Pelli Building Won't Be Razed
Developer Will Work Around Architect's Modernist Structure

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A developer that had planned to tear down the 40-year-old Comsat building, an acclaimed work by famed architect Cesar Pelli and one of only a handful of architecturally significant buildings in Montgomery County, has decided to preserve most of the building and develop around it.

The reversal by Lcor Inc. is being praised by Montgomery residents who had decried the plans to flatten the building, one of Pelli's earliest projects. It has been cited as a seminal work that has inspired dozens of other innovative buildings. The move comes seven months after Pelli traveled from his headquarters in New Haven, Conn., to a meeting at Montgomery College to draw attention to Lcor's plans to demolish the building.

Pelli, who designed Reagan National Airport, had urged Lcor to use the Comsat building, one of his favorite "babies," as a centerpiece of its 200-acre development south of Clarksburg.

Lcor's decision to retain most of the modernist low-rise glass-and-aluminum building, which the company began outlining to community leaders this week, also could help the company win the political support it will need to gain formal approval of the entire project, which it has not yet submitted to county agencies, community leaders said. Tentative plans have included more densely packed housing -- possibly several hundred more homes -- than the county's master plan envisions. To change the master plan and also win a needed zoning change, the project will need support from a variety of county officials and regulatory agencies.

Wayne Goldstein, president of Montgomery Preservation Inc., which organized last year's discussions with Pelli, was optimistic.

"People who participated in the community are excited about it," he said.

The building was used for many years by Comsat Corp., which makes satellite systems, and was later sold to Lockheed Martin. "It would be criminal to tear it down," Pelli said in June. He could not be reached yesterday.

Mike Smith, a vice president of Lcor, based in Berwyn, Pa., said yesterday that the company will develop around tubular corridors, or "wings," that emanate from the building. "It will provide great visibility for the building for many generations to come," he said.

The company shifted its position after meeting for several months with Clarksburg residents who "are clearly invested in the community and had a vision about how that community needs to unfold," Smith said. He also credited County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) with encouraging discussions when they appeared to be foundering.

The proposed development is near several communities under construction across Clarksburg, which eventually will comprise about 14,000 homes, as well as a mixture of commercial, office and retail space.

Smith said the company is still examining different plans for the Comsat site and expects to develop about 4 million square feet of housing, retail, commercial and office space. He would not be more specific, saying Lcor was considering different possibilities and expects to again vet them with community groups.

Kathie Hulley, president of the Clarksburg Civic Association, said company officials had told her the site could include about 1,500 homes, as well as retail, restaurants, offices and other commercial space. The development is also slated to be a stop on a light rail or rapid bus system that is expected to eventually serve northern Montgomery.

Hulley said she would reserve judgment on the project but praised Lcor for heeding the community's wishes to keep the Comsat building largely intact.

"I think it could be very nice," she said. As for the proposed increase in residential density, which would need county approval, "it's clear they want some kind of quid pro quo," she said.

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