Proposals seek new development in Bethesda, Sandy Spring -- Gazette.Net







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Bethesda and Sandy Spring could see new development if proposed amendments to a pair of Montgomery County master plans are approved by the Planning Board and County Council.

In April, the County Council approved a process that allows the public to submit applications to amend a master plan or sector plan without waiting years for major updates of those plans, which guide development in the county.

Minor master plan amendments undergo the same approval process as master plans, including multiple public hearings and approval by the Montgomery County Planning Board and County Council.

An application for a minor master plan amendment would rezone the Bethesda Marriott property at 5151 Pooks Hill Road, in Bethesda, to allow construction of three high-rise apartment buildings. The buildings would be up to 20 stories tall and constructed on underused parking lots.

Current zoning does not allow residential development on the property, according to the application from Rockville law firm Miller, Miller & Canby, on behalf of property owner.

The property owner is CMG Bethesda Owner LLC, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Approval would amend the 1990 Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan, but the project would require a subsequent application, said Rose Krasnow, acting director of the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The project would require at least 12.5 percent moderately priced dwelling units.

The property currently contains a 15-story hotel with 407 guest rooms, a restaurant, and several meeting and conference rooms. The hotel was constructed in 1980 and purchased by its current owner in 2006, according to the application.

Officials of CMG Bethesda Owner LLC could not be reached for comment.

Planning staff are scheduled to begin working on the amendment in October, with staff recommendations to the planning board to follow.

Gaining the necessary approvals for the proposed amendments would take about a year, Krasnow said.

The community was against a similar project in 2006, when the property owner began discussions about constructing condos on the Marriott property, said Allen Myers, president of the Maplewood Citizens Association. Maplewood surrounds the property to the south and west.

I have some concerns but Im not going to articulate them at the moment because the time isnt right for it, Myers said. The membership has not even discussed this in six years.

Krasnow said the proposed project is the kind county officials should encourage because it would build high density housing near a metro station and jobs.

The site is a little more than a mile from the Medical Center Metro station, National Institutes of Health, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It also is located at the junction of Rockville Pike, Interstate 270, and Interstate 495.

We have been saying for some time, surface parking lots are going to be one of the primary areas of the county where we will start seeing development happen, other than the agricultural areas, which of course we always want to keep green, Krasnow said.

The site is surrounded by residential development, including high-rise apartments, though nearby residents might be nervous about adding more traffic to an already congested area, she said.

Even with additional traffic, the intersection of Pooks Hill Road and Wisconsin Avenue would continue to operate at acceptable levels of service, according to a traffic evaluation commissioned by the property owner, the application states.

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Changes in Sandy Spring?

County planning staff also are scheduled to begin working on a proposed minor master plan amendment for Sandy Spring in January 2013.

The amendment would encourage development in the village center — which includes Md. 108 from Bentley Road to Norwood Road — according to the application by Montgomery County planning staff.

It would implement recommendations from the 1998 Sandy Spring/Ashton Master Plan and the Vision for Sandy Spring, which was written and approved by the community in 2010.

The recommendations call for a pedestrian-friendly village center with a realigned Brooke Road, increased density on the north side of Md. 108, slower traffic on Md. 108, and more restaurants, retail and consumer services.

Its not ever going to be downtown Bethesda or Silver Spring or Rockville, anything like that, said John Carter, chief of Area 3 — which includes Sandy Spring — for the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The challenge for planning staff is to encourage commercial and residential development in Sandy Spring while maintaining its rural character, Krasnow said.

We know the people who live there would like to not have to travel as far to get to certain things, like restaurants and shopping opportunities, she said. The question is, what is the right way to make that happen?

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