Saturday, May 23, 2009

Golden Arches Go High-Rise in Downtown Bethesda

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students will have one less parking lot to congregate in now that New York-based developers, the Clarett Group, have gotten the go-ahead to demolish the existing McDonald’s franchise at 4500 East West Highway and replace it with a nine-story office building.

The site – which currently houses the fast food chain, a small office building and a vast amount of surface parking – is to be re-appropriated for a new 98-foot, nine-story high-rise that will feature 13,300 square feet of ground level retail. The prominent downtown Bethesda location – just a block from the aforementioned high school and the Bethesda Metro Center – is intended to house a new restaurant and a few commercial outlets above three levels of below-grade parking. The rest of the Shalom Baranes-designed development will go towards Class A office space and a green roof.

However, to receive the approval of the Montgomery County Planning Board (MCPB), the development team was forced to acquiesce to a laundry list of county demands: the building must be completed in one construction phase, achieve a LEED silver certification, provide – at a minimum - 20% public use space.

In order to live up to the latter of those specifications, Clarett will install a 4500 square foot public plaza with “plantings, a water feature, and artwork” at the corner of East West Highway and Pearl Street. A final decision on the choice of artwork lies with the Montgomery County Art Review Panel, which is expected to announce their decision soon. According to Planning Board staff, the proposed plaza is a “direct response” to the provisions of Bethesda Sector Plan and will “serve as a gateway to downtown Bethesda.”

Furthermore, the site is also to be incorporated into the Georgetown Branch Trail, a local biking path that shadows the route of the upcoming (and much debated) Purple Line. Two 5-foot wide on-street bike paths will be laid along Pearl Street in order to connect it with the popular footpath, for a total of 6885 square feet of on-site public use space. Pearl Street itself was once proposed a Purple Line stop for Bus Rapid Transit –before the MCPB instead moved in favor of a light rail system. Given the close proximity of the high school and the heavy hiker/biker traffic in the area, Planning Board staff pledged that these infrastructural improvements will keep the “emphasis on safety and pedestrian access.”

After a preliminary hearing last October, Clarett’s final project plan was approved by the MCPB on December 4th. The MTA Purple Line Project team has also ruled that the plans present no conflict with their plans for a light rail system, as have the Maryland State Highway Administration and Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Construction is expected to commence in the fourth quarter of 2009. James G. Davis Construction Corp. will serve as general contractor.


Anonymous said...

This is great, but will McDonalds get a spot in the new building?

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