Not enough time and too few incentives, says the owner of the Apex building in downtown Bethesda — the site where state and county planners want to build the “optimal” station for the western terminus of the $2.2 billion Purple Line.
A few weeks ago the word from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., was that the company was willing to work with Montgomery County on finding a mutually beneficial arrangement.
But at a meeting on Thursdaybefore the county’s planning board, David Witmer, the company’s senior vice president and CEO, said there was neither enough time to do a proper analysis, nor enough incentives to make it worthwhile.
“We’ve monitored the plans for the Purple Line since purchasing the Apex building in 1992,” Witmer said. “You can imagine our surprise when we discovered earlier this year that a proposal had been filed to amend the master plan for our property with the expectation that by the end of the year we would have to make a decision to whether to agree to vacate our building and demolish it within two years.”
Planners want to tear down the Apex building, which also houses the Bethesda Regal 10 movie theater, to build the “optimal” Bethesda station, which would allow access to both the Purple Line and Metro’s Red Line, according to county documents. The Purple Line is a planned 16-mile light rail that will link Bethesda and New Carrollton.
Without tearing down the Apex building, the station’s platform would have to fit into the existing tunnel, planners have said. If the tunnel is rebuilt, it can be widened to make it safer and more accommodating for passengers.
And the Maryland Transit Administration has said it wants an answer on the issue by the end of the year.
Witmer called the deadline “unusually aggressive” and said the company needed adequate time to do due diligence.
“This is no small decision,” Witmer said, The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has about 40,000 members, employs about 200 people and has been in Bethesda for more than 45 years — the last 20 in the Apex building. Witmer said the company would need “a compelling benefit” to vacate and tear down the building because adding density to the rebuilt building might not be sufficient to offset losses.
Purple Line planners have acknowledged the need to sweeten the incentives for the owner to get on board, and that increasing the building’s allowed density after redevelopment won’t be enough. From $5 million to $10 million in public money might be needed to offset the costs related to the owner moving out of the Apex building, according to a county economic analysis.
“It’s not, of course, the answer we wanted to hear,” said Francoise Carrier, chairwoman of the planning board, once Witmer was done testifying.
Several other people spoke, including Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Pat Burda, who said she wanted to see the proposed master plan amendment made conditional on full funding for the Purple Line, an approach that was adopted earlier this year in the Chevy Chase Lake sector plan.
The county will continue taking comments on the Purple Line Station minor master plan amendment until Nov. 14 and the planning board is scheduled to hold another meeting on the amendment on Nov. 21. Comments can be emailed to MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org, faxed to Francoise Carrier at 301-495-1320, or addressed to Francoise Carrier, Chairwoman, Montgomery County Planning Board, 8787 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md., 20910.