SOMERSET – A development plan recommended by the County Planning Board that would add up to 2,470 residential units near Bethesda and Chevy Chase now has competition from an elected official.
Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) proposed an alternative to the Westbard Sector Plan last week in a memo to members to the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.
His recommendations won conditional plaudits from at least one local civic group, the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which includes membership from 19 community groups in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area.
“We support his proposals set forth in the letter the PHED committee on (Feb. 16, 2016) and look forward to working with him to clarify certain provisions of his proposal,” stated the resolution, according to a handwritten draft presented by CCCFH secretary Lynne Battle the night of the vote.
The Planning Board and the Berliner plans both affect commercial and residential development along and near River Road, just north of the Washington, D.C., border.
Berliner called the plan put forth by the planning board “too aggressive.”
“It can and should be substantially pared back by almost half. In doing so, the Council will allow the Westbard community to experience a more organic and gradual transformation,” stated Berliner.
Berliner offered 11 broad recommendations with several more nuanced suggestions for reducing the size of the project.
His plan would reduce “the overall number of net new units to approximately 1,200 units.” That’s slightly more than half the size of the planning board’s draft proposal.
Doing so would require setting up one floating zone for restoring the Willett Branch and removing floating zones around the Little Falls Library and certain properties in the South River District.
Berliner called for capping height limits for properties next to developments, including a 35-foot height limit on the Park Bethesda parcel closest to the Westwood Mews Condominiums. The heights supported by the CCCFH members last week ranged from 35-45 feet, depending on the project.
The alternative plan would also preserve some existing development plans, like at Washington Episcopal School; install a senior center at a civic space to be provided by Equity One; and upping the number of affordable income restricted units from 45 to 190-250 along with 185 senior housing units “already approved for the Washington Episcopal School site.”
On transportation, Berliner called for:
– expanding the Ride-On Route 23 and WMATA’s T-2 Route
– adding private shuttles to and from the Metro at new development sites
– realigning Westbard and River Road “to better protect the Springfield community from cut through traffic and truck traffic in particular,”
– requiring a connector road between Westbard Avenue and River Road and an “enhanced access” path to the Capital Crescent Trail on the Park Bethesda Property,
– evaluating pedestrian crossings for repainting, reflective lighting and additional signs, and
– urging the State Highway Administration to install a traffic light at River Road and Landy Lane.
– Berliner also noted reducing the scope of the project “will significantly reduce, but not eliminate, concerns regarding the impact of the plan on our already overcrowded schools.”‘
The last four parts of his plan regarding zoning in the Westwood Shopping Center, restoring Willett Branch and accompanying greenway and parkland, preserving public amenities like green space, and minimizing disruptions to existing local retail establishments, as well as retaining those retailers “to the ext possible.”
PHED Committee members Nancy Floreen (D-At large), George Leventhal (D-At large) and Hans Reimer (D-At large) are due to consider Berliner’s plan next month.
Floreen told local resident Lynn Pakkanen in a Feb. 22 email the council has not yet received the County Executive’s Fiscal Impact Statement for the Westbard Sector Plan.
She added the Office of Management and Budget staff informed the council members the statement “will be transmitted by March 10 at the latest.”
“Assuming we receive it by then, it will be included and reviewed by Council staff in the packet for the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee’s March 14 work session,” Floreen added.
During a Feb. 17 meeting at Somerset Town Hall, 18 local residents discussed the pros and cons of Berliner’s plan during a forum hosted by the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights (CCCFH).
They passed a resolution backing Berliner’s proposal if he makes what some CCCFH members described as minor changes to it.
According to Somerset town attorney and CCCFH founder Norman Knopf, the Planning Board’s Westbard sector plan “provides for much too much development in terms of squate footage and in terms of height.”
Knopf described that plan as creating a “mega” shopping and residential center instead of a suburban shopping center to serve nearby residents
“It’s not a local shopping center to serve the local people,” said Knopf.
Local resident Jenny Sue Dunner deemed Berliner’s plan “a step in the right direction” but also said it still needs “a little tweaking.”