Saturday, February 25, 2017

Bethesda residents search for the incredible shrinking "amenities" in Westbard plans

Westbard Sketch Plan Hearing Part II: "A ton of other benefits"

On its way to disregarding serious concerns related to an African-American cemetery and approving Equity One's Westbard sketch plan on Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board told us the big rush was necessary, to more quickly deliver the "public benefits" the project will provide. Chair Casey Anderson summed up the whopping list of these "public benefits" thusly: the naturalized Willett Branch stream, and a realignment of Westbard Avenue.

Click here to read Part I: "Enough is Enough"

So treating the concerns about the cemetery on the Westwood Tower portion of Equity One's land in a disrespectful fashion, and dropping more than 3000 people (and their cars) into a block-and-a-half area of Bethesda is worth it for that two-item list?

While the vast majority of residents support naturalization of the Willett Branch, two problems remain, and were only amplified by the hearing Thursday. First, the project remains "pie in the sky, by and by." No land has been dedicated, and no funds have been collected to build the project. Each segment of it will have to be built separately, and so it will be many years before even a large portion of it will be ready.

Willett Branch is "not going
to be as naturalized as we
had all hoped"
- Montgomery County
Parks Department representative
at Thursday's hearing

Second, there is no evidence the finished product will resemble the renderings shown by the Parks Department. At Thursday's hearing, Equity One's attorney, Barbara Sears, protested the idea that the development firm should have to actually construct the naturalized stream segment between River Road and American Plant. She also had a different interpretation of the guidance on building within the stream buffer that the Westbard sector plan provides. Her arguments could well prevail in court if the dispute goes that far.

Even the representative of the Parks Department presenting the Willett Branch portion of the sketch plan conceded that "it's not going to be as naturalized as we had all hoped." Wait, a minute - what? Sears may have made the best prediction on the Willett Branch: "I think we'll be here ten years from now, trying to figure it all out."

Then there's that road. Sure, the realignment of Westbard Avenue was sought by the Springfield Civic Association for purely practical reasons - to reduce cut-through traffic into their neighborhood. But to call the realignment an "amenity" is more than a stretch. It's dishonest.

Planning Director Gwen Wright stressed that Equity One's project will provide parks where there are none. But those two patches of green are ridiculously small, especially placed against the scale of the actual development. Several in the crowd chuckled Thursday, when they noted the "civic green" was so small, it could hardly be made out on the rendering. Wright also referred to the project "improving the environment." Ironic, given that the Save Westbard lawsuit is partly about the fact that the Planning Board never evaluated if the Westbard sector plan would reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle miles traveled, as it is required to do under a 2008 county law.

"I think we'll be here
ten years from now,
trying to figure it all
- Barbara Sears, attorney
for Equity One

The "private shuttle to Metro" was also invoked, but not mentioned was the fact that the County Council declined to make the shuttle mandatory, and even deleted the Transit Center from Equity One's site in the sector plan. This left many residents still searching for the supposed "amenities."

"What are the amenities you're getting today," asked Bob Cope, a resident who has been a longtime volunteer with the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights. He noted that, as part of past development agreements, the Friendship Heights recreation center and Round House Theater in Bethesda were built, and at completion, developers "handed the keys to the county." Here, Cope argued, all the buildings will be constructed, "and you come back and shoehorn in the creek." Many residents had advocated for large parks, a recreation center, and an aquatic facility, among other ideas. None of them ended up in the plan.

Both Pat Johnson of Kenwood's Westbard Committee and Springfield Civic Association President Phyllis Edelman commented on the lack of green space, and nonexistent playground areas for the future residents of the new development. "Where will the children play," Johnson asked the board.

Johnson said residents were expecting ample space for events like farmers markets. "How are we going to fit that into 1/3 of an acre," she asked to laughter from the audience. "These green patches are terribly inadequate. Living here will not be up to the standards of Montgomery County."

