Friday, November 16, 2007

Bethesda Developer Shelves Project

Plans for a 250-unit development in downtown Bethesda were put on ice this week by Street Retail Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Federal Realty Trust, citing adverse community reaction. The project, when put into motion, will create a 250-room hotel, 56,000 s.f. of retail space and 250 "residential components" for downtown Bethesda at the NE corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues (site photo pictured).

Phase one of the project, consisting of a single 5-story office building with ground-level retail and eight-screen movie theatre, already sits on the NW corner of the lot and is proposed to be incorporated into the new development. In order to accomplish architectural integration with the surrounding Metro Core District, design team Shalom Baranes Associates has concentrated building density in the northeast portion of the lot, gradually decreasing the concentration of construction to seamlessly transition into the southwestern low-density zones.

Last week, the Montgomery County Planning Department finally reviewed preliminary plans for the development, more than a year since they were originally submitted. During that time, developers have been hitting the streets, dedicating copious time to local government officials, Planning Department members and the community at large in an attempt to head off future dissent and incorporate feasible solutions into the overall plan. It has paid off; one notable example lies in the hubbub that arose when Capital Crescent Trail constituents found out they would lose their trail during the duration of the two-year construction period. As a result of community involvement the development team came up with three alternative solutions to the problem that subsequently satisfied the concerned parties.

Still, many don't want to see more development on what is now open green space, a factor accentuated by the PN Hoffman project approved just across the street. Maryland Politics Watch writer David Lublin opines: "Precisely because so much development is already approved near to that intersection is why more open space is needed." In turn, developers have pulled out because they want to meet those concerns before entering a public hearing.

John R. Tschiderer
, VP of Development for Federal Realty Investment Trust, stressed his firm's focus on community involvement. "[We] have been involved in creating Bethesda row for 13 to 14 years, and our investment in its creation has been through a public/private partnership. We have worked through the political and community leadership and the constituents thereof collectively, to create a very distinct and noticeable district. There have been many layers of benefit to all of those involved in the partnership and we are going to continue in that forum."


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