Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Neighbors try to save Grosvenor property

Planning Board will consider the North Bethesda site for Legacy Open Space Program

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A group of North Bethesda residents submitted a petition and letter to the county Planning Board Monday, in an effort to convince the county to purchase at least part of the Grosvenor Mansion property, which is slated for redevelopment.

The letter, which in its shortened, petition form was signed by nearly 250 neighbors, states, ‘‘designating the property [as Legacy Open Space] would protect the last remaining area of forest...[and] buffer and protect Fleming Park and the local bicycle path.”

The property, originally owned by the first editor of National Geographic magazine, Gilbert Grosvenor, is currently in the process of being purchased by an outside company, which will use the grounds for a school.

A portion of the property, however, has been nominated for protection under the county’s Legacy Open Space Program, which purchases land in danger of development or other use.

The Planning Board listened to public comment about the Grosvenor site and other prospective Legacy Open Space sites at a Nov. 15 meeting, but deferred a judgment on the sites, allowing until this past Monday for opinions.

A new date for Legacy Open Space application review will probably come in January, according to Legacy Open Space Senior Planner Dominic Quattrochi.

Quattrochi said public comment does play a role for the Planning Board, among the legal factors it must consider, when making a decision.

‘‘If there is a project that has overwhelming public support, that is always taken into account,” he said. ‘‘And this site is very interesting because of its possibility of increased recreational space.”

Dennis Calderone, who lives near the property, testified at the Nov. 15 hearing, and saw the extension as an opportunity to help his neighborhood.

Jeff Klein, along with Calderone, Joan Hurley and Pat Davenport, penned the letter and petition on behalf of the North Bethesda Grove and Alta Vista Gardens neighborhoods, citing reasons the county should buy the 26-acre plot.

‘‘The Grosvenor ‘Wild Acres’ property is the last significant forest in our area,” the letter states. ‘‘It is an enormous asset to our community and to the county.”

While the Legacy Open Space application doesn’t include the entire Grosvenor Mansion property, Calderone hopes the county may consider purchasing the entire lot.

‘‘We certainly hope the county buys all the undeveloped land, but the rest of the property would be good, too,” he said. ‘‘We could try to get the mansion designated as a historic landmark.”

The total acreage of the property is 35, but only 26 acres are currently being considered under the application. A spokesperson for the property’s potential owner, Jeanne Allen-Strother, would not speculate about what would happen if the Planning Board voted to purchase the land.

Allen-Strother has also said that the buyers hope to keep the character of the land the same, and make the property ‘‘a home run for the neighborhood.”

The property is located on Grosvenor Lane in North Bethesda, between Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike.

Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods North Bethesda Grove and Alta Vista Gardens neighborhoods were adamant about their support of the plan, Klein said, with not one neighbor turning down the opportunity to sign the petition.

There are about 470 houses in North Bethesda Grove and Alta Vista Gardens and the only reason there aren’t more signatures is because people simply weren’t home, Klein said.

‘‘The question wasn’t whether or not people supported the plan, it was how many houses could we get to over the weekend,” he said.