2014 | News

Pooks Hill Residents Say New High Rises Would Add To Traffic Problems

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Residents in the Pooks Hill area of Bethesda complained that a proposal for two new high-rise apartments would make an already sticky traffic situation worse.

The residents — many who live in the Promenade Towers condo complex at 5225 Pooks Hill Road — made their arguments on Monday during a required community meeting hosted by developer Quadrangle.

Quadrangle will submit a plan to build two, 15-story apartment towers totaling about 625 units on a set of mostly unused overflow parking lots near the Bethesda Marriott.

Quadrangle Senior Vice President Bob Knopf and attorney Soo Lee-Cho defended the project against an onslaught of criticism. The most prominent concern related to how adding more units and more cars would affect traffic circulation on Pooks Hill Road.

The Pooks Hill neighborhood is mostly made up of condo buildings, townhomes and apartments, just south of the Capital Beltway spur and just west of Rockville Pike.

But for many Promenade residents, the intersection of Pooks Hill Road and Rockville Pike is the only way to get out of the neighborhood in the morning. Before 9 a.m. on weekday mornings, residents who live east of Linden Avenue are effectively blocked off from access to Old Georgetown Road because of cut-thru restrictions in the Maplewood-Alta Vista neighborhood.

“This is not sustainable,” commented one resident. “We will be worse than Manhattan without the advantages of Manhattan.”

Intersection of Pooks Hill Road and Route 355, near the Beltway and Interstate 270 interchange.Knopf said the developer does believe “there are changes that are possible,” to the Pooks Hill Road and Rockville Pike intersection. A traffic study that could include potential improvements won’t be done in the initial Sketch Plan portion of the approval process.

Knopf also said the developer is considering providing a shuttle for residents to either the Grosvenor-Strathmore or Medical Center Metro stations. Both stations are about a mile-and-a-half from the site.

The 625 rental units would be a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom. The project could include upwards of 800 parking spaces, though the development team said a final number had not been specified.

A traffic consultant for the project said, based on Montgomery County’s prescribed trip generation rates, the 625 units would mean 144 additional vehicle trips out of the complex during the morning rush hour period.

Marriott’s overflow parking lots have been targeted for high-rise development before.

Developers had proposed three new high-rise apartment buildings on the overflow lots, a project that could’ve only been allowed by new zoning in a minor master plan vetted by the Planning Department, Planning Board and County Council.

But that process stalled when the county decided to move a zoning review of Clarksburg ahead of Pooks Hill on the work schedule.

Meanwhile, the revised zoning in the county’s new zoning code took effect in November, allowing the two, 160-foot tall apartment towers. Lee-Cho said Quadrangle will make 15 percent of the roughly 625 units moderately priced.

Judging by the comments from residents at Monday’s meeting, it seems there will be at least some community opposition to the proposal. One resident asked Knopf if Quadrangle had made any political contributions, inferring that the developer had made the contributions in exchange for the site’s zoning.

“That’s an unfair question,” Knopf replied.

Others said they thought the new apartments might block their view from the Promenade, a high-rise community that has its own parking garages, offices and retail spaces at the top of Pooks Hill Road.

As others screamed questions and comments, another resident assured all that their voices would be heard: There will be buses to transport residents from the Promenade to the Planning Board in Silver Spring when the hearing date comes up, he said.

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