Change proposed for Chevy Chase Lake redevelopment

July 9, 2013

A high-rise planned for the proposed Chevy Chase Lake redevelopment should be no more than 90 feet, not the 120 feet currently recommended, Montgomery Council member Roger Berliner told colleagues in a letter late Monday.

Berliner said he would propose the cut in height Tuesday as the council takes up the Chevy Chase Sector Plan, a blueprint for the area along Connecticut Avenue between Jones Bridge Road and East-West Highway. The first phase of the project calls for a mix of commercial and residential construction on what is now the Chevy Chase Lake East shopping center.

County planning staff originally recommended a maximum height of 90 feet — about nine stories — for a high-rise on the shopping center site, adjacent to a station on the planned Purple Line. In January, the County Planning Board approved the project with a 150-foot cap, drawing vehement criticism from residents. The developer, the Chevy Chase Land Company, offered a compromise at 130 feet, later cut to 120 by the council’s planning committee.

“The original staff draft was met with wide community support,” Berliner wrote. He said he had been told that the 90-foot limit was not economically feasible for developers, but that this did not square with an analysis by Council staff economist Jacob Sesker.

According to Berliner, Sesker found that that 90 feet was indeed feasible but “less attractive to the current residential development partner.” The 120 to 130 foot limit was “more desirable because of the current business arrangement that contemplates treating the residential portion of the project on a stand-alone basis, which is less profitable than the retail portion.”

Sesker said the height determination should be set by the council on the basis of the overall return the project can generate, “rather than being driven by the configuration of the development team or the developer’s planned timing of buildings.”

Berliner added that Chevy Chase Land Company pressed for the extra height in an effort to recover all of its public facility costs on profits from the high-rise, rather spreading out cost recovery through the entire first phase of the project.

“Our staff does not believe that this approach is an appropriate basis for our Council to determine economic viability,” he wrote.

Miti Figueredo, vice president of public affairs for Chevy Chase Land Company, said the cut in height disregards the complexities of mixed-use and transit-oriented development.

“It means that the retail program must subsidize the residential,” Figueredo wrote to the council Monday evening. Cutting the residential portion of the project by four to six stories makes that impossible, she said.

Cutting the height to 90 feet or 120 feet “eviscerates the economic benefit of the project and has enormous design implications,” Figueredo wrote.

With a 90-foot cap, the project would likely be delivered not with concrete but in wood frame, with above grade rather than below ground parking.

“We do not believe this would be the result desired by anyone,” she wrote.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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