Chevy Chase building plan draws residents' ire

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Photo - Some Chevy Chase residents are upset about a plan that would turn a shopping center into an urban town square resembling downtown Bethesda. (Examiner file photo)
Some Chevy Chase residents are upset about a plan that would turn a shopping center into an urban town square resembling downtown Bethesda. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A proposal to turn a small Chevy Chase shopping center near the Beltway into an urban town center resembling downtown Bethesda or Old Town Alexandria has alarmed many of the area's roughly 10,600 residents.

Residents have flooded the county Planning Board with more than 200 pages of letters and emails just in the last month, concerned that the proposed development of Chevy Chase Lake will overwhelm already crowded roads and schools.

Consisting largely of single-story shops, Chevy Chase Lake sits on Connecticut Avenue between Jones Bridge Road and East West Highway, with Rock Creek Park to the east and Columbia Country Club to the west. Many commuters know it as a section of Connecticut Avenue just south of the Capital Beltway where rush hour brings traffic to a grinding halt.

In anticipation of the Purple Line light rail station planned for the area, the county's Planning Department has recommended turning many of the shops into apartment buildings up to eight stories tall. There also would be a park, an outdoor playground and new bike and pedestrian paths.

Though planners recommend delaying most of the redevelopment until after the $1.9 billion light rail system between Bethesda and New Carrollton is funded, which could be as early as 2015, 250,000 square feet of apartments and retail could be built before then, said planner Elza Hisel-McCoy.

But the plans are unpopular among many residents in one of Montgomery County's oldest and wealthiest residential areas, where one in out of every six households has lived in their home for at least 30 years and the median household income is $137,123, 50 percent higher than the county's median income, according to planners' data.

Connecticut Avenue, which is Chevy Chase residents' access to the Beltway, has already become more congested following the relocation of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to Bethesda last year, wrote Chevy Chase Section Three resident Salim Saifee in an email to planners.

Even if no projects are built before the Purple Line, the light rail might not be able to support the growth, said Town of Chevy Chase mayor Pat Burda.

Only about 11 percent of area residents take transit, according to the Planning Department.

New apartment buildings could be problematic because of the additional school-age children who might live there, said Julie Buchanan, co-president of the Chevy Chase Hills Civic Association, located on the west side of Connecticut Avenue. The schools in Chevy Chase are already over-enrolled.

And many residents are simply worried about changing the feel of the neighborhood.

"What we don't want is high-rise density that changes the area into a much more urban environment," Burda said.

Robert Shogan, who has lived in the Village of Martin's Additions for 40 years, said he worries about driving away small businesses.

"If we want to go to a local place with towering building[s], lots of cement and congested parking garages instead of nice, happy, easy parking, we'll go to Friendship Heights or Silver Spring," wrote Chevy Chase Section Three resident Traci Zambotti. "Why create that here?"

The Planning Board is scheduled to take up the issue Thursday. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 18.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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