Court Affirms Planning Board Approval of Bethesda Metro Center Project
Judge writes concerns with development can be made as reviews progress
The Clark Enterprises office building near the Bethesda Metro Center.
A Montgomery County judge has ruled against a Bethesda company contesting the approval of a major development project at Bethesda Metro Center.
Clark Enterprises, with headquarters in an office building adjacent to the property, filed an appeal in November after the county Planning Board approved a sketch plan filed by New York-based Brookfield Property Partners for a 290-foot building that includes residences, shops and restaurants in a plaza at the Metro Center complex.
Attorneys for Clark argued in court last month the Planning Board did not thoroughly investigate concerns about the plaza’s future raised by community members during public meetings, specifically about an area of the plaza subject to common law dedication – a specific designation of use for the area.
Clark lawyers said because the space has been treated as an “important public amenity” in the past, the Planning Board erred in approving the project plans, which would significantly alter the area.
The Planning Board gave preliminary approval to the project with two alternate designs — one residence-focused and the other solely for retail and office space.
Circuit Court Judge David Lease issued the ruling that said Clark, or any other individual or group, failed to air its concerns before the development plan gained preliminary approval, the proper time to raise the issues.
Lease said any concerns about the project in reference to the “commercial option” was a moot argument because developers have since solidified plans to include 489 residences and retail space, rather than a retail and office building.
“The Court has reviewed the Planning Board’s Resolution and finds that it is based upon substantial evidence in the record and provides a correct interpretation of Montgomery County law,” Lease wrote. “… Consequently, neither of these issues are properly before the Court and must be dismissed. However, all is not lost for Clark. Counsel for the Planning Board stated on the record that Clark could raise these issues when the Planning Board undertakes review of … future site plans.”
A date for future Planning Board consideration has not been set.
In a statement, representatives of Brookfield said they were encouraged by the ruling, but declined to comment “in any specific detail,” because they had not yet read the full ruling.
“This is excellent news for Bethesda residents who have strongly expressed a desire for energized open space as opposed to the empty and underutilized plaza that we have today,” the statement said.
Lawyers for Clark, who were seeking to effectively halt the project by challenging the initial approval, declined to comment Monday.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org