Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Bethesda private school to add 121 senior living units

Elderly, students will benefit from deal with developers, Washington Episcopal says

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A Bethesda private school passed the first hurdle Thursday on its way to putting more than 100 senior living units on its property.

The property of Washington Episcopal School, on Landy Lane and Little Falls Parkway near River Road in Bethesda, may become home to at least 121 ‘‘independent senior” residences.

The project’s earliest step — a zoning change necessary for construction to happen — was unanimously passed by the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday with a couple of small tweaks and general approval from neighbors.

The project shares a particular funding trait with other downcounty projects: The school will sell one acre of its 11.2-acre campus to developers to help pay for school improvements, such as a second athletic field, chapel and tennis courts that Head of School Stuart Work expects to cost at least $15 million.

The Sheridan Development Company of Bethesda made an offer to purchase the property and build senior residences. Construction could start in 2009, according to Work.

‘‘All the financials were beneficial,” Work said of the Sheridan offer. ‘‘But we also liked the fact that it was for older people.”

Under the deal, seniors who move into the building will have access to the school’s athletic facilities, recitals, lectures and school sporting events on campus.

The school, which serves children in kindergarten through the eighth grade, will add a four-story educational building to its property, doubling its capacity from 300 to 600 students. The tallest building now on the property is three stories.

The new residential building will be eight stories tall, with 35 one-bedroom and 86 two-bedroom units inhabited by at least one person 55 or older with no school-aged children. The building size prompted neighbors testifying before the Planning Board on Thursday to ask that aesthetics be a consideration when the project goes before the board during the next two phases, subdivision and site plan review.

‘‘Those of us on those floors right now come up directly over all the industrial garbage,” said Sue Schumacher of The Kenwood Condominium, a high-rise near industrial property to the south of the school. The high-rise would overlook the senior housing units to be built on the southern side of the campus.

The board approved the school’s request with caveats, including that it must resolve whether the project would include a traffic light at Landy Lane and River Road, ‘‘subject to [State Highway Administration] approval.”