Planning board approves controversial Bethesda development

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Bethesda residents and members of the Montgomery County Planning Board went tete-a-tete over a proposed seven-story

development near Bethesda Row that residents say would cause traffic gridlock.

The proposed development would sit between Montgomery and Edgemoor lanes, just a few blocks north of Bethesda Row and about 900 feet from the Bethesda Metro station, and have about 120 apartments. The board approved the West Lane project, but not before more than a dozen residents spoke out against it, claiming the building was too tall for the surrounding area, did not fit the community's character and would strain parking and traffic.

Susan Turnbull, a Bethesda resident, was one of many who argued the design went against the sector plan for the area, and that the proposed size would create parking problems on the street and traffic issues on Montgomery Lane.

"Bottom line, this is too big," she said.

Residents argued the building would be a story higher than the surrounding condos, and 5 feet taller than the sector plan advises for the area. Another major problem for residents is service parking for delivery vehicles, which park illegally and congest the road. Residents predicted the problem would get worse with increased population.

Pat Harris, attorney for the project's developer SJG Properties, said the building design included three loading docks for deliveries, which residents said deliverymen and contractors wouldn't use. Harris said that wasn't the developer's problem to solve.

"There's an enforcement issue there," Harris said. "The proposed West Lane project addresses its own impact."

Planning Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss said he was comfortable with the project as a whole but suggested the board look into ways it could alleviate the frustrations residents had over illegal parking and delivery trucks blocking the road.

"It's an urban area, there are trucks and deliveries -- that's life in the city," he said. "But if you can make it better and find a way to accommodate concerns, it's a better plan. Otherwise, it's a plan I'm comfortable with."

The project is scheduled go before a county hearing examiner on Jan. 11 and then head to the Montgomery County Council.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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