Metrorail transit officials are bargaining again with developers over a major commercial and residential complex at the White Flint subway stop, a project that officials expect to be the largest in the Washington metropolitan area.
Two area firms that were competing for the project in an earlier bid that was aborted in 1981 are back in the running for development of the 34-acre site along Rockville Pike south of White Flint Mall, as Metro attempts to overcome encumberances that have plauged what promises to be the system's largest real-estate venture.
A delay in striking a deal could limit the development and spell design problems for whoever develops the project, according to Montgomery County planners. This is because, if Metro doesn't have a develpment plan in place when the station opens next year, the developer would not be able to incorporate the bus stops and parking areas that would be allowed under an integrated plan.
The White Flint site long has been expected to be the largest private development in metropolitan Washington, surpassing the current leader, the $160 million Hyatt Regency hotel, office and shopping project by Rozansky & Kay underway at the Bethesda subway station.
But launching the White Flint development has remained one of the most troubled of Metro's real-estate undertakings, according to Henry W. Cord, head of Metro's development branch.
Some of the biggest names in Washington area development tussled for the White Flint project as Metro negotiated ventures for towering developments along its Red Line subway stops a few years ago.
Metro's orriginal choice--Paramount Development Co., owned by Blake Construction Co. and Richmarr Development Corp., two area firms--has submitted a development plan, Cord said.
White Flint Place Co., a partnership of Theodore N. Lerner--who built White Flint, Tysons Corner, Landover Mall and Wheaton Plaza--and Albert Abramson, has not submitted develpment plans as Metro requested, but offered early this month to buy the site outright from Metro for $10 million in cash. An attorney for the firm said his clients are not interested in forming a joint venture with Metro for the development. Metro Acting General Manager Carmen E. Turner has termed that offer not responsive to Metro's request for actual development proposals, Cord said, but he added that Metro still is negotiating with White Flint Place for the project.
Initially, Metro officials picked Paramount to build a $214 million office, retail and residential complex at White Flint around the same time they chose Rozansky & Kay for Bethesda in March 1981.
When losing firms complained to Metro administrators that they weren't given the same information about White Flint that Metro had made available to Paramount, Metro called back the bid. A federal District Court judge decided in November 1981 that Metro was not locked into Paramount's offer.
When Metro went to rebid the project last winter, officials had to solicit bids from developers at a time of forbidding market conditions and high interest rates, Cord said.
In a June 3 letter to Turner, attorneys for White Flint Place offered "$10 million, all cash, subject only to the reasonable easements needed to satisfy" Metro "and to the planning approvals of the Montgomery County Planning Board. . . ."
Noting that Metro got the land for $6 million and already has tracks in place where it wants them, attorney Harold Gordon wrote that his clients' offer "would significantly decrease the funding requirements for the various jurisdictions making up the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority , as well as the federal contribution. . . ."
Gordon said Metro thus far has termed his offer "not responsive" to the type of joint-developing arrangment it seeks.
White Flint Place has submitted no detailed plans, but Gordon said the company intends to build "whatever the county would let us."
County plans have marked the 34-acre subway site for 640,000 square feet of office buildings, a 300-room hotel and 73,000 square feet of retail stores, according to John L. Westbrook, chief of the county's Urban Design department.
But if plans aren't ready to incorporate the 1,000-space parking area and bus stops by the station's opening--scheduled for mid-1984--the development would be sharply curtailed, Westbrook said. In that case, there would be no hotel, office space would be trimmed to 340,000 square feet and retail space to 58,000 square feet, he said.
Metro's Cord said planners are aiming to pick a develpment plan by the fall so that the extra density isn't lost.
"It's not that we're pressed against the wall," he said, "but we do want to stay within time frames and get on with it."