Rooftop barbecues, a room for parking bicycles and a large sculpture for climbing are all part of the plans for a new Bethesda tower, which the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously approved Thursday.
Plans for the redevelopment of 7535 Old Georgetown Road, directly across from La Madeleine restaurant, call for the demolition of the drive-through United Bank branch, which gained notoriety in 2008 when it was robbed twice in one week. In its place, developer Kettler of McLean, Va., wants to build a 15-story, mixed-use tower that would have 120 apartments and 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
Kettler envisions a 46-by-65-foot plaza that would be open to the public. Along with seating, the pocket park would have greenery, a public path weaving through it and a large architectural sculpture meant to draw in and engage passers-by.
“We want to encourage people to come around the sculpture and see what’s on the other side,” said Sacha Rosen R2L:Architects in Washington, D.C. “It’s definitely to be climbed on.”
The project would “strengthen the core” of Bethesda’s center by redeveloping the area near the Metro station with commercial and residential space, said Tina Schneider, senior planner with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The project exemplifies the kind of growth outlined in the 1994 sector plan, Schneider said. The ground-level retail space would draw in or “activate” pedestrians and the height of the building would maximize its small footprint and allow for 120 apartments to be built near the Metro station.
Certain exceptions were made for the project — such as expanding the usual limit from 25 percent of the roof to about 40 percent to accommodate the deck and lounge area the developers want. The deck will have sweeping views, lounge seating, grills and will be “a true indoor-outdoor space” with “glass walls that can be opened,”Rosen said.
The board also placed conditions on the project. Kettler must put aside 12.5 percent of apartments as moderately priced and limit the building’s height to 143 feet, not including the roof deck.
The planning board will consider a site plan, after Kettler develops one.
The project plan can be found at montgomeryplanningboard.org/agenda/2013/documents/20130314_BethesdaCommerce.pdf.