Monday, March 31, 2008

Silver Spring Developer Requests Another Year


Michael LLC, a relatively unknown developer which has been working to get Studio Plaza through the Montgomery review process since July, 2006, is now requesting that the Montgomery Planning Board extend their review period for one full year, ending June 7th, 2009. The project is planned to rise at the intersection of Georgia and Thayer Avenue in an area known as Fenton Village, in the heart of the Silver Spring Central Business District. The current preliminary design, courtesy of SK&I Architecture, provides for 525 residential units, 152,000 s.f. of office space, almost 60,000 s.f. of ground-floor retail and two underground parking garages, one private and one public, creating more than 900 spaces.

According to a letter from Linowes and Blocher LLP, the development firm's counsel, "a further extension of time is required and appropriate to ensure administrative efficiency for all concerned." The Montgomery National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) will be hearing the request at their April 3rd meeting.

The delay became inevitable when Michael began negotiations with Montgomery County to add adjacent public land, Parking Lot 3, to the Studio Plaza site. The goal was to fold that parcel into the original application as a revised project plan, but the Maryland Transit Authority halted the land disposition - MTA was preserving Lot 3 for possible incorporation into the purple line. Now that MTA has ruled out use of the site, Montgomery County and Michael are working to iron out a general development agreement, which will integrate both properties into one development. If approved, this would be the second one-year extension for Studio Plaza.

Michael's lawyers argued that a time extension is further justified given the rather complicated alleyway system that exists on Lot 3 and that a bulk of the extension would be used in deciphering the amount of usable land. "The abandonment process [of the alleys] will likely require 6-9 months from filing to resolve...Only then, knowing exactly what land is available on Parking Lot 3, will [Michael] be able to re-design the project accordingly," argued Linowes and Blocher attorney C. Roberty Dalrymple, in a letter to Rose Krasnow, Chief of the Development Review Division at MNCPPC.

The development firm has an option - they acquire the land and file a new application. But there's a catch - the original application was submitted before December 1, 2006, which happens to be the date that the Montgomery Workforce Housing bill became effective, requiring all future residential building applications to incorporate 'affordable housing.' In a rather biting response letter, which refers to Michael's year-long extension request as 'inappropriate,' Rose Krasnow clearly outlined Michael's dilemma: "Any residential buildings in the revised proposal that were not included in the original July 25, 2006 submission, or in any new application, will, at a minimum, be fully subject to Workforce Housing requirements." This requires Michael to maintain the original 'filed' status of the Project Plan and amend it, rather than start from scratch, in order to be grandfathered under the old rules.

Elza Hisel-McCoy, a Site Plan Reviewer at MNCPPC, presents the damned-if-you-do set of options: "From our perspective, if the applicant was going to provide the worforce housing for the units in the original proposal, I think we'd be willing to support the extension of time," Hisel-McCoy stated. It is now up to the Planning Board to decide whether the time extension will be granted, or whether Michael will indeed have to re-file.

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