Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Westbard developer reveals first detailed renderings of Westwood Shopping Center redevelopment (Photos)

Regency Centers unveiled the first photo-realistic renderings of its redevelopment proposal for the Westwood Shopping Center in Bethesda. The images were displayed at a required pre-submittal meeting for its Preliminary Plan for that, and a suite of other properties along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road known as the Westwood Complex, held at The Ballroom on Landy Lane last night.
A large crowd filled the ballroom to hear Equity One's Bill Brown give an overview of the Preliminary Plan, which also includes the Manor Care nursing home, Westwood Center II, Citgo I and II, Westwood Tower and Bowlmor Lanes properties. Equity One recently reached a merger agreement with Regency Centers, but Brown said he will head the Westbard project until its completion.
Representatives of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance handed out hats advocating for the vision of a Willett Branch greenway park, and stream naturalization, that was outlined in the Westbard Sector plan. After a brief presentation, Brown spent the bulk of the meeting answering questions from residents.

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

Residents were unhappy about many aspects of the plan as currently laid out, and with the perception that the developer is not being responsive to resident feedback. "This is not a two-way conversation," one said, as another resident chimed in, "Hear, hear." Brown suggested he had been listening, defending the choice of a plain, grassy civic green by arguing that residents had personally asked him for it. A hardscaped plaza would have been cheaper and easier to maintain, Brown said.

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)

Giant store

Preliminary Plan
(please click to enlarge)

Phasing I-IV

Phase IV could be as
late as 2028

Vehicle, bicycle and
pedestrian circulation plan

Dark and light green areas
indicate open space and
green space


H Miller said...

Very informative. Thanks for reporting on really will impact those of us who live in Friendship Heights.

SaveWestbard said...

Robert, you've done a great job with this summary; thank you.

Westbard residents: If you don't like what you've read here, or what you witnessed in person at the meeting last night, then you have exactly one option left: Support the lawsuit and please DONATE any amount that you choose at

Anonymous said...

Looks good. Can't wait until they build this up and make this into an interesting place I would actually go to. Hope they get the stream worked out. That would be a big plus.

Anonymous said...

The 70's called, they want their design back. Yucky.

Anonymous said...

"...with one saying, "Oh, jeez." "Thank you," Brown replied."

Coverage you just can't get anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for this to get cranking and built so I can visit 1-2x per year.

Despite my sarcasm, this project is totally worthwhile just to displace those Westbard losers alone.


Robert Dyer said...

6:35: You're right - there has been no other coverage of this meeting so far.

Anonymous said...

Would have been great for you to have let us known about the meeting in advance birdbrain

Anonymous said...

5:55: If you like mediocre, you just won! I predict this will go the way of Chevy Chase Pavilion and Mazza Galerie in Chevy Chase with many empty retail sites since the rent's too high. It looks positively suffocating.

Anne Cianni said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Looks great. I hope they can break ground soon.

Anonymous said...

That's it in a nutshell, @7:07AM. Suffocating.

Robert Dyer said...

7:00: You just proved you are still "Dumass material all the way," as the A&W Root Beer ad used to say.

Here's my story announcing the meeting on November 17:

Anonymous said...

What comes through loud and clear is that Westbard residents have been and continue to be unhappy with this project.

From the outset, the public and civic associations have asked for lower rise/density development, to no avail. For their trouble, they've been repeatedly sold down the Willetts Branch Stream by the County Council, the Planning Board and the Planning Department.

My question: will the residents and civic groups who remain unhappy with this project support the lawsuit against it, whether financially or by volunteering time?

The lawsuit looks pretty straight-forward: it challenges the underlying sector plan largely on procedural grounds. It should not be onerous for a court to rule on these points.

Supporting the lawsuit looks more productive than participating in the County's no win planning process.

Anonymous said...

@ 7:09 - Dyer's shameful censorship knows no bounds.

Anonymous said...

Pave Westbard!

Anonymous said...

7:38 No, the poster removed his/her own comment. READ. Better yet, just go away.

Anonymous said...

Where will all the workers park, I wonder, since the public transportation to/from this area is so limited?

Anonymous said...

@ 7:57 - Self-censorship. That tells you everything you need to know about Dyer's climate of intimidation.

