September Meeting Notes

Bicycle Master Plan

David Anspacher of the Planning Dept presented on the the Bicycle Master Plan in the works. It is intended to appeal to those with low tolerance for traffic stress (approx 51% of people).  See the presentation here.

5550 Friendship Blvd

Developer filed a Local Map Amendment to raise the permitted height in Sector Plan from 90 feet to 180 feet. The latest plan is that the existing building would remain, and a condo of 180 feet would be added (100 upscale condos). They are thinking of a small greenspace in front of the building being used as a dog park. Tentative hearing dates with Planning Board on Dec 7. On Oct 10, the developer will make a presentation to the Friendship Village Council. They will be presenting to CCCFH in our October meeting. Friendship Heights will vote to take a stance on their proposal after the presentation and has asked that the CCCFH do the same. 

Bethesda Downtown Plan

On the Council Agenda for tomorrow (9/19/17). The Sectional Map Amendment seems to be on track for approval. The SMA adopts the zoning proposed in the Sector Plan for over 200 properties. 

Westward Self Storage

CCCFH Issues: 

  • Portion of building in the Stream Valley Buffer 
  • Access: How are people accessing this building?
  • Compliance with zoning: Where are you measuring height from?
  • How will this all fit in with the greenway? Will there be a canyon effect.
  • Stormwater questions
  • Parcel 177 is the southeastern parcel of the cemetery – are they planning to build on it or dedicating it? 

Sept 12: New site plan looks very similar and has building height measuring point. They would like a tree variance as well. They also filed a response that is an 18 page document that seems to say they are willing to push back against the community concerns. 

There is a planning board meeting on Oct 19. This is an extension meeting at which the Planning Board is likely to extend the deadline to November. Staff report will come in early November. There is a decent amount of coordination needed on the CCCFH front in the next few months. 

Westbard Sector Plan: 

Reminder: Regency owns a lot of strip malls. They are in the retail business. Traditionally, retail developers do not switch over to residential development. It will be interesting to see if they flip the residential property to someone else and move forward with their retail developments.

Save Westbard Lawsuit: 

Oral arguments heard in August on two of the three claims (the procedural claims). A decision on either of these claims could cause a remand. The third claim is on illegal contract zoning and is scheduled to go to trial in October (this has since been rescheduled to January). 

The mediation process with the Baptist Church and the Cemetery is ongoing but confidential, so not much to report. 

Posted in Meeting Summary

Reminder – No Aug Meeting, Sept Meeting Rescheduled

Reminder: There is no August meeting of the CCCFH. The September meeting will be on Monday, September 18 to avoid a conflict with the first night of Rosh Hashanah.  The meeting will still be held at the Somerset Town Hall at 8 PM.

Posted in Uncategorized

July Meeting Notes

Update on 5550 Friendship Blvd

At the last meeting, CCCFH voted to send a letter to the developer supporting Friendship Heights’ stance that they did not want redevelopment at this location. The developer responded that they are not trying to amend the Sector Plan. They are asking for a floating zone designation that allows the same density as is currently permitted, but with a higher building height.

The developer met with neighbors at Elizabeth House and presented both a 180 foot and 90 foot option (90 foot option requiring the tear down of adjacent office building). The majority of the neighbors did not think a 180 foot building was a good option. There is a sense that the developers are trying to meet with each condo building to get support. It is unclear how successful they might be.

Bethesda Overlay

There has been a contentious debate about which areas may be eligible for height bonuses provided for excess of 15% MPDUs. CBAR and CCCFH have argued that any areas near and adjacent to single family homes should be excluded from these incentives.

At the Council meeting, the Council presented a two new maps – one that only focused on changes to the South Bethesda boundaries. This did not include just HOC properties, but also included Alden Properties (which has discussed going up to 25% MDPU). This change was accepted as an amendment to the ZTA. The Council ultimately moved Battery Lane and Sport & Health also inside the incentive zone. The final vote removed any incentive zone on the east side of Wisconsin Ave., but left open the possibility that there could be a sloping decrease in heights away from the Metro, and then an increased height south of Bradley Blvd due to HOC and MPDU height incentives.

