2014 | Real Estate

Breaking Down the Westbard Sector Plan Concept

Details in the preliminary plan are causing concern in the Westbard community

share this

The moans, groans and shouts rose up throughout the Westland Middle School auditorium Tuesday night as Montgomery Planners presented the concept framework for the Westbard Sector Plan.

It was no secret local residents didn’t like the plan. The consensus among the approximately 250 people local residents’ who testified was that planners had not listened to them.

One man said he believes planners are in cahoots with the developer Equity One, which plans on redeveloping the Giant-anchored shopping center that features a large surface parking lot on Westbard Avenue. Another resident said the concept plan was her worst nightmare and complained about being “squeezed out by high density everywhere.”

Other residents, who rose one by one to speak at a microphone in front of the five planners seated at a table, expressed concerns about overcrowding at local schools, increased traffic and larger buildings in the suburban neighborhood.

Through it all, the planners remained civil, answering even the accusatory questions. They reminded residents this is a concept plan that will be refined by traffic and retail studies, then reviewed by the Planning Board and County Council before becoming the official sector plan, a process that’s likely to take another year and a half.

“Making a better type of community is what we’re trying to achieve,” said Marc DeOcampo, the master planner/ supervisor for the Bethesda and Silver Spring area.

“Many property owners have requested heights far over what we’ve presented here,” said planner Paul Mortenson. “[The plan] is very close to the zoning today, to the height limits today.”

Despite the community’s concern, the planners maintained the concept plan, or something similar to it, will make the area more attractive for future generations.

So what are the key features of the plan? Here are some images to help break it down.

The Equity One Development Area

A new road grid system is planned at the current site of the Westwood Complex that includes Westwood Towers, BowlMor Lanes and the Giant strip mall shopping center and surface parking lot.

Here is how the center currently looks, via an Equity One diagram.

The plan would be to rezone this area along Westbard Avenue to allow up to 80-foot buildings in a portion of the parking lot in one portion, up to 75-foot buildings on the Westwood Towers and bowling alley side of Westbard Avenue, and then 50-foot buildings in a new mixed-use area connected by a street grid where the Giant and the parking lot is currently located. The current zoning for this area caps building heights at 45 feet.

Planners said Tuesday night the rezoning would help encourage development of the aging shopping center.

Here are the height limits proposed for the Westbard district:

Changes to Westbard Avenue and River Road

Planners presented images to show how the look of Westbard Avenue would change if it was built out under this sector plan. Basically, the road would go from a four-lane road with little in terms of a streetscape, to a road with on-street parking during the day, dotted with larger buildings and landscaping.

Current look of Westbard Avenue:

And here’s what planners believe it could look like if developed under the plan:

The plan also features increasing height limits on River Road between Little Falls Parkway and Ridgefield Road to 75 feet in order to promote development. The area would be zoned mixed-use and planners speculated that developers may build buildings with ground-floor retail and upper-level residential.

Here’s how River Road in the Westbard area currently looks:

Planners say increased development could make River Road look like this:

Increase in Housing Units

Taken together, the increased mixed-use zoning and higher building height limits could double or triple the amount of residential units in the Westbard area. The existing number of residential units in the area is 1,104; if it was built out to current zoning another 550 to 971 units could be added. Under the proposed zoning in the plan, 1,685 to 1,972 additional units could be built. If everything is built, which is unlikely because development is dependent on market forces, the area could have more than 3,000 residential units.

School Issues

With the potential new housing, current residents are concerned about school capacity. Planners pitched the idea of moving the Little Falls Library into the area being developed by Equity One, which could make room for a new elementary school or for the expansion of Westland Middle School. Planners also identified another site near the intersection of Landy Lane and River Road as a potential future school site.

In the image below we circled the potential school expansion sites. Planners also said land near Westland Middle School could be used to add a new field and/or tennis courts that could be used by the community.

New Road along Capital Crescent Trail

Another idea pitched by developers is to build out a current county right-of-way along the Capital Crescent Trail. At the moment it’s an alleyway behind light industrial businesses such as auto body shops. The original proposal presented last week would extend the road from River Road to Westbard Avenue, effectively bypassing Equity One’s development area.

When first proposed, Westbard lead planner John Marcolin said it could be a way to alleviate traffic on Westbard Avenue and allow the county to narrow the road to make it a more pedestrian friendly street with on-street parking. However, it was met with consternation from community members who said it would ruin the character of the community. Here is the route of that road:

A second plan presented Tuesday night shows the road traveling from River Road along the Capital Crescent Trail, but not connecting with Westbard Avenue, as shown in this diagram marked up by us below:

Daylighting the Willett Branch and Other Open Space Proposals

One of the few ideas embraced by the community was the planners’ proposal to “daylight” the Willett Branch stream and develop walking trails in the area. This would include restoring the stream to a natural look—it currently passes through the area in a concrete culvert—and adding a linear park along it.

Other proposals include walking trails connecting residents to local schools and the Capital Crescent Trail, and a new civic space in the Equity One Development near the current location of the Giant, as illustrated in the diagram below: