Residents Oppose Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Backed by Planning Board
Square footage and building heights scrutinized; others praise the plan's transit-oriented nature.
Residents took concerns about the size of the “Town Center” portion of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan to the Montgomery County Council at a public hearing Tuesday night.
Nearly 40 people testified before the council about the plan recommended by the county Planning Board. Many took issue with the size of the “Town Center” portion of the plan, particularly the number of square feet the board recommended be built before the Purple Line is constructed.
The Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to NewCarrollton, would have a station in Chevy Chase Lake. The board recommended that the old Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center (on the east side of Connecticut Avenue at Manor Road) be built up to 790,000 square feet of mixed-use (commercial and residential) development before the Purple Line is built, Montgomery County Senior Planner Elza Hisel-McCoy told Patch.
After funding for the Connecticut Avenue/Chevy Chase Lake segment of the Purple Line is approved, the sector plan would be approved for about 1 million square feet, with parks and trails, according to the plan draft.
The County Council has the final say on how the sector ultimately will be developed.
Carolyn Greis, a councilmember for Chevy Chase Village Section 3, said the village is “concerned that too much development is included in Phase One.” Additional traffic for the sector would “certainly exacerbate traffic problems in the area,” as two intersections crossing Connecticut Avenue in the area “are already considered to be failed intersections,” she said.
Patricia Baptiste, chair of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Managers, echoed Greis’ concerns, saying that the board’s recommendations would “overwhelm an already intolerable traffic situation [during rush hours]” on Connecticut Avenue.
The Town Center includes the 62-year-old Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center east of Connecticut Avenue (at Manor Road), the Chevy Chase Lake West Shopping Center, the Newdale Mews Apartments, the Chevy Chase Lake Apartments and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Tina Coplin, a resident of the Town of Chevy Chase, said that the recommendations “[turn] a blind eye to traffic conditions” on Connecticut Avenue and neighboring side streets.
Others objected to increased heights for the 35-foot-high Newdale Mews Apartments on Newdale Road, to the west of Connecticut Avenue. The board recommended a height increase of up to 45 feet before the Purple Line, and up to 55 feet after the Purple Line.
Many single-family homeowners in Chevy Chase Hills, adjacent to Newdale Mews—including Barbara Angier, a six-year resident of the neighborhood—worry taller buildings will block sunlight from their properties and cause privacy concerns.
The taller Newdale Mews apartments would be “leaving us in shadows for several months a year,” Chevy Chase Hills resident Marta Salse said.
Julie Buchanan, president of the Chevy Chase Hills Civic Association, said that her neighborhood would be surrounded on three sides by taller and bigger buildings, namely, Newdale Mews and a taller building at a former Sunoco station site.
Buchanan submitted a petition calling for “Sane Growth for Chevy Chase Lake” with more than 500 signatures. The petition asked the council to reconsider the planning board’s recommendations for Newdale Mews.
Others supported redevelopment of the Newdale Mews property, which supplies some of the area’s more affordable rental properties.
Robert Bindeman, whose family has owned the Newdale Mews apartments since 1979, testified that the buildings are at the end of their lifespan. One was condemned due to a structural problem that arose—and were fixed—a few years ago, he said. The buildings need to be replaced before any more tenants face condemnation of their homes, he said. Increasing building heights would enable more affordable units to be added to the neighborhood, Bindeman family attorney Stacy Silber said.
“Yes, I fixed 3929 Newdale Road, but I wouldn’t do it again,” Bindeman said. “I care about my residents. Please don’t penalize us for making old buildings look nice. Without rezoning, my hands are tied. Now is the time to allow a new Newdale to be rebuilt for the good of the county.”
“I’m not here to destroy a community; I’m here to save one,” he said.
Lisa Bradford, a Newdale Mews tenant, asked the council to approve the board’s recommendations for Newdale Mews so that the Bindeman family could “ensure that tenants like myself can enjoy a pleasant and safe environment.”
Chevy Chase Lake Apartments, which offer one-quarter of its 68 units as affordable housing, last year requested additional height for its buildings in the sector plan.
To keep the apartment complex viable, at least 400 units are needed, so that the market-rate units can “cross-subsidize affordable units,” said Stacy Spann, executive director for the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County, which manages the buildings.
