Maryland Court Denies Appeal Challenging Approval of Westbard Sector Plan

Maryland Court Denies Appeal Challenging Approval of Westbard Sector Plan

Group said planners did not study greenhouse gas emissions, bypassed hearing

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The state Court of Special Appeals has denied a Bethesda group’s appeal of a development plan for their neighborhood.

In a ruling issued last week, state judges disagreed with the more than 30 petitioners, a group known as Save Westbard. They alleged that Montgomery County planners failed to adequately consider greenhouse gas emissions when developing a master plan for the area on Westbard Avenue in 2016.

The group also said the County Council failed to hold a required public hearing on the proposal before approving it and that the plan, as approved by county officials, will decrease their property values through a loss of open space.

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge a year ago ruled against the group’s lawsuit. The group appealed to the state’s second-highest court.

The Save Westbard group asked the appeals court to void the Westbard Sector plan and issue an injunction against developers to prevent them from pursuing projects in the area.

The more than 100-page Westbard Sector Plan recommends zoning changes and recommendations for “community facilities,” like schools and civic space, transportation and parks.

The plan “does not explicitly include information about the potential impact on greenhouse gases,” the Court of Special Appeals ruling says.

However, the court said the law “does not legally mandate particular action.” The court ruling also says local law “specifically includes no requirement that the Plan includes the steps taken in connection with a greenhouse gas analysis or documentation of a carbon footprint analysis.”

In response to Save Westbard’s claim that the County Council violated state law by not holding a public meeting after amendments were proposed to the plan, the Court of Special Appeals agreed with a previous Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling that said “the Plaintiffs were afforded substantive due process.”

The appellate court said the assertion that the council didn’t hold appropriate hearings was “over reaching based on semantics.”

Neither county Planning Department officials nor attorneys for Save Westbard could immediately be reached for comment Thursday morning.

Members of Save Westbard became increasingly frustrated with the sector plan as plans for a development project in the area moved through the county’s approval process.

The recently approved development plan will add about 500 residences and 205,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the Westwood Shopping Center site.

The problem, Save Westbard says, concerns a proposed park area and its viability due to a standing easement agreement. The easement, which allows long-term access to a property without selling the land, is with a nearby condominium complex. Save Westbard members argue that the easement would prohibit a full build-out of a proposed park.

The first draft of the property’s development plan was submitted in 2016, calling for roughly 1.8 million square feet of development, including townhouses, high-rise apartments and a mixed-use building.

Community members voiced displeasure about the proposal. Developers altered the plan two times, settling on plans that include a park, a supermarket and a five-story, 500-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail and underground parking.

The County Planning Board approved the plans in March and developers said construction could start this year. The project is led by Florida-based developer Regency Centers.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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