2021 | Development

Mixed-use Wisconsin Avenue tower project could be next to ‘civic green’

Proposal calls for 450 apartments, almost 15,000 square feet for retail

A rendering for a residential and retail development of 455,000 square feet on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda.

A residential and retail development of 455,000 square feet on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda is proposed next to two properties that might be turned into a “civic green.”

Two developers — Bethesda Land LLC and Bethmont LLC — hope to overhaul the block bordered by Fairmont Avenue to the north, Woodmont Avenue to the west, Norfolk Avenue to the south and Wisconsin Avenue to the east.

They have proposed a building 314 feet high, with 450 apartment units and 14,750 square feet of retail space.

The project is on the site of a 7-Eleven at 7820 Wisconsin Ave. and an EagleBank building at 7815 Woodmont Ave.

Just south of the proposed development, the Montgomery County Planning Board bought two lots last year, with the goal of turning them into a community green space. It would be an extension of the Veterans Park open space.

The Planning Board spent $9.6 million on 7800 Wisconsin Ave., the former home of Union Hardware, and 7810 Wisconsin Ave., the site of the retail shop Ultimate Home.

One frequently raised topic on Monday evening, during a virtual community meeting about the mixed-use project, was when and whether the civic green plan will come to be.

Land-use attorney Barbara Sears of Miles & Stockbridge said the green space plan is outside the developers’ control. If it doesn’t happen, the mixed-use development plan can be adjusted, she said.

The developers put together a different plan for the property more than three years ago. In late 2017, they were seeking approval for a nearly 300-foot-tall building of about 390,500 square feet.

They proposed roughly 300 apartment units, with about 8,000 square feet of first-floor retail.

The new version of the plan calls for 440,250 square feet of residential space and 14,750 square feet of retail.

The county requires that at least 15% of the apartments be designated for affordable housing, known as moderately priced dwelling units. For 450 units, that would mean 68 units set aside.

The developers, however, are proposing to go beyond the minimum. They are proposing 25%, or 113 units.

There is at least one large variable with the project. A third parcel included in the project is 7809 Woodmont Ave., where a four-story condominium building sits.

Sears said there are two options there. Either the condominium building is torn down, and the southwest part of the new tower starts on the ground, or the condominium building stays, and the developer gets “air rights” to build over it, starting at the fifth floor.

Besides the possible green space next to the mixed-use project, other topics that came up during Monday’s virtual meeting were parking, truck loading and traffic volume.

Sears said there would be not be any parking spaces designated for the retail portion of the project.

Entry to a garage with underground parking would be off Fairmont Avenue, along with a loading area. The placement of the garage drew criticism from some residents who tuned in for the meeting.

A small group of people asked dozens of questions and gave positive and negative feedback during a public comment period.

Several people pressed the team working on the project about the garage entrance being on a secondary road. Nancy Randall, a transportation planner with Wells + Associates, replied that county planning officials prefer not to have garage and truck access from a main road.

Sears said the zoning does not require any green space for the project, but there will be some. The plans show 7,000 square feet of right-of-way streetscape area and 250 square feet of public open space.

A traffic study is not required for the project, Randall said.

The developers are only required to produce trip generation estimates based on projections. Since the projections are for less traffic, the study is not needed, Sears said.

Randall said the trip-generation data will be explained when the developers submit their plans.

The developers will submit a preliminary plan for review, then return with a more detailed site plan.