The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad wants to build up to 280 apartment units and retail on its Battery Lane site and wants a new zoning law to do it.
The Rescue Squad (5020 Battery Lane) hopes to build a mixed-use project on the site of its nearly 40-year-old station to help pay for a new rescue squad facility that would go on the same site, at the corner of Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road.
The issue for the Rescue Squad is that the property, on the edge of Bethesda’s official Central Business District, is currently zoned for residential use only. To make matters more complicated, the county will apply new zones starting on Oct. 30 thanks to the Zoning Ordinance Rewrite.
Instead of wait, the Rescue Squad is supporting a zoning law change that would expand the area in which Transit Station Residential zoning (TSR) is allowed. The Rescue Squad is the only project that would be affected by the law change, as it’s the only property to apply for the zoning change by the May 1 deadline.
If the County Council approves the new zoning law, the Rescue Squad will still be able to apply for the TSR zoning (allowing for more density) even after the county switches to the new zoning code on Oct. 30.
In a Council public hearing on Tuesday, two county residents argued that would mean a “special law for a special case,” a legal concept one said he’d be sure to challenge in court.
“This is a single-member class zoning legislation that constitutes what is a special law for a special case,” said Jim Humphrey, from the Montgomery County Civic Federation. “This is not about whether the B-CC Rescue Squad provides a valuable service, of course it does. This is not about the design of the building that they have proposed for the site and whether there is widespread community opposition for it. This is not about the financial need of the rescue squad. The only issue of relevance is that if the Council approves this [zoning text amendment], it will be an unlawful enactment.”
New Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson defended the proposal by saying it’s meant for transitional areas of downtown business districts. Paul O’Neill, the land use attorney representing the rescue squad, told the Council that the “concept of transit proximity is evolving.”
Zoning law now allows for TSR zoning of properties within 1,500 feet of a transit station. The law change would allow for the TSR zoning for properties within a master plan CBD.
But Steve Teitelbaum of the Battery Park Citizens Association told the Council it would be illegal because it would only apply to the Rescue Squad’s rezoning efforts. He also called it “oxymoronic” to allow a property far from a transit station to use the TSR moniker and labeled the effort as a move to subvert the zoning law before the rewrite goes into effect.
“Clearly the proposed ZTA violates the basic premise that is transit-oriented zoning,” Teitelbaum said.
The Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is set to take up the issue on Sept. 22.