The developer that wants to build a townhouse community around the Grosvenor Mansion would have to fill in a ditch on a public softball field, build a 10-foot bike and walking path and plant trees along a local road.
But neighbors of developer EYA’s proposal still think it has too many units, will make local streets unsafe with traffic and detract from a forested public park nearby.
Montgomery County Planning Department staff will recommend approval of EYA’s site and preliminary plans for 143 townhouses and 10 new single-family homes (a change from 153 townhouses) on Thursday at the Planning Board. If the Planning Board agrees, the approval would come with a bevy of requirements for the developer to improve Fleming Local Park, ensure proper tree buffering and widen and upgrade Fleming Avenue.
The Fleming Park Community Association, which represents the neighborhood to the west of the property, says that road widening and a second entrance on Fleming would make kids unsafe and threaten their curbside parking spots.
“I think we recognize that property at some point is going to be developed. We’re not opposed to that per se,” said Fleming Park Community Association President Rebecca Morley, who lives on Grosvenor Lane. “It’s that these plans really could not possibly be doing anything more wrong. The staff at the Planning Department has exacerbated the problem.”
The group joined with the Wildwood Manor Citizens Association — which helped defeat a proposed international private school for the property in 2008 — to hire attorney Norman Knopf, a veteran representative of civic groups against aspects of development projects.
Their list of concerns with the initial proposal was substantial. But it grew longer after Planning Department staff required EYA to add a second entrance on Fleming Avenue and widen the road to meet county standards.
In their recommendations, planners say the neighbors simply have it wrong.
Knopf contends the plan allows more new units than the zoning allows because planners are letting the developer use 10 acres of existing office space and the historic Grosvenor Mansion in the 35-acre application.
Planners say a renewed and updated special exception for the office space means its acreage is part of the project.
The neighbors say a second entrance on Fleming (one would also go on Grosvenor Lane) means more traffic on local streets and safety issues.
Planners say the initial proposal, which included only the Grosvenor Lane entrance, would mean an “overlength cul-de-sac” that doesn’t meet planning standards. Just one entrance for 155 units wouldn’t meet the Montgomery County Road Code and cause problems for emergency access.
Staff also said putting the second entrance on Grosvenor Lane would “cut through the environmental setting of the historic resource,” something the Grosvenor Family, which still owns the mansion, is not willing to let happen.
Planners recommended requiring EYA to widen and improve Fleming Avenue because it “is a substandard street,” that’s only 20 feet wide. With residents parking their cars on the west side of the street, Planning staff says there is very little space for cars and emergency vehicles to pass.
Park improvement requirements would include new benches, 36 new trees for a park buffer, new grass seed for the softball field, lighting for the tennis and basketball courts and a new hard-surface trail connection from the townhouses to the park.
Neighbors say the existing bike trail through the area will lose tree canopy from the development. The revised plan also recommends turning 10 connected townhouses that would back up to Fleming Avenue into single-family detached homes.
Planners say having 40-foot tall townhouses on Fleming would mean the existing homes on the west side of the street would be overshadowed.
EYA plans to provide 392 parking spaces, plus a garage, driveway or both for each unit. The developer used the property’s roughly half-mile distance from the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station as part of its justification statement last January.
“It’s strange community planning and design from my vantage point. We’re talking about walkability and bikeability. The Planning office doesn’t seem to have any sense of that,” Morley said. “They turned these multi-family homes into single-family homes. They’ve got competing goals to work with but in accomplishing that, they’ve created a very dangerous situation on Fleming, made the park less useful by removing the trees around and by not requiring the developer to really improve the park.”
Nearly 60 pages of correspondence from other neighbors make many of the same points.
The plan is set to go before the Board after 9 a.m. on Thursday at Planning Department headquarters in Silver Spring (8787 Georgia Ave.).
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department