Monday, December 26, 2016

New details emerge about 7272 Wisconsin redevelopment of Apex Building site in Bethesda (Photos)

As businesses close and tenants move out of the Apex Building in Bethesda, many new details have emerged about the Carr Properties mixed-use project that will replace it. There are also some very interesting new renderings of the proposed development. The preliminary and site plans, as well as an amendment to the project's sketch plan, will be reviewed by the Montgomery County Planning Board at its January 5 meeting.

One new detail is that the office and residential towers, on Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street respectively, will sit atop a shared podium that will hold building entrances, retail and restaurant space and parking facilities for both. That parking arrangement is critical to the sketch plan amendment.

In that amendment, the developer is asking for a height increase from 250' to 290', on the legal basis that the 40' tall, four-level above-grade parking garage permits the height of such garages to be added to the maximum height of the project itself. Zoning Text Amendment 16-08, passed by the County Council, allows this height increase in exchange for the proposed garage, because the layout of the site does not allow for 4 levels of below-grade parking. The cross-section renderings do show three levels of below-grade parking, in addition to the 4 above-grade decks.

New details about the architecture of the project have been revealed. For the Wisconsin Avenue office tower, a five-story retail and parking base will sit beneath a "series of glass boxes" that alternate going up, so to allow for terraces. Behind that segment will be a more-traditionally massed part of the office tower, which will be closer to 290' (that full 290' height appears to be placed even further back, in the residential tower). The alternating front portion will not be as tall, in an attempt to address criticism from residents of Chevy Chase.

While primarily massed along Elm Street, the residential building will front on the Wisconsin Avenue plaza. A skybridge will connect its two towers, which will share a 4-to-6 story base. Interestingly, Carr is employing a number of "townhouse-like" residential units along the structured parking in that base, a trend first seen in the Flats 8300 development further up Wisconsin.
View from sidewalk at
Barnes and Noble on
Woodmont Avenue
The architect is giving equal attention to how the project will look from Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Row.

Carr has also received conditional approval from the Historic Preservation Commission to relocate the historic Community Paint and Hardware building from the Apex site to Public Parking Lot 41 on Middleton Lane. The developer has said the temporary removal of the building is necessary in order to construct the large below-grade space for a movie theater tenant. Carr is negotiating with Regal Cinemas, which has the contractual right to have first consideration for the new theater space. For those interested, Carr continues to commit to having easy pedestrian access to the new development from the Woodmont Plaza below (where Haagen Dazs and the Landmark Bethesda Row Cinema are located).

The current numbers for the project stand as follows, if approved by the Planning Board: two 290' towers, 360800 SF of office space (Marriott is the most-rumored tenant, but the hotel giant will not publicly announce the location of its new Bethesda headquarters and hotel until next year), 14572 SF of retail and restaurant space (including the cineplex), and 480 residential units, 15% of which will be affordable MPDUs. There will be 7500 SF of public space, 5% more than is required by the County, and Carr has agreed to not include patio dining space in its calculation of that number.

While the County Council and Planning Board failed to require a replacement theater be included in the project, the developer is wise to try to get Regal or a competitor on board. With a new IMAX-quality cineplex, and the right array of dining options on the plaza level, Carr's development would be a serious competitor for the adjacent Bethesda Row development. Without the theater? Not so much.
November 2016 revised
traffic study
One condition of approval is to incorporate the recommendations of the Maryland State Highway Administration, as detailed in a letter mailed on December 19, regarding curb cut access to the site. The SHA letter also states the agency accepts the results of the revised November 2016 traffic study for the project, and will therefore not request any additional traffic studies.
View into entrance of
CCT bike facility under
7272 Wisconsin
There are many complex moving parts to the project, which has to incorporate new access to the Metro Red Line, a Purple Line light rail station and tunnel, and a segment of the Capital Crescent Trail and its own tunnel. Under the conditions, Carr is required to construct and maintain the portion of the CCT on its property, and remove snow or debris from it, unless it cedes those responsibilities to a third party. The agreement will also permit Carr to temporarily close its portion of the CCT for maintenance.
Two-level bike facility
with ramp access from CCT;
the facility will include parking
for more than 250 bikes
A bike station within the CCT space will provide parking for over 250 bikes, and will utilize a helical ramp system to maximize use of the space. There is an option for a third party to later add showers, changing rooms and other amenities to the bike station.
Tail tracks for Purple Line
shown at Woodmont Plaza end
of tunnel/station
One ongoing concern not yet resolved: the proximity of the Purple Line's tail tracks to the CCT at the Woodmont Plaza end of the tunnel.
A central feature will be
this public plaza at the
corner of Wisconsin Avenue
and Elm Street
The public space plaza is a central feature to the project, and likewise is a complicated piece, having to incorporate access to the Purple Line, Red Line and the buildings themselves. One new solution proposed by the project architect is to place the Purple Line station access within a green-roofed pavilion. The pavilion is designed to divide the plaza into "private" functions (primarily outdoor dining space) and public transit functions. That public side will handle the foot traffic coming from Wisconsin and Elm to access the two rail stations. It will also provide seating, landscaping and a "subtle water feature" to give people a place to relax or wait for someone.

