Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Community expected to see new proposal

Woodmont developers return with revamped plans

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Developers for the Woodmont East project in downtown Bethesda were expected to unveil new plans for the site Tuesday night, after concerns from the community and Montgomery County Planning Board forced developers to go back to the drawing board.

Community members met with the developers, JBG Associates, at a meeting Tuesday that took place after The Gazette deadline at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, to look over the new plans, which attempted to fix concerns raised in recent months.

A spokesperson for Federal Realty, who is developing the land along with the JBG Company, would not reveal the changes made to the plans prior to the forum.

From inadequate public space to towering buildings that blocked sunlight, community activists have been outraged over the proposed use of space, which is at the intersection of Woodmont and Bethesda avenues — a spot often thought of as the heart of downtown Bethesda.

The first set of plans, presented in November, included a hotel, retail space and 250 apartments. One of the community’s biggest qualms, however, was about public space in the center of the project.

Currently at the site is a small grassy area, which is often used by shoppers and restaurant-goers in downtown Bethesda as a spot to meet and hang out. The November proposal decreased the size of the area, and created a brick public plaza.

Pam Browning, a Chevy Chase resident and outspoken critic of the proposal, saw the new plans before they were presented Tuesday.

‘‘[The new plans] are an improvement over the other plans,” she said, ‘‘but the problem is that there could still be more space for a park.”

The forum was hosted by County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac who has been actively pursuing a public park in the proposal’s plaza area. He hosted a similar discussion in September.

The developers were expected to make changes to the public space, as well as one section of the proposed buildings, which would have hovered over a corner of the public space.

‘‘The floating thing is just a bad idea,” said Planning Board Commissioner Gene Lynch at a November Planning Board hearing. ‘‘It’s just a terrible plan.”