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Bethesda Purple Line Station Planners Unveil Trail Tunnel Designs

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 9/4/2013, 10:10am  ET

Bethesda Purple Line Plan area, via Montgomery County Planning DepartmentThe Bethesda Purple Line Station could include a large plaza area with connections to the light rail system, the Metro platform below and a separate tunnel that would see bikers and walkers through to Elm Street Park.

That’s if Montgomery County can get the owners of the Apex building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) to agree to tear down the structure so the state or a private vendor can build it.

On Tuesday, county planners showed off two options for a new Capital Crescent Trail tunnel and how the Maryland Transit Administration’s preferred option for a Purple Line station would look.

What is not yet clear is what development rights the county will give the property owner in exchange.

Density and zoning recommendations will come out in the planning staff’s recommendations on Sept. 19. Those recommendations will promptly go before the Planning Board which must get the Bethesda Purple Line Station Minor Master Plan Amendment to the County Council before the end of the year. MTA wants an understanding on the future of the property and the station by the end of the year.

Elza Hisel-McCoy, the lead planner for the project, said much of planning staff’s recommendation for density will be based on the work of an economic consultant who the Planning Department has hired to come up with a number that would entice the owners of the Apex Building to redevelop or sell.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, owners of the building, hired an attorney in August and now appear more willing to discuss razing the property than they did when the idea was first introduced by a nearby landowner earlier this year.

The new plans presented on Tuesday included two options for the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel, which would run separate from the Purple Line tunnel about half-a-block south.

One option has the Trail tunnel emerging at ground-level right at Elm Street on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue before rejoining the light rail above ground just north of Elm Street Park. The option also includes an elevator on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue dedicated to the Trail tunnel.

The second option has the Trail tunnel extending into Elm Street Park.

Design drawings for a new Apex building included a standalone elevator bay to the Purple Line at the southwestern corner of Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue. A bank of high-speed elevators to the Metro Red Line platform would be placed about where the entrance to the Regal Bethesda 10 movie theaters is today.

Planners want to know which Capital Crescent Trail tunnel option residents would prefer. There are two more open houses, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday Sept. 9. Both will be at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).

There are three other properties in the Mini Master Plan area, meaning those properties could also see new densities.

Federal Realty owns buildings at the west end of the existing Capital Crescent Trail tunnel, right next to its Bethesda Row development.

JBG owns the Artery Plaza office building on Bethesda Avenue and sold the 7220 Wisconsin Ave. office building to Bethesda-based Peel Properties in May for $16 million, according to state records.