If negotiations fail, taking Apex building by eminent domain possible -- Gazette.Net


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If negotiations to raze the Apex building — so the “optimal” station for the western terminus of the $2.2 billion Purple Line can be built — fail, the downtown Bethesda building might be taken by eminent domain, according to a county official.

But at a public hearing on the Bethesda Purple Line Station Minor Master Plan Amendment on Jan. 14, the owners of the building said they were still willing to negotiate. The Purple Line is a planned 16-mile light rail that will link Bethesda and New Carrollton.

David Witmer, the senior vice president and COO of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the Apex building, said his organization appreciates the additional height the county has offered, but it was not enough to attract a developer to buy and raze the property. He called the incentives “modest.”

The Planning Board approved a Minor Master Plan Amendment in December that would allow the building to be rebuilt up to 250 feet. That was an increase from an earlier proposal for 200 feet.

“This is no small decision and clearly requires adequate time and consult to complete the due diligence that is necessary,” Witmer said.

Witmer said his group remains willing to work out a deal with the county, but would need more than just the extra zoning. The extra zoning alone does not make moving out, evicting tenants and razing the building doable, he said.

Planners want to tear down the Apex building, which also houses the Bethesda Regal 10 movie theater, to build the “optimal” Bethesda transit station. Doing so would allow access to both the Purple Line and Metro’s Red Line, according to county documents.

Without tearing down the Apex building, the station’s platform would have to fit into the existing tunnel, planners have said, and there would be no room for the Capital Crescent Trail. If the tunnel is rebuilt, it can be widened to make it safer and more accommodating for passengers and the trail.

But there may not be time to work out a deal that is satisfying to both sides since the Maryland Transit Administration has made it clear it wants a decision early this year.

That’s where eminent domain comes in, said Robert Kronenberg, acting chief of the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Area 1, in a meeting at The Gazette.

Kronenberg said it was “very possible” the Apex building would be taken by eminent domain if negotiations fail. Eminent domain is a process by which government can take private property, with compensation, for public use.

That process could be initiated by either the county or the state, he said.

ablum@gazette.net