Community Somerset Associates, which owns an 18-acre tract of land in the affluent Somerset community next to Friendship Heights, has sent a preliminary plan for a luxury condominium complex on the tract to the Montgomery County Planning Board.
If the proposal satisfies technical zoning issues raised by the residential community and meets housing, safety and quality objectives set by the county, it could mean the end of a protracted controversy over the site.
The community of 403 families, located just north of Friendship Heights, has fought for 22 years to prevent commercial development of the land, a piece of property south of Dorsett Avenue along Wisconsin Avenue known as the Bergdoll tract. But the town mayor, Walter Behr, says there are no plans to fight the developers, a partnership that includes Ralph Oschsman.
"They have a right to build, and we have been prepared for that for years," Behr said. "We just want a design that has the least impact on our town. It will be part of our town."
The preliminary plan calls for 630 condominium units in three towers, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, five tennis courts and a putting green. Construction of the development, which would more than double the population of Somerset, could begin within a year and half, if permits are granted.
The Bergdoll tract, once zoned as a central business district but down-zoned in the 1970s to permit high-density housing, sits between two distinctive areas. Somerset is a sleepy suburban neighborhood of large, single-family houses with spacious lawns and tree-lined streets where much of the traffic consists of children on bicycles.
Friendship Heights is a fast-growing commercial center with major department stores, shopping centers, office buildings and apartment houses. Within two years it also will have a Metro station.
"The county would like to see well-built, quality housing close to transit, so from our standpoint, we could use this kind of housing on the Bergdoll tract," said John Westbrook, chief of urban design for the planning board.
He also noted that "it's a real tough design problem to make a transition from single-family all the way up to high-density housing."