With the Purple Line, there is the “opportunity to add much-needed housing” near public transportation, Spann testified. The county already has a significant shortage of affordable units, and the additional traffic the new units would create would be negligible, he said.
Some residents of the area are concerned that additional housing units would burden the Bethesda-Chevy Chase school cluster’s already overcrowded schools.
“I’m skeptical about new housing not adding [more] children to the schools,” Phil MacWilliams, president of the Coquelin Run Citizens Association, testified.
Rafe Petersen, a Rosemary Hills Primary School PTA testified that the PTA “[urges] that no new buildings be approved” until the overcrowding is addressed. It is not uncommon for families with school-aged children to live in apartments in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster, Petersen said.
Some residents testified in support of the board’s recommendations.
“The area is ripe for mixed-use development [which is] badly needed in Montgomery County,” Jeff Hearle, of Bethesda, testified. New residential units that would be part of Newdale Mews, Chevy Chase Lake Apartments and the mixed-use development that would replace the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center would appeal to downsizing seniors and young professionals alike, he said.
High-end housing, as well as affordable housing, is needed, said Ben Ross, of Bethesda. High-end housing would keep people in search of higher-end residences from moving to the eastern part of the county, where gentrification is taking place, said Ben Ross, of Bethesda.
“There’s a lot to like about the sector plan,” said Ted Van Houten a member of the Action Committee for Transit. “The plan provides more housing near transit—a crucial need. Demand for walk-able communities is growing.”
Ronit Dancis, of Bethesda, said more housing for young professionals who may not yet be able to afford a single-family home is needed, or they will leave the area. “We need to keep them here. We can’t afford to let them move out of the county,” she said.
Gigi Godwin, president and chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, testified that the chamber generally supports the board’s recommendations and “applauds this County Council’s commitment to grappling with the bigger question” of the county’s future. The amenities that would replace the 62-year-old Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center are necessary for both the business community and residents, she said.
Andrew Shulman, chair-elect of The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, said: “The shopping center is aging and by letting it redevelop now rather than later, it will serve existing residents [now].”
“Help the county’s tax base grow when it is most needed,” he said.
What are your thoughts on how the Chevy Chase Lake Sector should develop? Tell us in the comments.
Read more about the Chevy Chase Lake Sector on Patch:
- Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Draft Goes to County Council (Jan. 22, 2013)
- Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Draft up for Board Approval (Jan. 16, 2013)
- Making Buildings (Look) Smaller in Chevy Chase Lake (Jan. 13, 2013)
- Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan Goes to County Executive Jan. 31 (Dec. 12, 2012)
- Planning Board OKs 150-Ft. Building for Chevy Chase Lake (Nov. 28, 2012)
- HOC Requests Density Increase in Chevy Chase Lake (Oct. 25, 2012)
- Planners Envision Chevy Chase Lake Sector Development (Sept. 17, 2012)
- Speak Out: Is Parking in Chevy Chase Lake a Problem? (Aug. 27. 2012)
- Planners Suggest 'Traditional' Look for Chevy Chase Lake (July 26, 2012)
- Chevy Chase Lake: Is There a Middle Ground for Height? (July 24, 2012)
- Chevy Chase Lake Sector Recommendations to Go Before Planning Board (July 10, 2012)
- Chevy Chase Lake: Human Scale, Pedestrian-Oriented Plans (June 27, 2012)
- How Did Chevy Chase Lake Get Its Name? (June 27, 2012)
- Chevy Chase Land Company Hits Reset Button on Development Plans (Sept. 13, 2011)
- Laughter Erupts at Visions of 'Brave New World' (April 28, 2011)
Editor's note: This article has been corrected. Julie Buchanan, president of the Chevy Chase Hills Civic Association, is concerned that her neighborhood—not her house, as Patch originally reported—would be surrounded on three sides by taller and bigger buildings. Patch regrets the error.
Also, the number of square feet of board-approved pre-Purple Line development in the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center has been corrected from 250,000 square feet to 790,000 square feet, and the fact that the 790,000 square feet are for mixed-use (commercial and residential)—not just commercial—development has been noted.