Regency Submits Revised Plans as SaveWestbard Continues Efforts To Halt Bethesda Neighborhood Development

Developer’s recently submitted plans call for slightly reduced project

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As a developer’s plans for their neighborhood evolves, Westbard residents who want to halt the proposed development are continuing efforts to raise money to support their appeal of a judge’s ruling against them.

In March, a judge disagreed with the group of residents over issues they raised that Montgomery County planners didn’t sufficiently evaluate greenhouse gas emissions while reviewing the Westbard plan presented by Regency, the developer. The judge also determined the County Council offered sufficient public testimony received for the proposal.

But the Bethesda community group SaveWestbard is continuing its fundraising efforts to appeal the decision. The group hopes to halt the planned overhaul of the Westwood Shopping Center in the neighborhood, despite scaled-back plans submitted by developers last week.

The problem, the group says, concerns a proposed park area and its viability due to a standing easement agreement.

But developers countered, saying those in opposition are the minority.

“We have listened to community feedback and that of Park & Planning and have made material changes to the plans to ensure we can deliver a true to amenity to the neighborhood,” said Sam Stiebel, vice president of development for Regency Centers. “Despite the efforts of a few in opposition, we have heard from many in the community that they can’t wait to see the long overdue improvements to an outdated shopping center. We continue to invite the public to stay informed and communicate with us through our project website (www.westwoodredevelopment.com).”

In 2016, Equity One, the developer later acquired by Regency, submitted a sketch plan for a roughly 1.8-million-square-foot development on several properties lining Westbard Avenue. The plan called for replacing the Westbard Shopping Center with three big-box store buildings along with 74 townhomes spread out behind the retail center. The plan outlined a 120-foot-tall high-rise on the Bowlmor Bethesda site, townhomes in place of the vacant, five-story Manor Care building and mixed-use space on the Westwood Tower site. Equity One also wanted to demolish the Westwood II office buildings to clear space for realigning Westbard Avenue and a new, 190,900-square-foot mixed-use building.

The sketch plan approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board last year excluded Westwood Tower, a property that needed to be studied by archeological experts because of the presence of a historic African-American cemetery.

Community members reacted vehemently against the Equity One plan, saying the surrounding roads and schools couldn’t handle such a massive project. After spending months considering the plans and talking to neighborhood associations and community members, Regency decided to take the Westwood Shopping Center in a different direction, according to project officials.

Regency responded with a drastically altered proposal that would only give rise to 819,000 square feet of total development, with 524 residential units and 183,000 square feet of retail space, about half of what was originally proposed. The updated plan did not cover the Westwood Tower site, which Regency sold for $20 million to the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, or the Bowlmor site.

And the plans have continued to change.

The newest plan submitted last week is intended to be rolled out in two phases, with the first focusing on the redevelopment of the existing retail center on the west side of Westbard Avenue.
Phase II includes the redevelopment of the Manor Care facility, a gas station, a surface parking lot and the Westwood II office building on the east side of the street.

In total, plans call for the construction of up to 132,000 square feet of retail space, 42,494 square feet of restaurant space, up to 410 multifamily apartment units and 104 townhomes.

Despite the reduced plans, SaveWestbard members are determined to overturn the judge’s ruling, calling for donations to support the appeal process. The group says it anticipates oral arguments before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in early 2019.

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