Next steps / Options going forward –

  • CBAR could submit a request for reconsideration: The request for reconsideration would be difficult to see succeeding as they will need 5 votes for any reconsideration to take place (and vote was 7-2 in favor of the current plan).
  • Let it go and deal with each property as they come up: There may be traffic and access issues that come up.
  • Leverage Subdivision Staging Policy: Somerset Elementary will be 1 student short of 120% this year. That means that they are close to the moratorium on development. We cannot put all our eggs in the school moratorium basket as that could potentially be addressed with redrawing boundaries and moving some children to Westlake.
  • File a lawsuit since vote was based on erroneous info

Westbard

Save Westbard Hearing was postponed until sometime in August. The judge asked the plaintiffs to prepare an amended complaint, and then the County and EquityOne would submit a reply.

Lawsuit(s) Challenging HOC Cemetery Site

Two lawsuits –

  1. One brought by a group similar to (or the same as?) SaveWestbard, who felt that the sketch plan that was approved did not reflect what was discussed in the earlier meetings.
  2. EquityOne brought suit because the Sketch Plan was approved except for the HOC site, but they cannot move forward until the HOC issues are resolved, so they are stuck for now.

Related: The County is developing two laws to address cemetery issues, one adding the County cemetery inventory into the Planning Board process.

Westbard Self Storage and DRC Hearing

Development Review Committee (DRC) was last month. The attorney opted to skip the comments, as they were all “No”. There are several issues with their proposal.

The first issue had to do with being inside the Willett Branch buffer. The attorney seemed to feel the buffer boundaries were negotiable, and that they should be allowed to infringe on the buffer (EquityOne got to, so why can’t I?). The DRC pushed back that they could not enter the buffer. The attorney also argued that they should be allowed to enter the buffer because they are donating parcel 177 (adjacent to the cemetery). Parcel 177 is in the flood plain, and potentially part of the cemetery as well.

They also discussed access to the storage center. The self-storage unit would be the largest unit of all in the River Rd/Westbard area. This is because the land slopes down, so they will go 3 stories underground – and the underground levels are not counted in the FAR. They have a very narrow driveway from River Rd (18 ft wide).  Lack of sufficient access for the fire department may create a safety issue, plus they need to provide access to the Capital Crescent Trail and the greenway.

Timing: They have until July 26 to resubmit to address the DRC issues. The final submission would be mid-August and the Planning Board will take it up in October. It seems likely that timeline will shift by 30 days at least.

Next Meeting

There is no August meeting of the CCCFH. The September meeting will be on Monday, September 18 to avoid a conflict with the first night of Rosh Hashanah.  The meeting will still be held at the Somerset Town Hall at 8 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Meeting Summary

May 2017 Meeting Notes

Capital Crescent Trail

Montgomery County Parks and the Park Police attended the meeting to explain the current status of intersection of the Capital Crescent Trail and Little Falls Parkway. There have been accidents, including one fatality at this intersection in recent years.

The incidents that have occurred have been low-speed incidents that resulted from the inside lane of traffic not being able to see that there are people (pedestrians and/or bicyclists) coming on the trail. Cars on the outside lane block this ability. Bicyclists on the trail tend to run through this intersection without making sure all four lanes of traffic have stopped/seen them. Currently, they have responded to the fatal accident by narrowing Little Falls Parkway to one lane in each direction. The speed limit has also been lowered from 35 MPH to 25 MPH (which is consistent with other parkways). This is a temporary solution. It is liked by folks who use the trail, but not liked by the commuters who rely on Little Falls Parkway and feel the temporary solution creates more traffic. Some nearby communities also feel that there is increased cut-through traffic.

This intersection was modified in 2011 with the goal of improving safety at the trail. That was not successful insofar as the accidents have continued. Thus, they are beginning a study to determine how to best improve the traffic flow while ensuring that the trail users can be safe. They have started some traffic counts while simultaneously receiving proposals from traffic consultants. The traffic study will look broadly at Little Falls Parkway from Bradley to Dorset and Arlington between Bradley and Little Falls Parkway. It will also look at potential bike lanes to add and connect to CCT.

There is no pre-existing preferred path forward – they are starting with an open mind. They know that whatever happens will have to be funded by the Council. They expect the consultant on board by late summer, public meeting in the fall, iterate on proposal over the winter, and hopefully have a proposal to the Planning Board in the spring (and eventually County Council).

