A plan to build a roughly 340-unit apartment complex on a former car dealership site near Westfield Montgomery mall cleared the county planning board Thursday.
As proposed, the 75-foot-tall building will sit at the intersection of Westlake Terrace and Motor City Drive in Bethesda, where Ourisman Ford once did business.
The redevelopment project has been in the works since before 2009. However, prior plans didn’t come to fruition, partly because they included ground-floor retail. The property owners found that the retail space wasn't viable because the mall already offers an abundance of shopping and dining options, according to a staff report.
Planning Board member Norman Dreyfuss said the apartment project will supply housing in an area that has a shortage of residential options.
“So the fact that this doesn't have any commercial space doesn’t bother me at all,” he said.
The size of the apartment building could reach nearly 356,000 square feet, according to the plan as it was approved. The designs also show an entry plaza facing Westlake Terrace, a bikeshare station and a walking trail.
The roughly 4-acre site is within the recently adopted Rock Spring Master Plan.
Board member Tina Patterson asked the staff why affordable housing will account for only 12.5 percent of the units in the project plan submitted by FP Whitro Westlake LLC. The Rock Spring document calls for a 15 percent dedication to moderately priced units, she noted.
Planning Director Gwen Wright said County Council members added the 15 percent provision late in the process while reviewing the Rock Spring plan, a growth document that covers a 535-acre area including the mall. At that point, work on the apartment project already was well underway.
The planning staff didn’t think it would be right to force the developer to alter the apartment proposal only a few weeks before Thursday’s planning board hearing, she said.
“It was, frankly, a fairness issue,” she said.
A land-use attorney for the developer said increasing the number of affordable units could affect the economics of the project.
However, Patterson voted against approving the sketch plan, later explaining that she would’ve wanted to see more affordable units.
The plan was approved by the other three planning board members present. Board member Natali Fani-Gonzalez was absent for the vote.