Virginia Praetorius lived at 4810 Montgomery Lane near the center of Bethesda for 32 years. In January, she moved to a retirement community because her neighborhood was about to be engulfed by the building boom around the coming Metro Subway station.
Her house, which she brought for $18,500 in 1948 and last September contracted to sell for $189,000, is now on the market for $417,000. It is being billed by a real estate agent as "the perfect spot for a MacDonald's."
Quiet lanes like Montgomery, North, East and Edgmoor are on the western fringe of what is soon to become the high-rise heart of Bethesda. They have become a real estate battleground where land values have skyrocketed as much as 100 percent in the past six months, according to county officials and homeowners. Few of the original residents remain and many houses are empty and in disrepair.
"This is a transition zone . . . a buffer between the high-rise buildings and residential neighborhoods west of Arlington Road," said Gary Slaughter, the head of a small data processing firm that bought the Praetorius house for an office and then "realized it was too valuable to sit on."
Arlington Road is supposed to be the Rubicon" which no business can cross, under county plans, Slaughter said.
Slaughter, who lives on Edgmoor Lane, on the other side of the Rubicon, said he was told when he bought the house at 4810 Montgomery Lane that it was "the last property for sale within shouting distance of Metro in the central business district." Slaughter said the area is now developing so fast that the new buildings that county planners expected to be built between 1980 and 1985 will all be completed by 1981.
While 4810 is on the edge of commercially zoned core area, Jane White's house next door at 4812 Montgomery Lane -- and most houses in the area -- are within the new "transit station residential" (TS-R) zone. Under County Council-approved plans, houses in the TS-R zone can be used for professional offices until the Metro subway arrives in 1983. After 1983 they can remain as offices or be demolished and replaced with low-rise apartment and condominium buildings.
"Anyone with any sense knows we need Metro, that the roads here have to be windened and that the area is changing," says Jane White. "But while I'm not a griper I am upset at being awakened after midnight by Metro construction, I am upset that I've been assessed $31,000 for the widening of Montgomery Lane and I'm upset that they're going to take 10 feet of my front yard and pay me almost nothing for it. I'm a widow on a fixed income and I don't have $31,000. And yet I don't want to have to sell my house and move. I've lived here 24 years and I want to stay."
White's assessment is one of the lowest among the three dozen properties being tapped by the county to pay the cost of all new road construction around the Metro station. The Praetorius-Slaughter house next door is being assessed $66,000 because it has a wider yard fronting on Montgomery Lane.
Under the Bethesda Metro Center design proposed by the county planning board, Montgomery Lane is to be widened to a four-lane, one-way street in front of Jane White's house. Woodmont Avenue is to be extended through the neighborhood as a four and five-lane, one-way street and a small section of Edgemoor Lane also is to be widened to four lanes.
Road assessments are controversial everywhere because while entire neighborhoods and the county in general may benefit from a road construction project, its cost is often paid entirely by the few residents who own property directly abutting the road.
George Mosburger, chief of land acquistion for the county Department of Transportation, admits that all properties near the Bethesda Metro center will benefit from the improved roads but says the properties closest to Metro -- and on the roads -- will benefit the most.
"They're the ones that are going up in value. Properties (such as Jane White's house) were selling for $10-to-$12 a square foot in 1975 and were $15 a square foot only nine months ago. But now they're $25-to-$30 a square foot and properties within the central business district (such as the Praetorius-Slaughter house) are way above that," Mosburger said.
We recently approached one property owner (to buy land for widening one of the Bethesda lanes) and offered him $30 a square foot," said Mosburger. "He laughed and said he'd just signed a contract to sell it for $60 a square foot. That's how fast things are moving there."
Gary Slaughter said much of the land in the Bethesda central business district is now selling "in the $60-a-square-foot range. I'm asking $63 a square foot . . . $417,000 for this place. "But I heard somebody just sold for $73 a square foot. It's incredible." CAPTION: Picture, This house at 4810 Montgomery Lane, near Bethesda Metro station, is now for sale at $417,000. By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post