Options suggested at meeting by meeting attendees:

  1. Bridge over Little Falls Parkway (awfully expensive)
  2. Stoplight (move the trail to the Arlington light)
  3. Stoplight (add another stop light)
  4. Cut back trees near the intersection to improve sightlines / make the upcoming pedestrians and bicyclists more visible as they approach the intersection

You can contact the Parks Dept with more questions at info@montgomeryparks.org

Bethesda Downtown Plan

County Council considered the Bethesda Downtown Plan on April 18 and April 25 as it relates to building heights. The CCCFH wrote to the Council and supported the Riemer/Michaelson Approach to Affordable Housing South of Bradley Boulevard. This proposal ran into issues at the Council and was retracted without a vote. The CCCFH also supported staging, but that measure was declined by the Council. The next step is for the Council to adopt the resolution. It will be taken up on May 25. The Overlay Zone, which allocates density, will be taken up in June.

Westbard

The April 26 resolution adopted by the Planning Board approving, subject to substantial conditions, the sketch plan application by EquityOne does not specify requirements for development with regard to the HOC area.  Instead, it requires Regency (which acquired EquityOne) to submit an amendment to the sketch plan for the HOC site.  This will require further work related to the African American historical burying site in the vicinity of the HOC site.  The study work has been done, but the field work has not been done yet.  There is an effort to mediate that between Regency, the Planners and the Macedonia Baptist Church.  Under the resolution, Regency cannot go to the preliminary plan stage for the entire development until it has submitted a sketch plan amendment for the HOC site and the Planning Board has approved it.

Bethesda Self Storage is assembling their application now and hope to have it completed this month.

On June 12, a Zoning Text Amendment will be considered to allow height limits for roof top terraces to NOT be counted in the overall height of the building. This is contrary to what the CCCFH discussed with Marlene Michaelson while reviewing the Westbard Sector Plan.

Friendship Heights Meeting on 5550 Friendship Blvd.

5550 Friendship Blvd is opposite Brighton Gardens. There is a 5-story office building and substantial greenspace there currently. The developer would like to build an 18 story building on the greenspace at that location. They have hired a PR firm and are trying to sell this concept to area residents. This does seem to require an amendment to the zoning, which could open up the Sector Plan for the Friendship Heights area, including the GEICO tract. This is still in the initial stages, but something we will be keeping an eye on.

Willard Avenue Park

The home and associated acre of land abutting the Willard Avenue Park has been owned by the County under control of the Parks agency for more than 20 years. It was purchased with the intent of demolishing the home and converting it and the acre of land into an expansion of the park. That hasn’t happened. The current effort is to get the County to move the fence surrounding the acre of land leaving the house in place but by moving the fence, significantly expanding the park. It was also noted that the four parking spaces for the park are altogether insufficient.

Posted in Meeting Summary

April 2017 Meeting Notes

Bethesda Downtown Plan

As expected, the Council has taken up the Bethesda downtown plan.  Several items merit note.  First, on April 14, CCCFH’s Executive Committee voted to sign onto a letter to the Council on the Bethesda Downtown Plan by the Coalition of Bethesda Area Residents (CBAR) Communities. Somerset, Chevy Chase West, Kenwood and Wood Acres signed the letter.  The letter addressed data integrity, urban design, parks and open spaces, the Pearl district, educational facilities, staging, the Bethesda Overlay zone, public amenities and benefits, legacy open space designations, a greenway, and building heights, among others.   Second, on April 18, the Council held the first of two sessions on the Bethesda downtown plan. This plan is an enormous undertaking. Bethesda contains hundreds of properties, each of which has to be zoned. There were about 230 zoning recommendations.  The packet memo by Marlene Michaelson dated April 14 does not address each of the properties; it addresses those that were the subject of a Planning, Housing and Economic (PHED) Committee discussion.  The Council discussed how to address general issues such as affordable housing and public facilities, and specific matters such as height limits on properties in the nine districts that Bethesda was divided into.  In addition, the Council discussed land use/transportation balance and staging, which were addressed in a packed memo by Glenn Orlin dated April 14.  There will be votes in the next and last Council meeting on the plan, which is scheduled for April 25.  Third, the PHED Committee and Council will consider a ZTA for the Bethesda Overlay Zone in the near future and will not be long and drawn out, per PHED Committee Chair Nancy Floreen. This will address density, affordable housing issues and park funding, among others.  After that, there will be a Sectional Map Amendment (SMA).

