As Chevy Chase Lake prepares to morph into a transit-oriented community, complete with new restaurants, retail and greenspace, residents question how much development is too much.
Residents and public officials spoke out Oct. 18 about a draft of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which includes the possibility of buildings up to 150 feet tall.
The public hearing before the Montgomery County Planning Board generated nearly three hours of testimony from business owners and smart growth advocates who praised the high density projects and local residents who requested limited growth to prevent increased traffic and decreased quality of life.
Chevy Chase Hills is united against any development beyond what planning staff has recommended, said Julie Buchanan, co-president of the Chevy Chase Hills Civic Association, which represents 55 single family homes that are surrounded on three sides by proposed redevelopment. Planning staff recommendations capped building heights at 90 feet.
Buchanan said Chevy Chase Hills residents have become frustrated with a process that has started to feel deceptive. When the planning process began, residents indicated to planning staff and the Chevy Chase Land Company through surveys that they would like to see more restaurants, retail, a park and improved pedestrian access. But she said surveys never indicated those things could only be achieved after adding hundreds of new cars to the roads, increasing building heights and degrading the quality of local schools.
“The marginal benefits to us in no way justify the massive deterioration to our quality of life you are considering imposing,” Buchanan said, to audience applause.
The board also heard representatives from The Town of Chevy Chase, the Chevy Chase Park Community Association, the Coquelin Run Citizens Association and the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, which includes representatives from approximately two dozen communities that would be impacted by redevelopment. All opposed increased development before the Purple Line, except for prior approvals.
Chevy Chase Land Company owns 49.4 acres along Connecticut Avenue between Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Manor Road. It has requested additional density in the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center and the Lake West Shopping Center parking lot.
Current plans for the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center, which is owned by the Land Company, would allow the shopping center to be replaced by approximately 74,360 square feet of office space and approximately 174,000 square feet of retail space before the Purple Line.
The shopping center could accommodate increased density before the Purple Line — without increasing the number of cars on the road — by changing the mix of uses, according to planning staff.
Alternatives include 708 apartments with 120,000 square feet of retail, or a 140-room hotel, approximately 600 apartments, and 120,000 square feet of retail, according to planning department documents. Both options would generate fewer trips than the existing approved mix, according to planning department documents.
Speakers were skeptical that the Land Company could significantly increase density at the shopping center without increasing traffic, a point that Board Chair Francoise Carrier requested be explored further by planning staff.
“I’m not sold,” she said.
The next step for the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan is a series of work sessions where the planning board will finalize the planning board draft of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, said Elza Hisel-McCoy, area 1 planner for the Montgomery County Planning Department.
Work sessions are scheduled for Nov. 1 and Nov. 15, but the board can schedule additional hearings if necessary. The planning board draft must be approved by a majority of the board, after which it will go to County Executive Isiah Leggett, who will provide comment, and the County Council.
The County Council will hold a public hearing before approving a final sector plan. A separate action by the County Council would change the zoning. The zoning process includes additional public hearings.
Staff has recommended density on the scale of Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Center, but the public hearing draft includes a range of development options, including the possibility of buildings up to 150 feet tall. A majority of the board is interested in considering additional density, Planning Commissioner Casey Anderson previously said.
Planning staff recommended a two-phase plan for development within the Chevy Chase Lake Sector. The first would maintain current densities but rezone commercial land on Connecticut Avenue for mixed-use. In this phase, 70-foot tall buildings would be permitted in the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center, with development limited to 250,000 total square feet.
The second phase would be triggered by funding of the Chevy Chase Lake Purple Line station, a $1.9 billion, unfunded rail project that would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring.
In the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center, buildings up to 90 feet tall would be allowed along the Purple Line, which is slated to run through the interior of the shopping center. Buildings up to 70 feet tall would be permitted farther from the station, along Connecticut Avenue and Manor Road.
The town center is an area that includes the commercial properties on Connecticut Avenue between Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Manor Road, as well as the Chevy Chase Lake Apartments on Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Newdale Mews Apartments. This area would be rezoned to allow mixed-use at increased densities under the plan.
In the Lake West parking lot, staff recommended zoning that would allow 15 townhouses. The Land Company is requesting zoning that would allow up to 65 apartments.
The Housing Opportunities Commission, which administers a variety of programs to provide subsidized housing for low- and moderate-income individuals, requested approximately 400 apartments. Staff recommended 230 apartments.
The owner of Newdale Mews, apartments on Newdale Road owned by Newdale Mews Ltd. Partnership, has requested the flexibility to go up to 65 feet. Staff recommended 45 feet. Neighbors of Newdale Mews have opposed heights beyond 45 feet.