan allowed for modifications of the buffer"
- "We're not anticipating charging for parking at this time," Brown said of retail parking
- Smaller businesses will be located on the ground floor; larger ones will be on second floors
- Brown said rear decks, including one with a pool, have been planned for buildings that back up to the Willett Branch, to take advantage of the expected stream amenity
- The phasing of the Westwood Shopping Center redevelopment is now in question again; Brown said it's possible it might have to be done all at once, which would be devastating for existing tenants in the strip mall
- And most notably, the new renderings:
|Aerial view of Westbard Avenue|
|Street alongside the future Giant store,|
looking toward Kenwood Place property
|Sidewalk, "civic green" and|
storefronts along Westbard;
Park Bethesda (L) and future
Giant store (R) in distance
|Looking at new Giant store|
from Bowlmor sidewalk
|What you'll see approaching|
the shopping center on the
new Westbard Avenue from
River Road (the building ahead
is approximately where
Anglo-Dutch Pools and Toys is
Among many sticking points, beyond the heights and density that an overwhelming majority of residents have opposed since the process began in 2014, is underground parking. Currently, "you don't have to go down into a parking garage to get a cup of coffee," one resident noted. She and many other residents drive large SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban, and find poorly-designed garages in downtown Bethesda difficult to navigate. "I can't park in a lot of parking garages in this area," she said. Hard-to-access parking may be fine for future residents who will walk downstairs from the future apartments, she said, but won't work for existing patrons of the shopping center.
"It is not a good feeling for women and children to go down underground," a small business owner concurred. "The beauty of the [current shopping center] is that somebody who is not a teenager, or is visually-impaired, can easily get there," compared to downtown Bethesda, she said. "This is just something to get big bucks, and no concern for the community."
"I've lived in this neighborhood for 34 years," another resident said, who regularly patronizes Voothuis Opticians, one of the banks, Anglo Dutch Pools and Toys, and China Cafe in the Westwood Shopping Center. "This is my neighborhood. You are converting what is truly a suburban neighborhood into downtown Bethesda. I grew up in New York City. I know what density is like. I and many other people really don't want to see such a large scale development," she said. The crowd applauded.
"Is there a possibility...are you willing to work with the neighborhood and compromise" on something smaller, she asked Brown. "It's always hard to say, 'No,' in a nice way," Brown responded. "We're at a point in time, two or three years later, that we have to move forward with this development."
The lack of detailed, ground-level, 360-degree renderings of just what all this is going to look like vexed several residents. A complete absence of renderings for the tallest buildings planned for across the street also raised questions. "Why did you elect not to show renderings and elevations" for the rest of the properties, resident Leanne Tobias asked. Brown said he himself has the renderings, but that they are not ready for public display because Development Review Committee issues have to be resolved before the designs can be finalized.
"The county doesn't really want you to know what it's going to look like," another resident reasoned, "because they know we don't want it. Term limits were voted in for a reason."
"It's a little unfortunate," Tobias said. "By not showing a complete picture tonight, it undercuts having a complete interchange with the public, and it's disappointing. I find this presentation to be less informative than the last one [hosted by former Equity One EVP of Development Mike Berfield]." "Mike is very good," Brown said humbly. Brown was much more patient during the question period than Berfield, however, letting one questioner speak for about 10 minutes, and even refusing to pull the plug on another speaker whose poignant childhood memories of Westbard suddenly pivoted to an infomercial for the Green Party.
Willett Branch advocates remain highly concerned about further encroachment into the stream's buffer area. "You're pushing the [Westwood Tower] surface parking back behind the building, entirely in the stream buffer," LFWA Vice-President Mikel Moore said. "You should be putting that parking underground. Let's not put any new buildings in the stream buffer."
LFWA's Executive Director Sarah Morse concurred, calling the idea of building a parking garage in the stream buffer "just unfathomable to me. I hope we can do better than a parking garage." That was in reference to another priority of park advocates, which is to have building designs that will interface positively with the stream and greenway below them.
Perhaps the most contentious point of dispute in the evening was the question of what will happen to the beloved small businesses that populate the two shopping centers along Westbard. Prior to the merger with Regency Centers, Equity One had refused to meet with tenants to discuss leases or provide some assurance of stability for the mom-and-pop shops going forward. It's unclear if Regency Centers will take a different approach, but Brown offered no such assurances last night.
That incensed one resident, who said, "We would feel a lot better about you people" if the current retail tenants were included in the future plans. "They have been treated so badly," she said, "and we are furious. If I want a battery for my watch, I can get it [installed] right here. Westbard has always been a moneymaker [as it is. What is proposed to replace them are] boring, boring buildings, and a strip of grass. Is that the best you can come up with," she asked, adding that her backyard garden is better than the landscaping proposed for the center. "The Planning Board has been a disaster. They are so corrupt," she concluded.
|Closeup on rooftop of center|
retail building at
Westwood Shopping Center site
shows what appears to be a rooftop
pool with cabanas
|Cars pass by the future|
Westwood Shopping Center
(which will likely have a new name
after the 'Westwood')
|Looking down at street|
between "rooftop pool" building
and the future Giant store (top)
(please click to enlarge)
|Phase IV could be as|
late as 2028
|Vehicle, bicycle and|
pedestrian circulation plan
|Dark and light green areas|
indicate open space and