Overall, assuming the movie theater remains part of the new development, this is a very promising project atop two rail stations. If Marriott moves into the site, it is likely to be one of the premiere properties in the D.C. region, and a new signature building for downtown Bethesda.


Anonymous said...

Any thought on how they would accommodate the 700,000 SF Marriott office program and the hotel? Perhaps combined wth other neighboring sites?

Robert Dyer said...

6:14: Yeah, I've heard that idea of splitting off some of the offices if necessary. They do have 7200 Wisconsin right there, and the JBG office tower coming soon around the corner next to Dean and DeLuca. I suppose they could also convert some of the residential portion to office with an amendment later, as well, if they landed Marriott. I don't know if the 7 levels of parking suggests Marriott is coming there, or if they would have had that many regardless.

I figure with Marriott, these are people with a tremendous amount of experience at this and they probably know exactly how to configure things depending which site they choose.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, do you have any thoughts on how a coordinated development of Woodmont Plaza could occur? I have seen some plans for a linear paved plaza adjacent to the proposed Dean and Deluca, likely used for outdoor dining, under a cantilevered canopy or trellis with lighting. Do you have any idea on a mechsnism to develop the remaining potion of the triangular plaza? I know that the new master plan calls for a urban park on this site with a large and flexible lawn area. Isn't this property privately owned by the developer of Bethesda Row?

I see the master plan calls this a sending site that would allow the owner additional density elsewhere if it was preserved and hopefully developed at a town square. Just curios on who would physically design and construct and manage such a space. It's not really (yet) a true public space like Vetrans Park fully controlled by the county and BUP.

It seems that Woodmont Plaza is a key central node in the development of the south end of town, and a link to properties owned by PJ Hoffman, Carr and JBG. I would really like to se a coordinated effort to make this a truly great urban space. Bethesda has received world wide press on the Bethesda Row project,. It would be nice to see an equally thoughtful design for this park. I am really tired of those darn hedges!

You thoughts would be appreciated! By the way, happy holiday!

Robert Dyer said...

6:44: I'm more optimistic than I was a decade ago about the plaza finally being turned into an attractive public space. You now have 3 developers bordering it who have current or future plans for their properties. If Carr builds a very welcoming gateway to their project behind it, that will increase the incentive to make the Woodmont Plaza a more appealing place. Federal Realty has leases expiring next to that site in 2025, so they'll likely be thinking long term about how that plaza could interface with any redevelopment of that office building into a 290' tower.

Happy holidays to you, as well!

Robert Dyer said...

Actually, the Bethesda Row Cinema lease ends about 11 years from now, so a bit later than 2025, but still roughly the same planning timeframe.

Anonymous said...

It seems like there was still plenty of time for them to continue operating their businesses. When is demolition expected to begin. I used to be able to walk to the Regal in five minutes, but had to drive down to the AMC in Mazza yesterday to see Star Wars. I think they probably could have continued operating for another few months without issues, unless there are regulations I'm not aware of. I'm really going to miss how convenient the Regal was.

Robert Dyer said...

10:39: My guess is, they're going to strip the interior of rhe building before the actual structural demolition begins, and that's why the tenants are being put out sooner. Hopefully we get a replacement theater in the same spot, because it would be much closer than the new theaters in North Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

So is it your understanding that Federal Realty owns the "private open space" referred to as Woodmont Plaza? I see on the master plan that a white strip of land that looks like a former road right of way still exists between the private open space to the west, and to the linear plaza in front of the proposed Dean and DeLuca to the east. I'm am curious why this right of way still exists, and why it wasn't vacated and split down the middle to the adjacent land owners. Perhaps utilities remain below, and the property owners are not willing to take ownership or grant easements.seems odd that this dead end, unused road still exists, and perhaps impeding the cohesive development of the Plaza.

I am excited to see how this plays out.

I agree that Marriott could negotiate leases with multiple nearby office landlords to assemble 700,000 SF of total area. As you say, theses guys do this all the time for their hotels, so not a stretch to do it for their world headquarters.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:22 PM - If that right-of-way is north-south, that is the former Reed Avenue, which was there before Woodmont Avenue was extended to that block in the late 1980s.

Anonymous said...

If you look closely at the latest set of posted plans, specifically Section C, you will see that the underground theater previsly shown on Level B1 has been deleted and replaced with underground parking. Unless I am missing something, it looks to me that the cinema has been deleted and replaced with lots more parking. Perhaps a nod to Marriotts request for much more parking.

The previous plan had a large cylindrical speed ramp in the middle of the building that accessed a more modest amount of lower level parking, and avoided the proposed cinema near Wisconsin. They now show a more conventional parked ramp, which would add much parking and cost less than the speed ramp required to get below the theatre.

Too bad if this is really what is planned. A great new state-of-the-art cinema near Bethesda Row, on par with iPic or Arclight, would really enhance the city. Looks like the planning staff missed this in their review comments, as they still indicate an underground cinema is part of the program.