Updated July 13 – The developer selected by Metro to build on a parking lot near its Grosvenor-Strathmore station envisions five residential buildings with public plazas, tree-lined walkways and ground-floor space reserved for music students of the nearby Music Center at Strathmore.
Ron Kaplan, principal of Washington, D.C.-based Fivesquares, described the company’s initial concepts for the project Thursday night at the music center during the Montgomery County Planning Department’s kickoff meeting for development of a “mini master plan” that could provide Metro and Fivesquares with new zoning for the site.
About 150 people, mostly nearby residents, attended. Some expressed concerns that zoning changes that could be included in a new master plan would lead to too many housing units and school-aged children that could attend already overcapacity local schools.
Metro’s 2013 request for proposals from developers interested in the parking lot site restricted new housing to a maximum 550 units, based on the property’s current zoning.
Planning Department Director Gwen Wright told those attending the meeting that Fivesquares approached planners and in response, the Planning Department decided to develop a the minor master plan including the site. The developer is affiliated with Streetscape Partners, which did the Symphony Park townhome project on the north side of Strathmore.
She didn’t say if Fivesquares asked specifically for new zoning.
When asked whether Fivesquares would pursue zoning changes to allow more units, Kaplan said he isn’t yet sure how many units would be included in the project. He also said the final number is up to the Planning Board, which will review and approve the mini master plan. The County Council will have final review and approval, which planners said they anticipate in summer 2017.
“It definitely hasn’t changed to some number,” Kaplan responded. “It will be some result that reflects the fact it’s on a Metro site. …What that means, I have no idea.”
The Grosvenor-Strathmore Minor Master Plan Amendment area, outlined in red. The Metro station and surface parking lot up for redevelopment is in the center, via Montgomery County Planning Department
There are already 860 apartment and condominium units on Metro property immediately south of the surface parking lot, including in the 15-story Meridian at Grosvenor Station.
While the parking lot area is zoned R-60, a zone that typically results in tightly-packed single-family home subdivisions, the site also has a “floating zone,” that requires an additional project review process. That zoning allows for a maximum of 25 dwellings per acre and 10 square feet of retail per dwelling unit. If applied to Metro’s entire 22-acre Grosvenor-Strathmore station site, the zone would yield up to 550 housing units and 5,500 square feet of retail for the surface parking lot site.
“We’re trying to repurpose that and come up with some better use for that surface parking lot site,” said Steve Teitelbaum, a Metro senior real estate advisor.
The surface parking lot has 412 spaces for commuters. Teitelbaum said the transit agency’s request for proposals requires the developer to replace all of those spaces in an expansion to the existing 1,482 Metro commuter garage just to the north.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates Metro, has long sought to partner with private developers to build on its property directly adjacent to Metrorail stations. Teitelbaum said it’s a strategy that provides Metro with more riders, WMATA with revenue from the sale of the land and local jurisdictions with tax revenue from the development, since Metro is exempt from paying local taxes on its surface parking lots and other facilities.
Teitelbaum said WMATA also views the proposed development as a way to improve the area.
“Our site is not very attractive. It’s a giant surface parking lot just south of a very large parking garage,” Teitelbaum told meeting attendees. “Working with the developer [and] the planners and working with you, we’ll try to come up with a plan that makes sense for all of us. If we can do that, great. If not, well, then you’ll be stuck with a surface parking lot.”
Kaplan emphasized the process is in its very early stages—Fivesquares hasn’t yet signed a contract with WMATA despite being selected almost two years ago. He said any development on the site likely wouldn’t happen until well into the next decade.
Fivesquares and architect Matt Bell presented conceptual sketches that showed an expansion of the existing parking garage and five residential buildings—including one near the corner of Tuckerman Lane and Rockville Pike, a portion of Metro’s property that’s not part of the surface parking lot.
The developer says it has discussed its plans with the leadership of Strathmore, the performing arts center and education facility to the north of Tuckerman Lane. Eliot Pfanstiehl, CEO and founder of the Strathmore Hall Foundation, said at the meeting the organization needs more classroom space. On Thursday, Kaplan presented a concept for Strathmore Square, ground-floor space in the development that would be reserved for Strathmore artists and students.
“It’s an early thought about a way to activate that space and create a partnership with Strathmore,” Kaplan said.
Space for small-scale retail could also be included in the project, Bell said, though the development team doesn’t think the area can support a significant amount of stores and and restaurants.
Kaplan and Bell also noted the project could include green spaces and more attractive and efficient pedestrian routes for residents who live east of Tuckerman Lane and walk regularly across the existing parking lot to the Metro station.
The Planning Department is expected to host at least three more public meetings before coming up with preliminary suggestions for the mini master plan.
“It will be a long journey,” said Kaplan, who pointed to Streetscape’s work on the nearby Symphony Park townhomes and his work while at Federal Realty Investment Trust on Bethesda Row—the acclaimed mixed-use project in downtown Bethesda he noted was initially met with skepticism and criticism from residents.
“If you love Bethesda, which I hope you do, if you think we did a nice job at Symphony Park, which by the way won ‘best new community’ on the East Coast the year we built it, and if you bear with us and work with us on this, we will create something that the community loves,” Kaplan said.