Updated Monday, June 6 – The developer at the center of the recently approved Westbard Sector Plan on Wednesday revealed its plans for a multiphase 1.8 million-square-foot redevelopment project that would largely remake Westbard Avenue in Bethesda.
Equity One hosted the required public meeting before it submits its sketch plan application to the county Planning Board, the initial step of an approval process that could lead to shovels hitting the ground as early as the first quarter of 2018.
The first phase of the project would bring three 60-foot-tall retail and commercial buildings fronting Westbard Avenue on the site of the aging Westwood Shopping Center.
The Giant Food grocery store that currently anchors that shopping center will take over part of the southernmost retail and commercial building, said Michael Berfield, executive vice president of development for New York-based Equity One.
The buildings would be bracketed by four two-lane streets with curbside parking with a roughly 1,100-space underground parking garage.
Bethesda-based developer EYA is partnering with Equity One for the second phase of the project, 12 rows of townhomes arranged immediately to the west of the retail buildings, on what currently is a large surface parking lot for the shopping center.
Berfield on Wednesday didn’t provide specifics as to square footage of the retail space or the number of townhome units behind it. Combined with the proposed phase three townhomes on the former Manor Care site and a fourth phase that could include a 122-foot-tall residential building on the Bowlmor site and 75-foot residential building at the Westwood II Shopping Center, the project could bring a total of 500 to 700 residential units.
Also part of the sketch plan are two residential buildings on Westbard Avenue that would be built in front of the existing Westwood Tower, a Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission-owned building that sits on land for which Equity One holds a ground lease.
Berfield said although it’s still possible the Housing Opportunities Commission will purchase the lease to take full control of the property, Equity One’s sketch plan will include two residential buildings on the property that could bring another 150 units.
Equity One is planning an indoor civic space likely to be given to Montgomery County, a civic green and a neighborhood green—three features that were recommended in the Westbard Sector Plan.
Berfield said the developer will also provide a free shuttle bus to Metro that would be available even to those who don’t live on the properties and still plans to offer businesses in the existing shopping center the opportunity to rent space in the new retail buildings at the current rate plus inflation increases.
But Equity One didn’t include improvements to the Willett Branch or the realignment of Ridgefield Road near River Road in its sketch plan. Both were key improvements called for in the Westbard Sector Plan, the document that provided new zoning which the developer hopes to take advantage of.
Berfield said it’s Equity One’s understanding that the “daylighting” of the Willett Branch, which runs next to the company’s Westwood II Shopping Center site, would be a public project taken on by the county government or Park and Planning Commission.
He said the realignment of Ridgefield Road wasn’t included in the sketch plan because the developer hasn’t yet discussed the move with various county agencies and utilities.
About 140 people attended the meeting, held at The Ballroom on Landy Lane. While those opposed to the redevelopment weren’t as boisterous as during sector plan meetings and protests, many still stated their concerns during a question-and-answer session.
A member of the Save Westbard group passed out a sheet of paper asking residents to pledge donations to a legal fund. The group has hired Michelle Rosenfeld, a former attorney for the Planning Board who now represents neighborhood groups on development issues.
Sid Clemens, who opposed the zoning in the Westbard Sector Plan, asked Berfield if the developer would be “willing to back down a little bit” in terms of the height and density of the proposed buildings on Westbard Avenue.
Equity One is asking for an extra floor above what zoning allows for its Bowlmor site apartment building because it plans to make 15 percent of the units income-restricted affordable housing, slightly more than the county minimum of 12.5 percent. The affordable housing bonus density rule applies throughout the county.
“You’re not going to get violence and burning and bombings from a bunch of people here with gray hair,” Clemens joked, referencing the general make-up of the audience, “but you’re going to have some people who are pretty mad.”
“The reality is we’ve gotten huge amounts of support for this plan,” started Berfield, before many in the crowd began laughing, making it difficult to hear the rest of his answer. “So we’re comfortable with this plan.”