Wednesday, March 12, 2008

‘Marketplace’ unveiled for old YMCA site

Traffic, pedestrian safety top resident concerns at community presentation

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Redevelopment plans for the former Upper Montgomery YMCA in Montgomery Village have doubled in size since they were first unveiled in November.

On Monday night, Jay Donegan, of developer J Donegan Company, shared architectural drawings with about 30 residents and explained that demolition of the 40-year-old landmark could begin within two months. The plans call for a 28,000-square-foot ‘‘upscale” shopping plaza in its place. The Montgomery Village Marketplace, could be open by fall of next year.

When Donegan first talked to residents in November, the retail space was estimated at 14,000 square feet.

The Vienna, Va.-based developer bought the YMCA property — two buildings near the corner of Stedwick and Watkins Mill roads, just behind the Village Center shopping mall on Montgomery Village Avenue — in September for $4 million, according to state property tax records.

The latest plan envisions three one-story buildings: a bank, a 20,000-square-foot building with restaurants and retail and 4,500-square-foot building with one to three storefronts.

The property needs substantial grading and in-fill work, and the project will require approval from the county Planning Board before construction can commence, Donegan said.

As currently conceived, the complex would have roughly 180 parking spots. The 3,172-square-foot bank will likely be a Chevy Chase Bank. Donegan mentioned Starbucks, Chipotle, Five Guys and Panera as the kind of restaurants he expects to see.

‘‘It strikes me that there’s a real void, an unmet market,” Donegan said. ‘‘This is not a big project, but I think we can make a splash.”

Amid a great deal of resident speculation over how the project will fit in with the adjacent Village Center plaza, which many see as troubled and ailing, Donegan’s plan won wide favor among those at the meeting for being just what the area needs.

‘‘I think this looks really good, and I hope other owners will be inspired to get their act together and pick it up,” said Linda Sherman of Whetstone, who has lived in Montgomery Village for more than 30 years.

But residents at Monday’s meeting also want to be sure the project doesn’t put too much of burden on the congested area.

Located across Stedwick Road from the condominiums communities of Heron’s Cove and Center Court — and within walking distance of three schools — the interplay of pedestrian traffic and vehicular volume worried several residents, especially since the intersection at the plaza’s entrance has no crosswalk, stop signs or stoplight.

Donegan said that his engineers are finalizing their traffic study and that those concerns will be addressed.

There was also question as to the fate of the much-maligned pedestrian tunnel that runs under Stedwick Road. Though Donegan said that as yet there are no plans for the county-owned tunnel, he said the tunnel ‘‘is a hot button with me.”

Not everyone was pleased with the plan. Tom Vilanza, a14-year Northgate resident, had hoped to see a broader, Smart Growth approach.

‘‘This is supposed to be the heart of Montgomery Village,” he said in an interview, ‘‘so I’d like people thinking more like Reston and Columbia — making it a real community center versus just another Sprawlsville.”