2018 | Development

Bethesda Neighbors Appeal Judge’s Ruling in Case Contesting WMAL Site Development Plan

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals will take up the legal challenge

WMAL site


Bethesda citizens groups are heading to a state appeals court with a lawsuit challenging approval of a 309-home development on an expanse of open land in North Bethesda.

In a ruling issued in June, a Montgomery County judge affirmed the planning board’s decision to sign off on a preliminary plan for the Toll Brothers project. Now, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals will consider questions about whether the planning board improperly granted the developer’s request to cut down certain large trees and clear 5.6 acres of forest.

Toll Brothers has proposed building 159 single-family homes and 150 townhomes on the roughly 75-acre property east of Greentree Road and just north of the Beltway. For more than 50 years, the site has been empty except for an array of WMAL radio transmission towers, but it has long been slated for future development, Circuit Court Judge Gary E. Bair wrote in his opinion.

The development plans have stirred a variety of concerns among surrounding residents, who are upset by the loss of forest and the prospect of increased traffic congestion.

Doug Bonner, vice president of the Bradley Boulevard Citizens Association, said he and his neighbors are particularly concerned about adding cars to Fernwood Road, which already backs up during rush hour.

“We’re not opposed to development of this property at all. I think we’ve conceded that development can and should occur. We are just opposed to this particular plan and the number of homes that are contemplated for that development,” he said.

Many also want Toll Brothers to supply more recreational space in the project.

They’ve objected to the planning board’s decision to excuse Toll Brothers from meeting the county’s forest conservation standard, allowing them to preserve 10.75 acres instead of the 15.16 required by law. To their dismay, Toll Brothers also won permission to remove 34 “specimen trees,” mature trees that would otherwise be protected by county law.

The developer made the case it couldn’t meet the forest conservation standards because it had to build important roadway connections that passed through tree stands. Noise mitigation structures and wetland protection will claim space on the WMAL property, and Toll Brothers is also dedicating 4.3 acres to the county for a potential school site, leaving less for the development project.

In light of these challenges, the planning board excused the developer from meeting the full forest conservation requirement, and Bair upheld the decision.

“The Petitioners are asking the Court to reassess the evidence and reach a different conclusion than the Board, which is simply not the role of the Court on appeal from an administrative agency decision,” he wrote.

Michele Rosenfeld, who is representing the Bradley Boulevard Citizens Association, West Fernwood Citizens Association, Wyngate Citizens Association and individuals contesting the WMAL plan, said it will likely be months before the appeals court hears arguments in the case.

The community groups filed the legal challenge last year after the Montgomery County Planning Board approved the Toll Brothers preliminary plan on Aug. 3, 2017.

The appeal was first reported in the Montgomery Newsletter, a subscription-only real estate newsletter.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.