Westbard

The Planning Board had a Briefing on the Status of the Process for the Cemetery Delineation on April 6.  Robert Kronenberg spoke and provided an update on where the applicant is on the cemetery delineation. He mentioned that Gwen Wright reported a few weeks ago that the delineation will take longer than the estimated 2 months, which was the estimate at the Feb. 23 Planning Board hearing.  The planners returned to the Board earlier than the 2-month period with an update. A contract with the oversight group did not happen. On March 8, the Planning Department gave a green light to Regency [Equity One] to proceed.  Regency has a contact with the Ottery Group, which is doing initial research.  Field work will start in mid-May.  After that work is complete, it will take a few weeks for a report to be prepared.  Overall, it will take about 3 months from March 8 for the delineation, with the work expected to be complete in June.  Mr. Kronenberg added that it might be prudent to come back to the Planning Board in mid or late May with an update. No public input was allowed.

The Planning Board’s April 20, 2017 agenda includes a Consent Agenda item: Adoption of Resolutions: Westwood Shopping Center Sketch Plan. 

Planning staff are working on design guidelines for Westbard.  There will be opportunities for public participation.

The developer of the storage facility to be located behind McDonald’s has not yet submitted a plan to the Planning Department. 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

March 2017 Meeting Notes

Bethesda Downtown Plan

Reminder: The general approach of the plan is that the FAR is set in the 1994 plan, and they are mapping new heights in this update. If you want additional FAR, you have to acquire it somehow.

There is a focus on road capacity. The County is exploring improvements to interchanges at Cedar Ln and Bradley Blvd. The road modifications for Bradley Ln they are discussing are at Connecticut Ave.

Schools – there is a capacity study going on.  Last week, Roger Berliner held a meeting of neighborhood association leaders and highlighted this concern. Berliner had a meeting with MCPS and is trying to get a handle on the capacity issue, particularly with BCC, Whitman and Walter Johnson. It is being explored if BCC should acquire more land near the current school. The planners are also suggesting generally that existing high-rise office buildings could be used for schools, but this is not a cost-savings due to the amount of work needed to be done to bring an existing building to code for a school. This study will likely take months to complete.

The main amenity they are looking at for downtown Bethesda is parkland. There really is an absence of parkland in Bethesda. There are 4 – 5 proposed priority parks in the draft Bethesda downtown plan.  The cost for the parks is approximately $110M.  Mike Riley (Head of Parks) indicted to the PHED committee that he has $20-$30M a year for acquisitions, maintenance, etc. which goes beyond Bethesda.  There is a significant gap between the cost of the desired parks and what is available, even including the revenue that is expected to be obtained from   developers. This necessitates focusing on land the county already owns, because that does not involve acquisition costs.  Most of the county-owned land in Bethesda is parking lots (which generate revenue for, among others, Bethesda Up!), particularly behind the Women’s Farmer’s Market.  The need to fund parks is not unanimously agreed to by the PHED committee.

Westbard

Hearing on Sketch Plan: A number of CCCFH people testified and did a great job. The Planning Board basically accepted the Staff recommendation. The sketch plan, as approved, does not specify details – it is still fairly high level. The preliminary plan, which is the next step, will set out the dedication of any lands to the Willett Branch. After that, the site plan will lay the buildings out on the lots and bind the proposal. John Marcolin will not be the point person on the Preliminary Plan – someone else will do that.

Sketch Plan amendment to cover the HOC parcel: Equity One has been told it should proceed with the study in area 175 (where the African American cemetery is thought to have been). The consultants that the Church wanted to be under contract are not under contract at this time. It does not seem that this will be completed by the April deadline, but they are hoping it will still be completed in ~2 months.  One improvement in the Sketch Plan is the increased size of the Springfield park from 1/3 acre to 2/3 acre.