3000 people. Thousands of additional cars. All this for what could ultimately be a half-finished storm drain carrying the new trash and exhaust particulates from those 3000 people through a narrow green strip behind 5 high-rises, and a green patch that looks more like a carpet sample than a park. Raw deal.


Anonymous said...

I agree with Bob Cope, Phyllis Edelman and Pat Johnson about the lack of public amenities in the Westbard sketch plan. The County's "vision" for Westbard was that the development would be a place for recreation and relaxation. Two 1/3 of an acre green areas don't do it, especially in the middle of 1.8 million square feet of new development.

As was asked in testimony on amenities: "Where's the beef?"

Anonymous said...

The Planning Department, the Planning Board and the County Council have sold Westbard short. Despite touting the supposed green features of Westbard, the County has required very little of Equity One toward this end. It was the County that set the acreage for the neighborhood park and the civic green in the sector plan-- each was required to have a minimum size of 1/3 acre. Not surprisingly, the developer has opted for the minimum size.

This wasn't the fault of the citizens. There was substantial public testimony calling for green amenities. The problem is that the planners and County officials played. cozy with the developers at the expense of the people.

Anonymous said...

Just to put this in perspective, the proposed neighborhood park and civic green have less combined acreage than 3 single-family homes with standard quarter-acre lots.

This is supposed to be a key public amenity for the roughly 874 residential units being built by Equity One, *plus* the surrounding community?

The County sold us out.

Anonymous said...

Westbard residents sure want a lot of free stuff.

Cav_Grad said...

After viewing Thursday's Planning Board meeting, it is clear the Board is experiencing cognitive dissonance.

They know what they're doing is wrong, so repeating feel good phrases over and over isn't relieving their stress.

On the parks: There should absolutely be a sizeable neighborhood park added to the plan. That is a family oriented, suburban neighborhood. Pocket parks aren't going to offer what children need.

Anonymous said...

Dyer, are you in favor of a shuttle bus between Westbard and Friendship Heights? Please answer yes or no.

Anonymous said...

"On the parks: There should absolutely be a sizeable neighborhood park added to the plan. That is a family oriented, suburban neighborhood. Pocket parks aren't going to offer what children need."

If the neighborhood didn't offer them what they need, then why did they buy there in the first place?

Skippy said...

I haven't been following the Board meetings closely, but on Thursday who was the older white gentleman on the Board who sounded so eager to sell out residents again?

He kept floating the idea of massively increasing heights if the developer couldn't have the graveyard. Why was he so eager to service the developers and threaten to punish residents with more height?

Even Anderson had to shut him down.

The Board should be negotiating to get the best deal for current and future residents, not for Equity One, EYA, etc. who can build their stuff and leave the next day.

Anonymous said...

"Into a block-and-a-half area"

Oh, geez, Dyer... not this lame bullshit again.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Tom Perez being appointed to lead the DNC?

Robert Dyer said...

12:54: Tom Perez isn't a Bethesda resident, last time I checked.

Anonymous said...

Are any of these photos copyrighted?

Anonymous said...

Perez was on the MoCo County Council from 2002 until 2006 and was its Chair from 2005 until 2006. That isn't MoCoMachine-y enough for you?

Anonymous said...

Is he still in Takoma Park?

Anonymous said...

Yes, according to the Post, he still lives in TP

Anonymous said...

"But to call the realignment [of Westbard Avenue] an "amenity" is more than a stretch. It's dishonest."

Like calling the area where redevelopment will occur, "a block and a half"?

Robert Dyer said...

6:58: It is a block-and-a-half. Somebody at the meeting last night referred to it in the same exact words. The word is out on the street.

Anonymous said...

"Somebody at the meeting last night" is also an innumerate birdbrain.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Robert-- the "block" along Westbard Avenue runs about a half-mile. You *know* you're being misleading. I am against Westbard's density/height, but can't support your describing it so as to mislead readers.

Anonymous said...

That was Gerald Cichy, formerly Montgomery County's Director of Transportation and now retired.

Mr. Cichy is very knowledgeable about development matters, but does not seem to be attuned to residents' concerns on Westbard.