The Montgomery County Council this week approved a $1.1 million emergency allocation to build an extension of Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda, a decision that revived two proposed commercial and residential projects whose approval depended on the road.
In one of the council's rare unanimous decisions, members voted Tuesday to restore $100,000 in planning and design money and $1 million for land aquisition to begin Woodmont's extension between Montgomery Lane and Bethesda Avenue.
That section of the road was critical to three of nine major office, retail and residential complexes that were competing in a controversial process for limited development approval in the blocks surrounding Bethesda's Metro subway station, which is scheduled to open next year. The decision to restore funding gives a reprieve to two projects, and means eight of the nine competing would be recommended for development, according to John A. Carter, a principle planner for the county's urban design department.
The proposed 14-story Franklin C. Salisbury Building northeast of Hampden Lane and Woodmont Avenue extended and the 150,000-square-foot Community Motors Center proposed for the northeast corner of Elm Street and Woodmont extended were dropped after the County Council in May discontinued funding for Woodmont Avenue on which the building designs depended for amenities and access to the projects.
Developers of the two projects, who implored the County Council to pass the funding, were jubilant at the decision. "I'm very definitely pleased to be back in the running," said Burrel H. Marsh, a development partner for Community Motors Center. "I only hope the planning board approves it. . . . I don't think most people appreciate the time and expense that has gone into getting these designs approved."
The County Planning Board is expected to decide next week which projects to allow for development.
Developers who wanted to build in the blocks surrounding the Bethesda Metro station--Bethesda's choicest commercial district--were asked to submit detailed plans not normally required until advanced stages after development is approved. The architectural and legal work cost developers hundreds of thousands of dollars in preparing applications that had no guarantee of approval.
John L. Westbrook, chief of the county's urban design division and creator of the competitive design process, said limited traffic capacity compelled planners to come up with a method that would produce designs rich in public amenities. They decided to work with the private architects on the designs, and then approve the ones they judged as best.
The available road capacity allowed planners to grant eight of the nine competing developments, but planners in May dropped two they said they would have approved when the county cut money for Woodmont Avenue.
Council member William Hanna said this week the council was reluctant to restore so costly a road project, but agreed after witnesses, including the developers and county planners, assured that "the total revenue collected from taxes would pay for it within two years."
Officials expect the road extention to cost up to $9.5 million by the time it is finished sometime late in 1985, according to Carter.
A third project proposed for Woodmont Avenue--the Woodmont Air Rights Building, at 600,000 sqare feet, the largest building project to compete--is expected to remain a loser, according to Carter.
Its design was ranked the lowest of all competing for coveted high-density development approval in the process that became known as Bethesda's "beauty pageant" of architectural designs. County planners estimate that building would generate one-third of the remaining traffic that roads around Bethesda can withstand during peak afternoon hours. To grant approval, the County Planning Board would have to decide the building was better than three or four other projects staff planners ranked ahead of it, Carter said.
Another extension of Woodmont Avenue was already scheduled to connect Old Georgetown Road to Montgomery Lane.
All the office, retail and residential complexes to be approved would come in addition to Rozansky & Kay's $160 million Bethesda Metro Center development, which includes a 17-story Hyatt Regency Hotel, offices and shopping arcade currently under construction at Old Georgetown Road and Wisconsin Avenues.