Robert Sponseller, an architect, discusses designs for the project on Auburn Avenue. Credit: Bethany Rodgers

A redevelopment project in downtown Bethesda could yield around 160 new residential units and revitalize what some say is a somewhat “drab” section of Auburn Avenue.

A group of community members Thursday night heard some of the first details about the plans for a mixed-use development at 4915 and 4921 Auburn Ave. Project partners who spoke at the community meeting said they’re excited by the opportunities offered by the site, near Imagination Stage and a short walk from Battery Lane Urban Park.

“We’re doing a building that’s adventurous and progressive,” architect Robert Sponseller said.

The project will replace a four-story professional office building that has been owned by the Auburn Building Association for about three decades. Brian Gelfand of the association acknowledged that the structure is drab and aging.

“I wish I could say it’s a building in its current state we’re a little more proud of,” he said.

Building at 4915 Auburn Ave. Credit: Bethany Rodgers

Sponseller said the architects have designed the building as a “series of volumes” of different heights, rather than as a single, monolithic mass. A tiered building creates more visual interest and allows more sunshine at the street level, he said.

The complex will have a two-story section facing Norfolk Avenue, but its highest points will likely be between 110 and 130 feet tall, according to Stacy Silber, a land use attorney representing the developer.

A notice posted at the future project site states the new building could measure up to 175,000 square feet, but Gelfand and Sponseller said it’s too early to say exactly what size the structure will be. The developer will devote at least 15 percent of units to affordable housing.

In addition to housing, the building will have ground-floor retail space.

Sponseller told meeting attendees at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center that the plans call for two levels of below-grade parking. The entire complex will be served by a single driveway to reduce the number of “curb cuts”—places where cars cross the sidewalk—on the site from three to one, he said. This change will improve the walking experience and help turn Norfolk into a “shared street” that would accommodate cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

The development plan will involve some sidewalk-widening on Auburn and increasing the green space on the site by turning a surface parking lot into a garden area. A through-block connection will run between two buildings on Auburn and link to Norfolk Avenue, allowing better pedestrian movement between the park, Auburn Avenue and Imagination Stage.

Silber said the developer is preparing to submit sketch and preliminary plan applications to the Montgomery County Planning Department within the next month or so. She estimated that demolition at the existing professional offices won’t begin until late 2019.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at

This story was updated to correct the name of Robert Sponseller in the photo caption.