Roger Berliner: Development Allowed By Westbard Plan Should Be ‘Pared Back by Almost Half’

Roger Berliner: Development Allowed By Westbard Plan Should Be ‘Pared Back by Almost Half’

In memo to colleagues, County Council member outlined what parts of the plan he would cut

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Council member Roger Berliner (file photo)

Aaron Kraut

County Council member Roger Berliner on Tuesday detailed how he would eliminate about half of the new development that would be allowed by the Westbard Sector Plan as presented by the county’s Planning Board.

In a memo to colleagues Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer, the three members of the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, Berliner said the Planning Board was “too aggressive” in its vision for the area of Bethesda around River Road and Westbard Avenue.

While Berliner said he agrees with the plan’s goals of adding more affordable housing and allowing property owner Equity One to revitalize its aging Westwood Shopping Center, he also said the plan “can and should be substantially pared back by almost half” to “allow the Westbard community to experience a more organic and gradual transformation.”

To start, Berliner said he would reduce the total number of new residential units that could be built over the 25- or 30-year lifespan of the plan from the Planning Board-recommended 2,480 to about 1,200.

Berliner wrote the PHED Committee and full council could do that by not immediately upzoning properties on River Road, but by placing them in a floating zone that would require rezoning and a more extensive review process at the time any of the property owners wished to redevelop.

He also wrote the council should eliminate the floating commercial-residential zone proposed for the Little Falls Library site and get rid of a similar floating zone proposed for properties in the south end of the area that are now home to light-industrial uses such as auto mechanic and landscaping businesses.

“The properties provide essential services to the Westbard and surrounding communities and the light industrial zoning should be retained,” Berliner wrote.

Since the Planning Department began working on the Westbard Sector Plan in late 2014, Berliner’s office has received more than 1,200 pieces of correspondence—many in opposition to parts of the plan that would allow significant redevelopment.

Some residents opposed to redevelopment pressured Berliner, who as the District 1 council member represents the area, to step in. But Berliner said he would only make his views known once the Planning Board submitted the plan to the council for final approval, which it did in December.

On Feb. 8, Berliner spoke at a meeting of the Springfield Civic Association, which represents the neighborhood of single-family homes just north of the area, and outlined how he would cut back on allowable development.

Berliner also wrote the plan should limit redevelopment of the vacant Manor Care property to town homes, a chief concern of the Springfield group. He wrote the council should reduce the allowable building height from 90 feet at the Westwood II Shopping Center “to provide a better transition to the single family neighborhood of Springfield.”

Berliner also wrote the plan should call for increased bus service to the area, add a county-operated senior center in Equity One’s redevelopment of the Westwood Shopping Center, ask for a more specific look at how many new students would come from new apartments and limit any redevelopment on the Washington Episcopal School site to the previously approved senior housing project.

He wrote that even if the plan is cut back as he is proposing, it could still produce an additional 190 to 250 new income-restricted affordable housing units. Berliner wrote there are currently 43 income-restricted affordable housing units in the area.

The PHED Committee is set to discuss school capacity and transportation issues in the Westbard Sector Plan on Feb. 29. The committee is also scheduled to work on the plan March 7 and 14 before the plan heads to the full council for more discussion and a vote.

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