The Donohoe Project planned for Friendship Heights would have 573,611 square feet of retail, hotel and office space on a 95,656-square-foot lot. Figures printed in last Saturday's Real Estate section were incorrect.
The District could destroy a 12-year-old agreement limiting traffic in Friendship Heights if it approves a massive retail and office complex proposed for the area without further study, Montgomery County planners say.
County officials say the $90 million project that the Donohoe Construction Co. is seeking to build on the corner of Wisconsin and Western avenues will eat up almost half of the District's traffic allotment under the 1973 pact between the city and the county.
But because the project will consume only a quarter of the land available for development on the District side of Friendship Heights, they fear that pressure to develop the remaining land will encourage the city to abandon the nonbinding pact.
They also say the District is using a new vehicle trip formula to determine the amount of traffic that will be generated from the Donohoe project instead of the formula devised when the 1973 agreement was made -- the formula Montgomery has been using itself for the last 12 years. The new formula shows fewer car trips per square foot of office space than the original formula.
Montgomery planners say that could cause them trouble with developers on the Maryland side, who might demand to use the new formula when it comes time to develop their properties.
"It's speculative, but there is a possibility that developers in Friendship Heights might come to us and say there is a lot less traffic generated according to this new formula so we should be able to get a denser building," said Donald A. Downing, planning coordinator for the county. "Maybe the new formula is better. What we are asking is that we get together and study the formulas and the implications, to get some uniformity."
D.C. planners said this week that the city plans to abide by the agreement, but by using the new vehicle trip formula that shows fewer car trips per square foot of office space.
"Our intention is to stay within the agreement but to deal with it in today's terms," said Nate Gross, D.C. chief of zoning services, who said the new formula was devised by the Council of Governments and takes into account the number of people who will ride mass transit.
Montgomery, meanwhile, has imposed the old formula on developers across the board in Friendship Heights.
"These formulas are an art, not a science," said William Vose, a spokesman for Donohoe. "Montgomery uses a different formula in Bethesda than it does in Friendship Heights. It is pure conjecture to say this project will yield that much traffic, especially since there is a new Metro stop right in the vicinity.
"The agreement is a statement of policy," said Vose. "To act like it is some sacred document puts it on a pedestal that it was never designed for."
Density is a touchy subject for both jurisdictions, which stand to gain millions of dollars in tax revenue from development in Friendship Heights but realize that the residents and the tangled streets demand a limit on growth.
The 1973 agreement allotted 2,329 new vehicle trips per day to the District and 2,247 to Montgomery County, said Downing.
Originally, Montgomery was to have been allotted almost twice as many trips as the District because most of Friendship Heights lies on the county side, but the county voluntarily agreed to halve its allotment, he said.
Since the county signed the agreement in 1973, it has approved development in the area that uses up approximately half of its traffic allotment, Downing said.
The agreement also was signed by D.C. planning officials, but the District's switch to home rule shortly thereafter has almost certainly made the agreement legally void, said Gross.
"However, we want to work this without getting into a big legal battle or a political battle," he said.
Since 1973, there has been no new development on the District side of Friendship Heights, he said, except for a few modifications for new restaurants. "There is no doubt Donohoe would take up a large chunk of our allotment," said Gross. "But it's well below the red flag being sent up by the county."
Gross said the new vehicle trip study, conducted by the Council of Governments, shows that the Donohoe project -- with 95,656 square feet of office, retail and hotel space -- would result in 793 vehicle trips per day. (The "trips per day" phrase is a shorthand used by planners to denote a more complicated formula that actually shows trips per peak hour.)
He said the staff is recommending reductions in the size of the project that would bring that figure down to 721 trips per day.
"So really that is not unrealistic when you look at the overall limit of 2,329 trips per day imposed by the agreement," he said.
County officials figure it differently. Using the old 1973 vehicle trip formula, the Donohoe project would result in 988 trips per day.
Montgomery Planning Board Chairman Norman L. Christeller plans to testify at D.C. Zoning Commission hearings next week, urging the commission to disregard the new Council of Governments vehicle trip study in favor of a new study between the jurisdictions.
Downing said, "We didn't want a first-come first-serve basis where the first developers grab all of the traffic allotment. Our concern is that D.C. is going to allow the first developers who come in to produce all of the traffic, then be forced to grant more development, and more traffic, at a later date."
Gross, however, said a D.C. rezoning project in 1974 accomplished the same aim by dividing future development parcels into sections and putting a cap on their density.
"In the meantime, our zoning is already so low that we have control," he said. "Montgomery allows much, much more dense development than we do."