Westwood Shopping Center Plans Approved
Neighbors question adequacy of park space, stormwater runoff measures
Redevelopment of Bethesda’s Westwood Shopping Center could begin later this year after the project secured Planning Board approval Thursday, capping three years of heated debate and opposition.
The board approved preliminary and site plans for the project at its meeting, despite environmental concerns raised by community groups.
Led by Regency Centers, the project adds about 500 residences and 205,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the shopping center on Westbard Avenue.
“All of this was done by well over a dozen community meetings. While we understand not every interest group desires a change in the plans, we’ve worked tirelessly to design a plan that addresses many, many concerns along the way,” said Sam Stiebel, the vice president for investments at Regency Centers.
A lawsuit aiming to stall development was dismissed last year and developers say they have worked closely with the community to ease concerns about traffic and school crowding. The group that brought the lawsuit, SaveWestbard, has filed an appeal that is scheduled to be heard next month.
Project plans include a park, a Giant supermarket and a five-story apartment building with ground floor retail and underground parking.
Later phases of the project include an additional 210 apartments and 34 townhomes, as well as about 34,000 square feet of commercial space.
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.
Developers declined to provide a cost estimate for the project.
Questions remain over how to ensure the proper amount of space for the proposed Springfield Neighborhood Park in a high-density development with multiple rights-of-way.
“We’re quite concerned about the uncertainty that surrounds this at the moment. They have put the park in a place where there are three easements running through,” said Lynn Battle, who lives in a townhouse development near the property.
Cynthia Green, the vice president of the Springfield Civic Association, said she too was disappointed with the lack of specific plans for the planned green space. She also said she was concerned about the amount of traffic on the 5500 block of Westbard Avenue, between River and Ridgefield roads, and that the traffic problems could be exacerbated by the presence of the shopping center.
“This block is overwhelmed with cut through traffic, 1,600 cars and trucks go down this block every 24 hours,” she said, citing a previous traffic study that was performed.
Residents also said they were worried about stormwater runoff flowing into the nearby Willett Branch stream.
Jack Sobel, the president of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, said the county needs to do more to reduce stormwater runoff and make sure rainwater is quickly absorbed in the soil.
“Regency promotes itself as adhering to best environmental practices,” he said.
Mark Etheridge, a water resources expert with the Department of Permitting Services, said he couldn’t guarantee that the plan would fully comply with the county’s stormwater management standards, although it would for the most part.
Planning Director Gwen Wright clarified Etheridge’s comments.
“The actual land where the development is going to be happening … correct me if I’m wrong … complies 100 percent with the county’s standard. The one area that they’re still looking at for compliance is the road itself. And since it is a public road and there are changes that can be made within the public right of way,” she said.
Carl Petty, a civil engineer by training, who lives in the nearby Kenwood Place condominiums, said stormwater runoff that occurs after large-scale weather events is nothing new.
“I raised these issues a number of times during meetings and somebody recently heard me,” he said.
Others raised the issue of the pending April 10 court date for the lawsuit appeal. Michele Rosenfeld, who represents the challengers, said the board should wait until the matter is decided.
“It’s premature to approve the plan while this issue remains unresolved,” she said.
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