Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Planning Board gives OK to Symphony Park

Townhouse development next to Strathmore gets the green light

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The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday unanimously approved site plans for a 112-townhouse development next to Strathmore.

Symphony Park will be built on the 18-acre site formerly occupied by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association headquarters at 10801 Rockville Pike in North Bethesda. The building currently on the property will be razed. Demolition is expected to begin later this year and construction could start in the winter.

The site plans addressed concerns of the Planning Board and residents of the nearby Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park neighborhood about retaining enough open space and keeping noise levels down on the property.

The space between ASHA and Strathmore was originally to be used for a large lawn for the historic Strathmore Mansion, which sits next to the Music Center at Strathmore, Eliot Pfansteihl, Strathmore executive director said. Strathmore has presented outdoor concerts on the lawn for the past 24 years, and movies for the past eight years, he said.

‘‘This is two-thirds of that [lawn],” he said. ‘‘It has become the village green of Montgomery County in many ways and the neighbors, the neighborhoods and the surrounding communities have come to expect that there are free, outdoor events on that lawn in the summer.”

Planning Board members asked the developer, Centex Homes of Texas, to push the homes as far away from the music center and outdoor concert venue as possible at initial site plan review in June 2007.

The board was concerned about preserving as much open space as possible between the new homes and the adjacent Music Center at Strathmore.

‘‘It would be nice to see this as part of Strathmore. We don’t always get what we want in this life, I guess,” Planning Board Commissioner Jean Cryor told Centex representatives on Thursday.

The county master plan, a 20-year growth guide, calls for 10 acres of the property to be saved for green space between the music center and homes.

According to the site plans, about 8.9 acres of land will be between Strathmore and the houses. Of those about five acres will be open green space.

Pfansteihl told the Planning Board that there would still be sufficient space to hold the concerts and movies. ‘‘They’ve pushed the homes back as far as they can,” Pfansteihl said. ‘‘It isn’t Centex’s fault that the nearest bedroom window is 20 feet from our [outdoor] symphony.”

Keith Tunell, Centex spokesman, told the Planning Board on Thursday that the company expects little resistance from future homeowners. Residents will have to agree not to submit noise complaints against the performing arts center, according to covenants that will be part of their purchasing contracts.

Typical residents of Symphony Park would likely be middle-aged couples with no children, who want to be close to concerts and cultural events at Strathmore and to be able to walk to the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station, according to the company. A typical price for a townhouse has not been established.

County Planner Joshua Sloan said an ‘‘urban forest” would screen the view between Strathmore and Symphony Park as much as possible. Trees that could filter some noise from the concert venue as well.

A noise study that accompanied the initial plans showed an impact on Symphony Park residents, but was unable to show that nearby residents of Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park would be greatly affected.

Noise from outdoor movies and concerts was reduced last year, according to Natalie Goldberg, a Garrett Park Estates-White Flint Park resident.

However, residents of nearby neighborhoods are still concerned that walking and bicycle paths that cross the Symphony Park site and link nearby neighborhoods to the Metro and music hall remain open to the public.

‘‘This public path is not part of the internal pedestrian connectivity of SP, and we’re concerned it would be a low priority when the homeowners association takes over [the property],” Goldberg said.

A 10-foot wide bike path and series of eight-foot-wide walking paths run from the future neighborhood south to the Strathmore center and Metro station, according to current site plans.

In addition to the houses, Centex will be responsible for building an amphitheater for Strathmore’s outdoor concerts. Designs are not yet established for the outdoor venue, which will be built in an oval framed by walking paths in the open space just south of the future homes.

Pfansteihl said Strathmore would install the latest sound technology that would keep all noise in the performance area, and not project it to the nearby neighborhoods.

The State highway Administration will also be required to study traffic mitigation possibilities like crosswalks and stop lights around the property.

‘‘It could be a pedestrian traffic signal, it could be striping [a crosswalk] or it could be some other traffic calming form,” Sloan said.

A county traffic study showed that traffic from the new development would be only a slight increase to existing traffic.

There will be five more trips in the morning and 37 evening trips on average, said Sloan.

‘‘That translates to approximately one car every five minutes more than the existing use in the evening and very few more in the morning,” he said.