Comment deleted said...

This comment has been deleted by the author, Robert Dyer, in a pathetic effort to upkeep his war against free speech. RIP.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maloney Concrete said...

8:51 AM seriously waited 3 hours to type that comment?
I'm waiting 6 months for story in print. Old news is always better, right?

Anonymous said...

"Maloney Concrete" = #UnsignedDyer

Franklin said...

Great report. Looking forward to what's to come!

Anonymous said...

And the #Sockpuppets keep coming.

I remember Giffords said...

I used to go to the Radio Shack on Westbard. Who knew there'd be such a re-development!
I heard the Giant folks will live in the new EYA townhomes. Great idea!

Woodmont said...

We're learning a lot of details about this project through Robert Dyer. Keep the reports coming.

Anonymous said...

@957 - if your interested in one sided propaganda, Dyer's your man

Anonymous said...

And like magic,"I remember Giffords" and "Woodmont" show up right on cue!

Full house of #Sockpuppets



Anonymous said...

Excellent reporting Robert.

So now I guess our community can expect massive continuous construction for the next 10-15+ years with little to no improvement to our 1950's schools, roads, and bridges. The swamp draining to the County Council and (lack of) Planning Board cannot start fast enough.

Get ready folks it's coming hard - #Trumptrain2016 #stopmontgomerycountycorruption

Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by Robert.

Skippy said...

Any idea on costs of the EYA townhomes?

Anonymous said...

Said to be in the $1.5 million range...

Anonymous said...

On the traffic study being available in the near future:

So... The MoCo Planning Department, Planning Boaed and County Council approved planning and zoning that supported the delivery of this 1.8 million square foot project *before* requiring the developer to submit a detailed traffic study...

Tremendous contempt for the community...

Anonymous said...

Looks pretty sterile to me. Cell blocks of town homes bordering an ice fortress dominated by concrete.

Hardly the "livable, walkable urban village" that the Planning Department has been touting.

Anonymous said...

I voted for members of this Council repeatedly. I trusted them to do right by this community.

After Westbard: never again.

Bethesdan said...

This is a good deal for the developer, their PR firm and the Council.

The developer utilizes every square foot for maximum profit, the PR firm gets paid and our councilman lines his pocket with developer campaign contributions.

Nothing in this for the residents.

Simply maximizing profits for a developer is poor planning policy. This renderings show how insane this plan is.

Roald said...

If Giant employees all get residences in the new development, maybe I'll run into my favorite butcher or parcel pickup bagger at the rooftop cabana.

Robert Dyer said...

10:49: On the contrary, people tired of the "one-sided propaganda" for the MoCo political cartel found on other local news sites are turning here for "the rest of the story."

This particular article didn't even include any commentary by me, just a full report on what happened at the meeting.

Robert Dyer said...

4:06: Here's the scary or funny part - even the guy from the State Highway Administration was incredulous in September when he learned no thorough traffic studies had been done. He, unlike the County planning transportation folks, acknowledged how congested River Road already is. And questioned why no improvements to it are in the current plans.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is scary that one of the most highly stressed sections of state highway River Road will need to accept several more thousand cars with no discussion toward its improvement. River Road with its narrow lanes and lack of a shoulder is also extremely dangerous and stressful for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The improvement of this road should have been first on the priority list not last. The (lack of) Planning Board has failed the community.

Anonymous said...

The existing buildings along River Road are all close to the roadway. Any major widening of River Road would require extensive demolition.

Robert Dyer said...

8:55: Not necessarily, but the major state commuter routes have wide rights-of-way for this very reason - to allow for future capacity and growth. Intriguing also that BRT-mad MoCo officials aren't calling for BRT on River between Friendship Heights and Potomac Village (where most developers and their attorneys live...hmmm). I would call it, the White Line.

The Council is trying to have chocolate cake for dinner, without eating their vegetables (infrastructure). We are governed by very stupid people, folks.

Anonymous said...

The white line. hahahah

Roads have been getting the short stick for quite some time. It used to be an integral part in the approval of plans. Now, it seems it's not even considered?

What a cluster.

Anonymous said...

A first class piece of journalism.