washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Maryland > Montgomery

Sale of Land Hits Wrong Chord for Strathmore

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page B01

The rolling green lawn next to Montgomery County's new $100 million Strathmore concert hall could be covered with houses after the sale of the 18-acre tract to a Dallas-based home builder.

In a deal that could curtail Strathmore's traditional use of the lawn for outdoor summer events, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association said yesterday that it sold the land, at Strathmore Avenue and Rockville Pike, to Centex Corp. for an undisclosed price. The association's headquarters is at the site, and the group plans to move to a larger facility at Research Boulevard and Gude Drive.

The $100 million Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda uses a nearby lawn for parking and vendor space. (Matt Houston -- AP)

Arts in the Suburbs
Strathmore at a Glance
_____How to Get There_____
Driving Directions
_____More on Strathmore_____
The Arts, From Classroom to Concert Hall (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
Close to Strathmore, Some Show-Stopping Meals (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2005)
Strathmore's Hidden Assets (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
_____Wammies at Strathmore_____
The Music Center at Strathmore hosts the Washington Music Awards on Monday, Feb. 7, starting at 8 p.m.
Live Online: WAMA president Mike Schreibman and Shelley Brown, vice president of programming at the Music Center at Strathmore, will be online Friday, Feb. 4, at Noon ET.

The 18 acres at Strathmore are zoned for as many as five houses per acre. Plans call for new homes to be completed in late 2007 or early 2008.

News of the sale came the day before Strathmore Hall was to kick off several days of opening celebrations for the 2,000-seat concert hall.

"We'd really rather be celebrating our opening," said Eliot Pfanstiehl, president and chief executive of Strathmore. "I can't tell you how much this hurts us. I'm appalled."

Pfanstiehl said he sat down with the speech group 10 years ago in an effort to buy the land but the price tag of $7 million was too much at the time.

For 25 years, the speech group has permitted Strathmore to use some of its land during its 20 summer concerts. Cars and vendor carts are parked on the property, and children play Frisbee there.

The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda has also held its 10-day outdoor film festival on the grounds every August for the last four years. "It fit on the Hollywood Bowl nature of the site," Pfanstiehl said.

Howard B. Katz, Washington area vice president of Centex, said he would like the summer events to continue. "We hope we can cooperate and they can continue to use the land in the future."

Pfanstiehl said he hopes to sit down with the developers. "I don't know how you [have concerts] if you had houses right there," Pfanstiehl said.

"If you've got a bedroom window 20 feet from a concert, I can't possibly get a musician to play quietly enough so you won't hear it."

Under a special exception from the county that is 25 years old, the speech group, which represents speech therapists and other professionals, was allowed to have its headquarters on the site.

But the organization decided to move instead of expand. "The cost of funding new construction here, which was going to be $10 million or more, wouldn't have been a good investment," said Arlene A. Pietranton, executive director of the group.

"The value of the property is for residential."

Neither side would reveal the price of the land, saying they signed a confidentiality agreement. The speech group is expected to move to its new headquarters in 2007.

Katz said he was not sure how many houses his company will build on the site. He said he made an unsolicited offer for the land last fall and expects to start construction in 2007.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company