Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Somerville property earns first level of approvals

Planning Board OKs preliminary forest conservation plan, higher density for Derwood site

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The county Planning Board recently took the first steps toward allowing 156 residences to be built on a site between Redland Road and Chieftain Avenue in Derwood.

During a hearing on March 20, the board approved the preliminary forest conservation plan for the 4.26-acre site that is known as the Thomas Somerville property.

The board also recommended approving that the property be rezoned to a higher residential density. Doing so would allow for residential development at 35 dwelling units per acre, according to a Park and Planning staff report.

The plans will go before the county zoning hearing examiner on Friday, said Rich Koch, managing member of Keystone Real Estate Investment LLC, the developers of the property.

The County Council would ultimately need to give its approval before the property could be rezoned.

According to the staff report, Keystone wants to construct 36 townhouses, three single-family homes and a four-story building with 117 multi-family units.

Koch said the property sits across the street from Baldwin Landing, which received site plan approval from the Planning Board for 42 houses — mostly townhouses — in November.

At the March 20 hearing, Royce Hanson, chairman of the Planning Board, said he would like to see the three single-family homes front Chieftain Avenue rather than having the houses face a courtyard.

Koch said he would be ‘‘indifferent to having the cottages face the street.”

Karen Kumm, county Park and Planning’s lead planner for the Shady Grove Sector Plan, added that having the houses front the street would be more aesthetically pleasing.

Joseph Parello, second vice president of the Greater Shady Grove Civic Alliance and a member of the Shady Grove Advisory Committee, raised concerns over additional traffic.

As a resident who lives a block away from Baldwin Landing, he said he was disappointed to learn in November that a traffic circle at Yellowstone Way and Chieftain Avenue was not included in that plan.

Kumm said Park and Planning is hoping to get a traffic-calming island installed there. The Thomas Somerville property is split almost down the middle by Yellowstone Way.

‘‘It could make a material difference in the way traffic moves in and out of this neighborhood,” Hanson said.

Parello chimed in that he thought a traffic-calming island might help.

‘‘There are only two entries or exits in this whole community and we’re adding 156 new residences in addition to the other 52, so there are quite a few vehicles that are going to be added to this,” he said.

A traffic light at the intersection of Yellowstone Way and Redland Road is also needed, Parello added.

‘‘It’ll help this future community and the existing one,” he noted.

A traffic light and a traffic circle at Chieftain Avenue and Yellowstone Way are recommended in the Shady Grove Sector Plan, the staff report states.

In a letter to the County Council on March 25, Hanson said the orientation of the single-family homes would be taken up at site plan review.

He said it was also pointed out to the board that pedestrians take ‘‘great risk” in crossing Redland Road to get to the Shady Grove Metro station. As a result, the board is considering the traffic-calming island, the installation of a traffic light and⁄or a pedestrian activity light coordinated with the traffic light at Crabbs Branch Way to ‘‘promote safe access to the transit station.”

Koch said in a telephone interview Thursday that he understood Parello’s concerns. Keystone, he said, is anticipating adding a dedicated right-turn lane onto Redland Road and is supportive of traffic-calming measures.

‘‘Nobody’s giving up on anything right now,” Koch said.

He added that he is also looking to purchase a portion of county-owned land located directly to the east of the site in order to mitigate stormwater management and create a community park.

Members of the Shady Grove Advisory Committee, which has met with Koch three times, said they would be in favor of creating more open space.