Monday, October 25, 2010

Bethesda Church Moves Forward With Development, Receives Council's Blessing

Twice the Montgomery County Planning Board had approved the plans of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bethesda-Chevy Chase to build a 107-unit residential building combined with a six-story church and community center. And twice Hearing Examiner Martin Grossman had recommended denial of the proposal, citing a lack of "compatibility" with several nearby rows of single family homes. The Church's development team had reduced their mixed-use development plans from 53,000 s.f. to 25,000 s.f., as well as offered more dramatic setbacks and reduced massing in an effort to appease naysayers. But although Grossman called the augmented plans a "much closer call" he still predicted
the development to "dwarf the nearby single-family detached homes." Nonetheless, last week County Council became the "ultimate decider," settling the dispute with a 6-2 vote in favor of the Church's plans.

Virginia-based MTFA Architecture is the project architect, and seem to be busy with several church-residential combo projects, as another of their client's in Arlington (The Views) recently emerged in tact after a similar drama. The Church project will occupy two-acres, currently inhabited by a church building and attached community center, several single-family homes and a surface parking lot, all of which will be razed. Parking needs will be satisfied by two levels of below-grade lots. The complex will cover a college-size indoor athletic field for community use, public green spaces, affordable residences serving the elderly, transitional housing for the homeless, and a range of other social-work programming.

While Councilman Mark Elrich "was frankly appalled" at the plans to essentially box in the contesting enclave of residential homes, others saw this sort of development as inevitable, and not much of a change in the grand scheme of zoning in the area, as many other large projects nearby have already been approved. Councilman Roger Berliner seemed to take a less reactionary stance, and painted a broader picture in which he concurred that "substantial compatibility" was present in this proposal give the urban nature of the immediate area.

But Church representative Barry Lemley said there is still about a year before construction can be expected, as preliminary site planning and securing building permits should take a significant amount of time. Having originally partnered with Bozzuto in 2006, and then left the agreement to tackle planning and approval process on their own, the Church will once again look for private development partner to see the plans through.
Lemley says they remain undecided on whether to release a RFP immediately, or sit on the approvals until the market further stabilizes. "For an urban infill project like this, in this slow economy, some of the bigger firms that passed on it originally, may have an interest now," Lemley said. And even though construction might be further down the line, and delivery probably won't happen for "two to three years," Lemley and his church are relieved to have the support of County Council. "We always thought we had a unique project here," he explained, "and while some people thought that it was too much, others thought that it was just what the community needs."

Bethesda, MD Real Estate Development News


Anonymous said...

As someone commented back in March, WHERE is this project located?! I work in Bethesda and cannot figure out from the aerial photograph where this is.

It's really frustrating to read a news article and not get the basic questions (who, what, why, where, when) answered in the first paragraph or two. Writers, you are performing a public service, not constructing the Great American Novel.

Brooks Butler Hays on Oct 26, 2010, 3:25:00 PM said...

thanks for the editorial advice anon, in all of our articles the orange dc/md/va map in the top left of every article beginning links directly to a google map of discussed property

Frank said...

Thanks for the update. Could you ad "Bethesda" to the labels?

Deborah Westbrooke on Oct 28, 2010, 2:46:00 PM said...

The Washington Smart Growth Alliance recognized this project as a smart growth proposal in its original configuration in 2008(our press release at shows the originally proposed elevation); the Alliance reconfirmed the recognition after reviewing the revised site plan.

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