Clark Enterprises Drops Opposition to Brookfield’s Plans for Bethesda Metro Center

Clark Enterprises Drops Opposition to Brookfield’s Plans for Bethesda Metro Center

Clark wants high-rise built over an existing building at site

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Robert Eisenberg of Clark Enterprises (in green) and Simon Carney of Brookfield Office Properties during testimony Thursday night.

Douglas Tallman

The battle between Brookfield Office Properties and Clark Enterprises over the future development of Bethesda Metro Center appears to have ended.

Clark Enterprises Vice President Robert A. Eisenberg said Thursday night his company would support Brookfield’s plan to build at the site.

The two companies have been feuding over the future of the property for years. Brookfield has a ground lease for the site, and wants to build a high-rise that would include more green space. Clark, whose building overlooks the plaza and Metro station located below, has been fighting for the entire site to become a park.

Eisenberg testified about the agreement between the two companies during a Montgomery County Council hearing on the Bethesda Downtown Plan, a land-use guide meant to shepherd growth in the community for the next 20 years. About 100 people attended the two-hour hearing, the third one held this week, and about 35 testified.

“We’ve crafted a compromise proposal that is a win-win-win-win,” Eisenberg said.

Both Clark and Brookfield support a high-rise building, possibly as tall as 290 feet. Both would renovate the dark and dank Metro bus bays below the site. Both would provide  green space, and both would anticipate the new construction would result in additional tax revenue for the county. Carney testified the county would receive $1.5 million a year.

Where they differed was that Clark wants the high-rise to take the place of a three-story building already on the site. Brookfield has been reticent on its plans until the Bethesda Downtown Plan is complete. Carney repeated Thursday the new project could be used for office or residential or a combination of both with ground-floor retail.

Simon Carney, Brookfield regional counsel, said his company would study Clark’s suggestions.

“They’re our neighbors, and we want to be good neighbors,” Carney said.

Thursday night’s hearing was the third and final session on the 550-page plan, which has been criticized by some residents for including too much density, particularly near residential neighborhoods, ignoring traffic issues and underestimating the effects new housing would have on local public schools.

The plan has drawn supporters, as well, who support its goals of growth and increasing the amount of affordable housing.

Clark had supporters in the audience each night, with representatives from the Baltimore public relations firm KOFA Public Affairs handing out “Protect Bethesda Green Space” stickers. A dozen or more supporters of Brookfied attended Thursday night’s session, wearing peach-colored T-shirts and stickers that proclaimed “Save the Bus Bay.”

Eisenberg’s testimony was a culmination of at least two years of feuding between the two companies.

In 2014 and 2015, Clark Enterprises was trying to turn the ground-level Bethesda Metro property into a civic green, with bocce ball courts and more seating. The company had no control over the site, owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and already leased to Brookfield.

Shortly after Clark initially presented its ideas, Brookfield countered with its own plan that the site could have green space as well as new construction.

During that time, the two companies have found other areas of disagreement, especially over retail and the necessity of new construction.

In June 2015, Brookfield accused Clark of trying to deceive the public, by presenting “a false choice” between development and green space. The next month, Clark announced it would help pay for the Metro park; Clark founder and CEO Jim Clark had died the previous March, and the company said he wanted to preserve the space.

Both sides have taken to the internet to spearhead their campaigns. Clark started the website “Protect Bethesda Open Space.” Brookfield has “BethesdaConnected.”

Clark’s online advocacy ran afoul of council member George Leventhal on Thursday.

Leventhal said that when he tried to reply to email messages he received that were generated by Clark, a quarter didn’t have valid addresses. Leventhal described an exchange with a constituent who clearly had not read the message that the constituent apparently had signed.

The messages said the council had sided too often with developers, Leventhal said, pointing out the irony that the messages were generated by a land developer.

Another common message criticized the council members’ pay raise and tax increases.

“If you’re going to criticize the livelihoods of the elected officials who you’re trying to persuade, it’s not a lobbying technique I would recommend,” he said.

“Overall, I’m perplexed and confused by all this email. It hasn’t led me to believe it was a genuine expression of public opinion,” he said.

Eisenberg responded that hundreds of legitimate emails were sent, not generated by Clark, but from actual constituents.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to fix wording that sounded like Brookfield and Clark each would build separate buildings.

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