Yesterday, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to let a taller building replace an existing office building on Wisconsin Avenue as a way to have a roomier Purple Line station in downtown Bethesda.
The zoning change is intended to encourage the office building’s owner to tear it down and redevelop the site to allow for a more spacious light-rail station. A new building at the site could be up to 250 feet high — or 15 to 20 stories — about 10 stories more than the existing building.
Most importantly, county officials say, a redesigned station would allow for a separate tunnel that would let joggers and cyclists on the Capital Crescent Trailcontinue to cross beneath busy Wisconsin Avenue.
Whether the change in zoning will be enough to persuade the building owners to tear it down remains to be seen.
David Silver, a Holland & Knight attorney for the pharmacist group, said the group is awaiting detailed proposals from several developers in the next 30 days. He said the group would need a plan that provides a financial reason to “tear down a perfectly good building.”
Time for a decision is short, as the state is seeking bids for a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain and help finance the $2.2 billion rail project. Maryland transit officials have said the state does not plan to buy the building by exercising its power of eminent domain because it’s not necessary for the project and would be too expensive.
There's more here.
The ASHP says more density alone won’t be enough to offset the financial losses it could take by abandoning the profitable building for the length of time it takes to build the station.
An outside study commissioned by the Planning Department backed up that stance, saying it would likely take between $5 and $10 million of public money to bridge the ASHP’s financial gap.
“We may very well support county engagement, but this does not go to that in any way,” said Councilmember Nancy Floreen when introducing the zoning amendment to the Council. “So that’s a separate conversation happening in separate places with separate issues.”
The county, through its Department of Economic Development, is talking to ASHP about a potential deal. Complicating matters is the short timeline in which the decision must be made. The first inklings of an optimal design for the Bethesda Purple Line station came last May. The MTA, in the midst of securing federal funding for the 16-mile light rail project, says it needs to have an indication soon of which Bethesda Purple Line station to build.
With all council members in agreement as to the benefits of the optimal station design, Councilmember Marc Elrich asked about taking the building by eminent domain.
Though the Planning Board briefly discussed it, it was not an option presented in the Minor Master Plan. Council staff said the process would likely take too long to fit the MTA’s timeline.
So the county may need to kick in some money to make it happen and eminent domain is off the table. I wonder if the county could make money contingent on the outcome. Up to $10 million if the site is empty for x years or something? Anyway, there is also this
Also in the approved plan is new language concerning the fate of Woodmont Plaza, the small grassy area near the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel that serves as a de facto town square space for some in Bethesda Row.
A joint development project that would have brought a hotel to the space is off, according to county planners.
That left room in the Minor master plan for requirements that Woodmont Plaza be “the central open space for the area around the junction of Bethesda Avenue, Woodmont Avenue and the Capital Crescent Trail,” and that it “feature shaded lawn areas and a variety of seating options within the overall design.”