Approval of Westwood Shopping Center Project Recommended

Approval of Westwood Shopping Center Project Recommended

Citizens take fight against redevelopment to state appeals court

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A controversial Bethesda development project along River Road that includes 250 residences and about 175,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space has received an approval recommendation from the county’s Planning Department staff.

Regency Centers wants to transform 23 acres along River Road, including the aging Westwood Shopping Center strip mall and a large adjacent parking lot.

A second phase of the plan, recommended to receive preliminary approval this week, would add about 500 residences and 205,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

In the three years since the project was proposed, the plans have been opposed by community members who question its impact on traffic and school crowding, and say plans don’t include enough trees or green space.

A county judge last year dismissed a lawsuit filed by SaveWestbard, a citizens’ group opposing the project, but the group has appealed the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which is scheduled to hear arguments in the case next month.

“I think it’s impossible to address every concern, but we’ve worked really hard to address the majority of the concerns people have presented, adding extensive open space, road improvements,” said Sam Stiebel, Regency’s vice president of investments. “The highlight of this project really is the extensive work we did with the community.”

In an email update late last week, SaveWestbard reiterated its concerns about inadequate parking in the area, saying “planners don’t care about our parking problems.”

Outlined to be developed in two phases, the first would include redevelopment of the shopping center, where 200 apartment units and 70 townhomes would be built. Estimated prices of the residences have not been determined, Stiebel said.

Developers did not provide a cost estimate for the project.

Phase one plans include a gathering space and a community park.

The project will be anchored by a Giant supermarket and other shops facing Westbard Avenue. In total, 420 parking spaces are outlined in the first phase of development, with at least 444 to be added in the second phase, determined to be adequate in a review by the Planning Department staff.

The apartment building will be five stories tall, with ground floor retail and one level of underground parking for residents.

If approved by the Planning Board this week, Stiebel said crews could break ground on the project by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Regency will continue drafting plans for a second phase.

The second section, expected to receive preliminary approval and is subject to another round of review later, includes 410 apartments and 105 townhomes, as well as 205,537 square feet of commercial uses. Developers also intend to donate $500,000 and land to the county Parks Department to help revitalize the Willett Branch stream.

In the area’s master plan, Willett Branch is designated as the focal point of a new community park connecting the Capital Crescent Trail to other areas.
The second phase proposes redevelopment of the Manor Care and Westwood II properties, and a timeline for completion has not been set, according to Planning Board documents.

The Planning Board will consider the project at its Thursday meeting.

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

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