Metro will try again to get work started on a majot commercial and residential complex centered around its White Flint station, despite indications that developers have cooled toward the project.
Plans for the apartments, hotels, stores and offices to be built near the Montgomery County station were derailed last year when losing companies successfully challenged Metro's choice of a developer.
The dispute, finally settled in federal court, has set back the start of work at least a year. More significant, the deepening recession may make the project less attractive to builders than it was a year and a half ago when bids were first received.
The station, now under construction, is scheduled to open in mid-1984. Work on the surrounding development, the largest joint commercial venture Metro has undertaken, probably will not be completed until three years later.
(White Flint will be the fourth from last stop on the Red Line to Shady Grove.)
If the development that Metro envisions and other projects planned for the area materialize, a major population center and transportation hub will grow along Rockville Pike.
For the time being, however, some major projects in the area are stalled. A Montgomery County planner says that "the entire economic performance of the last couple of years has conspired to slow things down considerably" in the county.
A Metro spokesman said the transit agency is optimistic that its White Flint offer will attract developers who can finance the project, despite the downturn in development. And Metro "will be flexible enough to work with them" to surmount problems, he said.
Metro has revised its bidding prospectus, adding two acres to the 33-acre site offered last year and setting a deadline of Jan. 5 for receiving bids. The transit authority wants a mix of hotel, retail and office units in the 20 acres nearest the White Flint station, and residential units in the other 14 acres.
The county's North Bethesda Sector Plan, which governs development in the White Flint area, will allow construction of 300 hotel units, 73,000 square feet of retail space, 640,000 square feet of commercial office space and 650 residential units.
In addition to the commercial and residential facilities, the developer also must construct a 500-auto parking lot, bus bays and kiss-and-ride facilities near the station.
Montgomery County has started work on roads in the development area. And a passenger parking lot is under construction across the Pike from the station.
The $214 million proposal that Metro accepted last year, and then abandoned, would have guaranteed the agency an income of at least $1.5 million a year initially and several million more each year after the project was completed.
Metro hopes for a high income from the next contract winner. But developer T. Conrad Monts predicts that the project will suffer because of the delay caused by the abortive round of bidding in the spring of 1981.
"There is no market for this sort of thing," Monts said of the large complex Metro envisions. "What could have been an outstanding project is one of many that are less than stellar now."
Monts is president of Travenca Development Co., one of two companies that protested when Metro awarded a contract to Paramount Development Co. Travenca and White Flint Place Company, owned by shopping mall developer Theodore Lerner, charged that the proposal Metro accepted from Paramount did not follow the specifications in the transit authority's bidding proposal.
Metro awarded the contract to Paramount in March 1981, accepting its combination lease-purchase proposal. In its prospectus, Metro offered all of the land around the station for lease only, but accepted Paramount's bid for the lease-purchase combination.
When the two other companies objected, the transit authority asked the General Accounting Office to review the process. The GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, found technical faults and Metro announced it would reopen the bidding.
Paramount filed suit in an attempt to keep the contract. The time required for the suit and a subsequent appeal to work its way through the courts, plus the time needed to revise and get approval for a new bidding prospectus pushed the new offering to late summer of this year.
Paramount, a joint venture of the principal owners of Richmarr Development Corp. and Blake Construction Co., said it will bid again on the complex.
Spokesmen for Travenca and White Flint Place said the two companies have not made a decision, but had reservations about the project.
Monts, noting that Travenca spent "in excess of $100,000" preparing its proposal last year, said "one factor that will influence our judgment" will be whether the selection process has changed since last year.
Harold Gordon, an attorney for White Flint Place, said the firm finds "a lot of problems" with the project and added, "the market is not as good as it was a few years ago."
One developer criticized Metro's bid proposal, saying the four-year development period it specificied was unrealistic and that the conditions the proposal set forth were too restrictive.
After the January deadline for bids, Metro plans to select a developer within 60 days. A county planner said the developer will spend another six to 18 months obtaining zoning and other approvals before construction can begin. Another four years will be needed to complete most of the project.
The local review process will include a public hearing held by the planning board. Montgomery County's outspoken citizen activists who often oppose development are expected to be there.
One, Allen Bender of the Randolph Civic Association, said the citizen groups "contested zoning for intense development vigorously" before it was approved. Now, he said, "we won't keep fighting an old issue, but we will try to minimize the impact" of the White Flint Metro station complex on the surrounding communities.
Bender said citizen groups fear that roads, including those to be added, will prove inadequate for the "small metropolis" that it expected to grow rapidly around the Metro station complex.
Citizen groups have accepted, reluctantly, the fact that Montgomery County wants the White Flint neighborhood to become "a major crossroads of the county and a major urban development."