Developer Regency Centers held a required public meeting last night to unveil a revised plan for the redevelopment of property it owns along Westbard Avenue and Ridgefield Road. The new plan would stagger the construction of new buildings over a longer period of years than the original Equity One plan, which envisioned an almost-overnight transformation. It also promises, for now, a reduction of 350 units. Three buildings have been postponed, but two of those could be built at any time, and the third in 2027, unless Regency were to buy out tenant Bowlmor Lanes before then.
|Illustration shows buildings removed|
from the immediate plan; all 3 could
still be built in the future
Some of the housing units from the north side of Westbard are being shuffled over to the Westwood (Giant) Shopping Center property, to the floors above Regency's ground floor retail tenants. Parking will be structured, but a certain number of spaces will be available on open air rooftop parking levels. Residents at the shopping center will have their own residential parking on one level below their building. No numbers were given for how many residential and retail parking spaces will be provided in total.
|Illustration of staging for|
Phase I of the redevelopment,
which will keep all businesses in
place during construction of the new
Giant building, except Rite Aid and
Capital One Bank
|Around late 2021, new Giant|
(at left) standing next to existing
There was good news and bad news for the popular small businesses in the shopping center. The good news is that Regency has proposed staging that will allow their portion of the shopping center to remain in place until the new building that will be anchored by a new Giant store is completed. The bad news is that no details were given on how many of those spaces in that Giant building will be for them to relocate into when the rest of the strip mall is demolished. Likewise, no promises were announced on making the rents for existing tenants affordable in the redeveloped center, and what the terms and commitments will be.
|Phase I redevelopment plan for|
Westwood Shopping Center
Regency was mum on the issue of the Moses African Cemetery, a historic black cemetery located on the Westwood Tower property. That property was sold by Regency to the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission in December. The revelation that Regency had private meetings with some community leaders in recent months stirred many questions among the crowd. No snub generated more outrage among attendees than the exclusion of Macedonia Baptist Church, which is the last remaining structure from a lost black community on River Road, founded by former slaves from the adjacent Loughborough plantation after Maryland Emancipation.
Macedonia's Social Justice Director Marsha Coleman-Adebayo noted that all of the groups Regency met with were white, and that Macedonia received no communication from the developer about arranging a meeting. Past members of the church are buried in the Moses cemetery, and the church represents the descendants of those buried in it, as well.
"This is not the 1950s," Coleman-Adebayo said to a representative of Regency Centers. "You do not get to have segregated meetings in Bethesda, Maryland," she said to applause from the crowd that packed the room. There was disagreement over whether Regency would still have an access or parking easement on the cemetery site, even though it has sold the land. Coleman-Adebayo and church attorney Michele Rosenfeld's analysis suggested this would be the case; Regency denied the possibility, but did not otherwise respond to church officials' questions.
|Regency claims the new plan will feature|
350 fewer housing units than Equity One's;
that translates into 875 fewer people at Westbard
CCCFH blueprint drawn up by a couple of graduate students in 2009. That plan was panned by myself and others at the time, for being too urban and too big for a suburban area like Westbard, which is too far from Metro to qualify as transit-oriented development. It resembled Metro-proximate Bethesda Row, and in fact, the Regency plan as shown currently is actually less dense than the CCCFH 2009 proposal was. One recommendation by the Springfield Civic Association remains in the new plan, which is the realignment of Westbard Avenue to bypass Ridgefield Road to directly connect to River Road. Edelman had sought the realignment to reduce cut-through traffic into Springfield, and to correct the poorly-engineered turning angle that causes major problems for trucks making the right turn from River onto Ridgefield today.
|Springfield Neighborhood Park|
1. The Save Westbard lawsuit was a winning move. While the neighborhood is still getting development far too dense and urban for a suburban neighborhood two miles from the nearest Metro station, the lawsuit clearly had a major impact for the better. The alternative many civic associations had voted on was to accept the "Berliner compromise" Equity One plan, and try to work with the developer. By funding and backing the lawsuit, the total 3000+ residents and cars that would have come into the neighborhood in about three years have been delayed perhaps up to a decade.
Unlike the Berliner compromise, the beloved small businesses in the Westwood Shopping Center now get to live another day, at least for two or three more years. Without the lawsuit, they would all have been closing this year. That is another big, temporary win if you are one of those business owners, workers or customers, and that alone was worth the money residents donated to the lawsuit (now we have to continue to press Regency on behalf of those businesses to ensure they get a fair shot at returning in the new property). Thanks to the lawsuit, the Giant building now appears to have small retail units those businesses could move into when the main part of the strip mall is demolished.
Thanks to the lawsuit, there will be more open-air parking available, where the Berliner compromise had virtually none. There will be a half-acre civic green instead of a third-of-an-acre, as laughable as that remains. There will be a gas station until 2027 next to Bowlmor, a key neighborhood amenity.
Staging is really the key difference that the lawsuit achieved, even without a verdict yet. While there will still be significant traffic problems, the new crush of students generated by this Regency plan will be more staggered by a few years. So it can definitively be said that, while there is little popularity even for the new Regency plan, money spent on the lawsuit was money well spent. None of these key changes would have occurred by simply capitulating to the Berliner compromise.
|The half-acre "civic green,"|
which runs parallel to the major
access road for the center
Likewise, while the architecture depicted by Regency is a very slight improvement over the Equity One renderings, it is still not distinctive at all. It also doesn't reflect its location in a suburban, residential area. It looks very urban. Regency did mention the possibility of using the local stone similar to that found in homes and buildings in the area. But looking at the renderings right now, much more needs to be done to create a sense of place. What in these images says, "I'm at Westbard" or "Westwood Shopping Center?" vs. any other cookie cutter mixed-use development? Where is the Bethesda Lane? Where is the Muse Alley? The key test for any new urbanist development: Where is the spot that people will post selfies of themselves on Instagram at? If you don't have one, you've failed design-wise.
There's definitely still time for Regency to address these flaws, and improve the development.
|EYA townhomes behind|
the new shopping center
|If you know how many cars pass|
in and out of the two access points now
at Westwood Shopping Center, it's
hard to imagine sitting next to that
continuous stream of exhaust as
a pleasant "park" environment
|Will there be enough parking?|
We don't know yet
|Regency says this "Jewel Box"|
will be a coffee shop where
people will want to "linger"
outside with their coffees; a small
water feature is depicted
|Civic green portion below the|
|Continuing down the|
civic green toward