Friday, January 27, 2012

Bethesda Lot 31 Project Delayed (Again) Until February

Groundbreaking for Lot 31, the public-private StonebridgeCarras-PN Hoffman project on Bethesda Row, in the works since 2004, missed its January target date after being delayed yet again. But lead developer Stonebridge and Montgomery County government officials say it's not because the project is flagging on the home stretch - nor was the delay a response to complaints from local businesses about the closure of the lots and of Woodmont Avenue during construction.

"Just paperwork," said Esther Bowring, Montgomery County public information officer. "The project is still very much full steam ahead. We just need to make sure all the paperwork, all the permits, are in place before we proceed."

Doug Firstenberg, principal at StonebridgeCarras, agreed. "The hard part, the financing [with Northwestern], is already done, we formally closed on that in late November. I'm not sure I would even use the term 'delay.' With a partnership of this magnitude, there are so many I's to dot and T's to cross, we just want to get all the documentation straight." StonebridgeCarras originally set a start date of last summer, then pushed that back to January of 2012.

The SK&I-designed Lot 31 project, which will straddle Woodmont Avenue, is a keystone of the ongoing revitalization of Woodmont Triangle. In addition to 40,000 s. f. of retail space, and two residential units - The Flats, 162-unit apartment complex, and the Darcy, an 88-unit condominium building - the project will also incorporate a massive underground parking garage of nearly 1200 spaces. Of these, around 940 are earmarked for public use, with the rest associated with the two residential buildings. Presently, Lots 31 and 31A offer just under 280 parking spaces, so the finished complex will represent an almost fourfold increase.

Growth comes at a price. The existing spaces will be unavailable once construction starts, and the new garage isn't projected to open until two and a half years from groundbreaking. In addition, a stretch of Woodmont below Bethesda Avenue is going to be closed for twenty months as developers correct the distorted 'x' of the intersection, prompting some local businesses to wonder if they can weather an extended period of (perhaps sharply) reduced foot traffic.

Ultimately, those concerns were outweighed by what some see as Bethesda's urgent need for more parking. The zoning in the area requires zero parking for residential projects, a policy designed to steer people towards public parking and public transit.

Short-term, locals will have a number of alternatives once Lot 31 closes. Aside from increasing Circulator bus service, the county is shifting many long-term spaces out of the immediate area, as well as creating over a hundred new short-term spaces. They're also optimizing the parking that already exists. "We're installing a car-counter at Garage 57 [Bethesda-Elm Parking Garage] so people will be able to get the most out of that facility," says Bowring. "Right now you have to drive all the way to the top to see if there are any spaces, and that can be tight. Hopefully if we have the available spaces displayed on the outside for everyone to see, it will encourage people to use it."

In the big picture, Lot 31 is just one of several projects currently underway in downtown Bethesda. Stonebridge is also building a residential tower on the former Trillium site, Bainbridge Bethesda (formerly the Monty) is coming along on schedule, and JBG/Ross are turning 4900 Fairmont Avenue into a residential rental units. And of course, the Purple Line is on the horizon for 2014.

Bethesda, Maryland real estate development news


Critically Urban on Jan 27, 2012, 10:27:00 AM said...

I've been following this project since its inception.

"The SK&I-designed Lot 31 project, which will straddle Woodmont Avenue, is a keystone of the ongoing revitalization of Woodmont Triangle."

However, this project is *not* anywhere near Woodmont Triangle, the edge of which is a full half mile to the north along Woodmont Ave. This area would be considered Bethesda Row or just plain downtown Bethesda.

Anonymous said...

Should be a good project. Parking has always been awful in Bethesda so hopefully the combo of this giant increase in parking, the Purple Line coming online, and downtown Silver Spring being much more of a destination will mean the area's biggest concern will be fixed.

Jason Yang on Jan 27, 2012, 3:17:00 PM said...

What Critically Urban said.

Can't wait for Woodmont Triangle's own new projects to come to fruition as well.

Anonymous said...

+1 for what CU said. It's kinda obvious that none of the bloggers know much of anything about MoCo, which is a shame. Maybe think about bringing on someone who does? Tons of ongoing activity in Bethesda, NoBe, and especially downtown Silver Spring.

Anonymous said...

NoBe, HaHa. It the neighborhood just down from SoRo (South of Rockville)

Anonymous said...

"NoBe" has been a pretty common moniker for what, a decade now? Don't know what area it consists of? It's pretty straight forward, especially compared to the likes of "NoMa."

Anonymous said...

There has always been plenty of parking. One block east behind the Farm Women's Market. ANd 2blocks north across from the Metro station. Maybe the extra walk will expand the retail area more.
And yes the Triangle is a half mile north and has much more parking

Anonymous said...

And the Woodmont Triangle is so much more organic than Bethesda Row. Lots of mom and pop restaurants and much less Beverly Hills Bethesda. C'mon, it has the Tastee Diner with its Pink Neon @ night. That is awesome!

Anonymous said...

It sure says a lot about Montgomery Co. and Maryland that the developer can get the financing all papered up 4 months before they cross t's and dot 1's on the permits etc and governmental red tape. Not exactly a business friendly place. And they wonder why they keep losing business to Northern Virginia

Critically Urban on Feb 2, 2012, 11:09:00 AM said...

To the "Anonymous - Jan 30, 2012 1:45:00 PM": Let's go over some financing vs. permits vs. project approval basics.

It is no easier to get a permit for a project of this magnitude in any Northern Virginian community than it is in Montgomery County or any where else for that matter (they all have different rules and regulations about the process, and I've gone through Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church, DC, and Montgomery County in my day). The developer obviously had a need to line up his financing to determine whether he should even apply for permits. This is because permits in all jurisdictions I've ever heard of EXPIRE after a certain amount of time and it is prudent, as a businessman, to make sure you can actually use them before you pay for them. Mind you, approval of the project itself, which had already been taken care of through the Planning Board does not guarantee a building permit to begin actual construction. This is where I think you confuse the requirements the Montgomery County Planning Board has for new construction with the nationwide requirements that the Department of Permitting Services has. The building permits (including electrical, mechanical, structural, plumbing, etc.) all go through the Department of Permitting Services. They make sure that the construction documents (aka the drawings) comply with the local, national, and International Building Code (IBC). This is the case in any jurisdiction.

So please, take the preaching about "business friendliness" elsewhere. It's certainly not welcome or relevant here, and Montgomery County has the businesses, higher caliber of urban design, and the quality of life to prove it.

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