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Planners Support Rare Apartment In Bethesda’s ‘Metro Core’

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 12/2/2013, 4:10pm  ET

7340 Wisconsin Avenue apartment rendering, via Planning Department Image via Planning Department 7340 Wisconsin apartment massing diagram, via Planning Department

The site was originally envisioned as an office building, but a down office market means Montgomery County Planners will support a planned 14-story, 225-unit apartment building when it goes before the Planning Board next week.

The Bainbridge Companies is proposing the building at 7340 Wisconsin Ave., just south of the Bethesda Metro station in a section of town the 1994 Bethesda CBD Master Plan deemed the “Metro Core,” marked for high-density office development and employment uses.

But despite the residential nature of the project, planners will recommend the developer’s project and preliminary plans for approval at the Planning Board on Dec. 12.

In their analysis, planners said a number of properties in the Metro Core identified for mixed-use residential retail have been approved for office space, including the upcoming Bethesda Center project that will feature 250,000 square feet of office space:

Perhaps more important was the well demonstrated lack of a market for new office development. While the Sector Plan recommends employment uses for much of the Metro Core District, the office market for this area is weak, and the demand for residential living at this transit-proximate location is strong. At this time, there are very few residential uses located in the Metro Core District to satisfy the high demand, and those in existence are located on the periphery of the District. The project represents an opportunity to place multi-family residential units near the substantial employment uses already located in the Metro Core District, creating the vibrancy of extended activity into the nighttime. Too much office use without complimentary residential uses does not promote the extended activity needed for a successful downtown.

The building will include up to 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. It’s the site of a long vacant Exxon gas station with driveways on each of the three bordering streets — Montgomery Lane, Wisconsin Avenue and Hampden Lane.

But the apartment would have a single entry and exit point on one-way Montgomery Lane into and out of a 200-space parking garage below ground. The developer has vowed to dedicate 15 percent of the roughly 225 units as moderately priced.

At a required public meeting earlier this year, the attorney representing Bainbridge in the planning process said the building should be taller to take full advantage of the site’s proximity to the Metro station. A number of residents in the audience actually agreed.

But Dalrymple said Bainbridge doesn’t want to wait until a new Bethesda CBD Sector Plan — one that could theoretically allow more density in the Metro Core — is complete.

An apartment is also in the pipeline for the United Bank building at Commerce Lane and Old Georgetown Road. The existing site of the 2nd District Police Station will also likely be turned into a residential development in a land swap deal with Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras.

Images via Montgomery County Planning Department