Community Groups File Legal Challenge to Development Plan for WMAL Site

Planning board in June approved 309-home proposal


Published:

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY PLANNING DEPARTMENT

Bethesda residents have gone to court to contest a 309-home development plan for a large swath of land that is currently empty except for some WMAL radio towers.

Three citizens associations and 21 individuals this month filed the petition for judicial review in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

An attorney for the plaintiffs said they will challenge the WMAL Bethesda plan by arguing that the Montgomery County Planning Board improperly granted the developer’s request to clear certain large trees. Attorney Michele Rosenfeld also said the planning board didn’t require the developer, Toll Brothers, to save enough of the site’s forest.

The plan to construct 150 townhomes and 159 single-family homes on the site near the juncture of Interstate 495 and Greentree Road received planning board approval in June, despite strong objections from some neighbors. Community members told officials they wanted Toll Brothers to preserve more trees, offer more recreational space and make additional investments in surrounding roadways.

One area resident, Brian Krantz, submitted video testimony showing traffic congestion at intersections near the project site.

Rosenfeld testified on behalf of the Bradley Boulevard Citizens Association and argued that the law only allows developers to cut down certain “specimen trees” when they’re facing a particular hardship specific to the property. The WMAL site doesn’t present any special challenges that would qualify, she argued.

“There is no evidence of any inherent, peculiar elements of the site that would impact this property more than a neighboring one,” Rosenfeld wrote in her testimony.

She also took issue with the board’s decision to relax forest retention standards that would’ve required Toll Brothers to save about 15 acres of woodland. Instead, the developer is planning to keep about 11 acres.

The board resolution stated that Toll Brothers couldn’t meet the conservation threshold because the developer is dedicating a 4.3-acre school site and building several important roadway connections that pass through existing tree stands. Constructing the transportation and utility improvements will require the removal of the specimen trees, the planning board determined.

The developer will have to replant native canopy trees to make up for the forest clearing, according to the resolution.

When asked for comment about the court filing, a planning board spokeswoman referred to staff reports on the WMAL project.

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