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Planning Board Emphasizes Benefit Of Razing Apex Now, Rather Than Later

By Aaron Kraut

Thursday - 12/5/2013, 1:55pm  ET

The Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave.The Planning Board on Thursday agreed to a Bethesda Purple Line Station Plan it feels uses all of the tools at its disposal to convince the owners of the Apex Building to redevelop.

Now, it’s up to the County Council and Department of Economic Development to decide whether to sweeten the pot for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), which owns the building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave.

County and state transit officials are hoping the ASHP agrees to raze or sell the building so a more spacious and complete Purple Line station can be built underneath. An outside economic study commissioned by the Planning Department determined $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to cover the relocation costs for the ASHP.

The Minor Master Plan Amendment approved by the Planning Board provides one major incentive in the purview of county planners — more density in redevelopment.

If the ASHP or a new owner agrees to redevelop the building in time for the construction of the optimal Purple Line station, the owner will be allowed to build the new building to a 250-foot height with a floor-area-ratio of 8.0. Think of the office buildings immediately around the Bethesda Metro station as an example.

The Planning Board also hopes the Apex Building owners realize that any redevelopment will be much easier in conjunction with Purple Line station construction than after a default station is built — both from a structural and project approval standpoint.

The Minor Master Plan requires the building owner provide “significant and commensurate” public amenities in case it wants to later redevelop the building to maximum allowed density.

The idea is that providing public amenities commensurate to a major transit station will be a difficult task if the building owner passes on razing the building now.

“It’s not going to be just some public art in a plaza,” said Planning Director Gwen Wright. “That’s all the Planning Board can do to give it teeth.”

The ASHP has sat down at the table with county planners during the process, which took off in August. The Maryland Transit Administration hopes to start construction on the Purple Line by the end of 2015 and wants an indication of the Apex Building owner’s plans by early 2014.

The county is pushing hard for redevelopment because the optimal station would include a separate Capital Crescent Trail tunnel, high-speed elevator connection to Metro’s Red Line and Purple Line platform all under one roof.

The MTA says the default design for the station will mean a cramped platform and no room for an underground Trail crossing, plus the possibility of a ventilation shaft placed in nearby Woodmont Plaza.

The ASHP has seemed unwilling to raze or part with its building, at least not for the redevelopment package first proposed by planners. The building is profitable and the Pharmacists group could sustain tenant relocation and construction costs of up to $25 million, the economic study said. Some of that would come from having to close down the Regal 10 movie theater, which opened in 1992 and has an estimated 350,000 annual ticket sales generating $300,000 in annual amusement tax revenue for the county.

The Planning Department will send the Plan to the County Council on Friday.