Chevy Chase Lake: How big is too big? -- Gazette.Net


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Tall buildings, traffic and pedestrian safety are among the concerns that a community group harbors about the proposed transformation of the Chevy Chase Lake area.

The Montgomery County Planning Board has sent to the County Council an extensive plan that breaks the project into two parts: pre- and post-Purple Line.

On Tuesday night, residents, developers and others got the chance to sound off on the plans at a public hearing before the Montgomery County Council at the council’s hearing room in Rockville.

Up for discussion was just what the collection of gas stations, parking lots and small shops near the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Manor Road should look like in the future.

The first phase of the plan would take effect right away, while the second would be implemented if the Purple Line is funded. The light rail project, currently unfunded, would link Bethesda to New Carrollton via Silver Spring.

Waiting until the Purple Line is funded before beginning the second phase must be enforced if the plan is to gain the support of the Connecticut Avenue Corridor Committee, said Chevy Chase Mayor Patricia Burda. The group comprises representatives of 23 communities affected by the Chevy Chase Lake development.

“We need some kind of legal remedy to ensure it,” Burda said. In a prepared statement for the council, the committee laid out its main points of concern: traffic, school overcrowding, maintaining and creating green spaces, keeping pedestrians safe with sensible road crossings and ensuring no buildings are taller than 70 feet.

That last issue may be a tough one, as current plans allow for 150-foot-tall buildings. That’s much too tall for the neighborhood, Burda said.

But despite the group’s critiques, Burda said it generally supported the planning board’s two-phase approach.

“The original plan was really fantasy land,” Burda said. “But overall the new plan is much better.” She cited more green space as an improvement over earlier plans.

But others are not as happy with the planning board’s suggestions.

“The plan has been supersized,” said William Buchanan, a Chevy Chase Hills resident who planned to attend the hearing to protest the size of the development. “We want redevelopment. Just on the right scale.”

The county’s planning staff originally had suggested adding 250,000 square feet in the process of redeveloping the area that is now home to the Chevy Chase Supermarket, the 13-story Chevy Chase Land Co. office building and several smaller shops such as Starbucks and City Bikes. But the planning board upped that square footage to 790,000. Much of that additional space would come in the form of 15-story buildings.

Another sticking point is the inclusion of the Newdale Mews apartments in the first phase of development. The apartments, which sit behind a Sunoco gas station on Newdale Road, would be demolished and rebuilt on a grander scale if the board’s recommendations are adopted, reaching 55 feet tall.

“That’s just enormous for this area,” Buchanan said. “It just doesn’t fit.”

His wife, Julie, was so upset by the proposed plans that she and a few neighbors started a group called “Don’t Flood the Lake” in an effort to keep redevelopment on a small scale. An online petition has garnered more than 500 signatures.

But Rob Bindeman, president of Landmark Realty, called the redevelopment plan a “once-every-20-year opportunity” that would allow him to update his older buildings.

In July 2008, one of Landmark’s buildings had a structural problem and was condemned by the county, Bindeman said, and it took 12 months to repair. All the buildings are more than 60 years old and need substantial repairs, he said, and this is a chance to rebuild in one fell swoop.

ablum@gazette.net