Updated: Developer of WMAL Radio Towers Site Unveils Latest Plans to Skeptical Public
More than 150 residents near the site expressed concerns about traffic, school capacity
The preliminary plan for a 328-home neighborhood on the WMAL radio towers site. The five-acre section in red could be reserved for purchase by Montgomery County
Updated Tuesday – Toll Brothers on Saturday unveiled its latest plans for a 328-home neighborhood on 75 acres of Bethesda land that has long been home to four WMAL radio towers.
The meeting, required by the Planning Department before the developer submits its preliminary plan application for the project, drew more than 150 residents to the cafeteria at North Bethesda Middle School—many with the same concerns about added traffic and students from the new homes that have been discussed in previous public meetings.
The project would extend Greyswood Road, which now dead-ends at the property boundary, through the northern portion of the new neighborhood and connect it with Greentree Road on the other side.
The 328 homes would generate 209 vehicle trips in the peak morning rush-hour period and 271 vehicle trips in the peak evening rush-hour period, according to the county’s trip generation standards.
Some residents at the meeting scoffed at that projection, saying it was too low for a neighborhood of more than 300 homes with two-car garages.
“I just want everybody to understand that not everyone leaves at the same time,” said Nancy Randall, principal at Toll Brothers’ transportation consultant Wells + Associates. “I understand why it is hard to conceive of the numbers.”
Randall said recent changes in the mix of single-family detached and townhome units planned for the neighborhood meant a detailed traffic study wasn’t ready to be presented Saturday to the public.
John Harris, Toll Brothers vice president, told the crowd the Pennsylvania-based developer would hold another public meeting to discuss the traffic study, though he said he couldn’t guarantee that meeting would happen before the traffic study is submitted as part of the preliminary plan in May.
Many residents of the surrounding neighborhoods are foremost concerned with how residents in the new neighborhood would impact traffic on already-clogged Fernwood Road, especially near its intersection with Democracy Boulevard.
Randall said the traffic study is looking at more than eight intersections surrounding the property. In past public meetings, project officials have suggested they may provide intersection improvements.
The neighborhood is also projected to be home to about 150 students that would be assigned to the Walter Johnson High School cluster.
Of the 328 homes, 170 would be single-family detached and 158 would be townhomes. That total includes 42 moderately priced dwelling units and 22 homes in a 5-acre portion at the southwest corner of the site that will be put into reservation for purchase by Montgomery County.
If the county purchases that 5-acre portion within three years of the project approval, the county could use it for an institutional use and those homes wouldn’t be built.
Toll Brothers is pitching construction of a network of walking trails, a tot lot and a public green toward the middle of the property as public amenities. A clubhouse facility with a pool and exercise room would be reserved for residents of the neighborhood.
While the developer pitched a public dog park in an existing wooded area in its concept plan released in November, Harris said the preliminary plan doesn't include the dog park. About 20 acres of the property, including some of the existing forested area, will be common open space.
The developer is also proposing bioswales, which are landscaped and sealed drainage systems that would remove and filter pollution in stormwater runoff, along parts of 10 streets in the new neighborhood.
The county’s master plan for the area requires any development on the site, which is already zoned for single-family detached houses and townhomes, to connect Greyswood Road and Greentree Road. The rest of the neighborhood will be served by a curvilinear street grids reminiscent of traditional suburban neighborhoods.
Prices for townhomes would start at just less than $1 million and the single-family homes would start at $1 million, project officials said.
Gary Unterberg of Rodgers Consulting, the firm doing engineering work for the project, said the developer hopes to have Planning Board approval by October to pave the way for a July 2017 construction groundbreaking.
County law dictates that construction could only happen on 20 acres of the property at a time and Unterberg said the project team hopes the first homes are completed by fall 2018 with the full build-out expected to last through 2022.