Storage Facility: There was a meeting at Westland Middle school last week. It was pretty much the same as the presentation from last December. Lloyd asked if there was a part of the building in the buffer, and Dugan said that it was not, but an engineer said there was. LFWA thinks the creek is going to be moved to slow down the flow of the water. If you move the creek, that will mean the Storage Facility is more in the buffer. It is unclear who would fund moving the creek.

SaveWestbard continues to reach out to communities for contributions for its lawsuit. SaveWestbard reportedly has collected $75k and have spent $65k of it. WoodAcres is taking a vote on if they would like to donate to SaveWestbard and it will be up for discussion in Springfield also. If SaveWestbard wins the lawsuit, in the view of some, it is most likely that the Council will correct the errors. It is not clear that any parties will be successful in then changing the minds of the Council to lower the zoning density and heights, consider schools, etc.  If this goes to trial, it will likely cost a lot to litigate.

 

 

Posted in Meeting Summary, Westbard

February 2017 Meeting Notes

Bethesda Downtown Plan

CCCFH, as part of a group of neighborhood associations, signed a letter to the County  Council. That letter is available on the website.

Marriott is coming to Bethesda, which is great economically. Some new facts are coming up: The County is giving Marriott a great deal of parking.  This may be disappointing for those in the Town of Chevy Chase Village and in East Bethesda as they, with support from others, proposed that surface parking lots near them be turned into park space / greenspace.  A reduction in the total number of parking spaces in Bethesda due to the Marriott allocation could impact those proposals.  Roger Berliner is looking into it.

The Planning Board draft Bethesda plan mapped higher heights with no additional FAR beyond what is now allocated.  The Board proposed several mechanisms that would provide a pool of additional FAR, limited to a maximum total number of square feet, for owners to go to. The first issue considered by the PHED committee was the question of if the general concept of a sector-wide pool of FAR was good. Hans Riemer thought it was a good idea. Nancy Floreen was hesitant, but was swayed by it.  A separate question involved one mechanism for providing FAR — by sending sites and receiving sites.  George Leventhal summarized his concerns by saying that if he cannot easily explain this, it is likely not a good idea.  There appeared more support for a mechanism to transfer density between sites. It is now available for properties within ¼ mile subject to conditions, but they will consider expanding it to anywhere in the sector.

The next PHED Committee session is on transportation and is scheduled for Feb 27. They will start looking at details of particular sites on March 6.

Westbard:

The hearing on Equity One’s sketch plan is Feb 23rd before the Planning Board. A lengthy discussion of issues with the staff report and strategy for testimony occurred.

Some issues with the report:

  • Heights and density: There are a lot of numbers in this plan. The numbers seem generally consistent with the sectional map amendment, but a closer look indicates that there are issues. Westwood II should be capped at 75 ft and the sketch plan shows it capped at 85 feet.
  • Bump up of heights for MPDUs: if Equity One is doing 15% MPDUs, they are really only entitled to additional height for the 2.5% increase above the required 12.5%. The planning staff generally seems to say that each parcel will have 15% MPDUs rather than moving them around between the parcels (with 30% on both buildings on the HOC area).
  • Residential above commercial on Westwood I site: There is a question as to if that is correct or if there is an error in the report. We should ask that this remain only commercial.
  • HOC site: Staff want to approve this square footage, but there is a carve out in the staff report on the sketch plan for HOC parcels in view of the potential African-American cemetery. The HOC site should not be included in the maximum square footage generally allowed in the sketch plan review.
  • Amenities generally: The Civic Green is still very small. Neighborhood green park is 1/3 to ½ acre. There is no reasonable connectivity to the Willett Branch from the Civic Green – no pathway delineated in the plan. How do the planners expect folks to get from the Westwood I area to the Capital Crescent Trail?
  • Willett Branch Buffer: We need to press for the buffer to extend to the existing bowling alley on the Bowlmor site. There is no mention of the buffer behind the Bowlmor site.. We also need a map of the Greenway to make sure this works.
  • Springfield has concerns about Westbard Ave. It is critical that the sketch plan show that tractor trailers will be able to turn onto Westbard Ave from River Rd.

Also, there are issues with the schedule for the archaeologists and general concern that a delay in that process may impede the Willett Branch process and land dedication.

Rooftop Terraces ZTA 16-17

 PHED Committee hearing is March 27.

Posted in Meeting Summary, Uncategorized, Westbard

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