Montgomery County will decide tomorrow whether a lot on the northern edge of the Woodmont Triangle section of Bethesda can do the impossible: build a residential project in the city's low-rise neighborhood. Okay, not technically impossible - but seemingly difficult, and a slew of competitors have failed to pierce the heavy veil of financial gloom.
With developers for the Monty, Trillium, Rugby Avenue, 4900 Fairmont, Auburn Avenue, 4851 Rugby Avenue all unable or unwilling to move forward in Woodmont Triangle, developer Laurence Lipnick and Battery Lane, LLC will try for site plan approval of Woodmont View at the Thursday meeting of MNCPPC, on the question of whether to allow 46 two-bedroom condominium units in a 9-story building, replacing the small office building on the corner of Battery Lane and Woodmont Avenue, and turning the single family home on the north end of the site into a "philanthropic" venue. The county's planning staff report has recommended approving the project, but with a few catches.
The plan began with an approval in March of 2004 for construction of townhomes on the site, but with a 110-foot building going in across the street, or at least the prospect thereof, and lots of low-income and multi-family housing in the vicinity, building townhouses no longer seemed like such a good idea, and so the developer made a plea for the extra density.
Complicating the plan - please mind the arcanery - is the Bethesda-Chevy Chase school district's moratorium on new construction that began July 1st, intended to stop development until the school system catches up with population growth. The open-ended moratorium clearly proscribes the subdivision of lots, but may less obviously affect the conversion of an office building into a residential tower. Woodmont View does not subdivide the existing lot, but still raises the fur on the neck of planners who see it as breach of the meaning of the moratorium, and the county has to rule on the matter of its school impact before it will issue a construction permit. All this "for 1.9 children," according to Debra Borden, an attorney with Linowes and Blocher, referring to the number of children the study deems will need accommodation as a result of the development. No 1.9 children left behind, it seems.
The height issue is the developer's Hail Mary to get 90 feet out of the site, originally zoned for 65 feet, and granted a 14 foot exception due to the provision of 8 subsidized units. The developer has requested an additional 10 feet 8 inches, an addition which would keep the building at 46 units but increase the size of each. A county synopsis of the project notes approvingly that the new design facilitates transit-oriented development, "help[s] provide a northern gateway to the Woodmont Triangle," contributes to urban planning guidelines with streetscape improvement and three levels of underground parking, and that 9 full stories would "be compatible with the surrounding buildings." Nonetheless, their Spidey sense tells them its still just too darn high.
According to project architect Eric Morrison of Morrison Architects, who has designed renovations to local embassies for the Czechs and Argentinians, and was the local architect for the much vaunted Finnish Embassy, the apparent height of the building will not change, but will only add to the stepped-back level of the ceiling behind the ornamentation. Morrison says that the peaked facade is due to Bethesda's mandatory inclusion of attractive rooflines. The design will also be broken up so as to appear "not as one monolithic structure," according to Morrison, who also likens this and its twin on the other side of Woodmont Avenue, to "a nice gateway" to Bethesda.
Oh, and Lipnick must provide and maintain a bicycle on the premises for travel to NIH (not for other purposes, mind you), along with pump, (not making this up) tube, bike lock, and both kid and adult helmet (color not specified). In perpetuity. Which seems like a very, very long time.
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