Low-to-medium-scale development, with mixed-use buildings standing no more than 65 feet tall, is likely to be the future of the Chevy Chase Lake Sector, according to Montgomery County planners.
At a public meeting on Saturday morning at the Chevy Chase Village Hall, county planners outlined their recommendations to the county council for a new zoning scheme for the section of Montgomery County known as the Chevy Chase Lake Sector, which is bound by Jones Bridge Road to the north, East West Highway to the south, Rock Creek to the east and the Columbia Country Club to the west.
As the entire zoning code for the county is rewritten, planners and local residents are paying close attention to the zoning recommendations for this mostly residential—with some commercial buildings—neighborhood, as the path for the proposed Purple Line cuts right through it.
The Chevy Chase Land Company, the original developer for the Chevy Chase zip code a century ago, is proposing to build a development with 19-story buildings adjacent to the Purple Line in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector, Patch reported in April.
But the company will just have to rethink its plans for the area, said Rollin Stanley, planning director for Montgomery County. (Read Stanley's blog here.)
Sometimes developers plan out “grandiose buildings that no one will ever use … (then) they find out that this (the low-to-mid-scale development with buildings only four to six stories in height) is what the market wants,” he added.
The county planning department is still finalizing its recommendations to the county council, and will be ready to present more concrete plans to the community in the fall.
Not all of the buildings in the sector will be allowed to even go up to 65 feet, Elza Hisel-McCoy, a county planner, said at Saturday’s presentation.
New buildings built next to single-family homes will not be that tall—“there will be a compatibility standard,” the specifics of which are still in development, Hisel-McCoy said.
And, existing single-family homes, senior living residences and garden apartments will not be rezoned, he added.
The planners propose to phase in the new zoning into two stages. The first stage would occur when the county adopts the new zoning plan and would impact only the 250,000-square-foot shopping center at Connecticut Avenue and Manor Road, allowing mixed-use (residential and commercial) building in that area up to 65 feet in height.
The second stage of implementing the proposed zoning would occur only when the Purple Line light rail is in construction, and would rezone 800,000 more square feet for mixed-use buildings up to 65 feet tall.
The advantage to local residents in having a mixed-use zone rather than a commercial zone in the neighborhood is that, in a mixed-use zone, developers must go through the planning board, which must hear from local residents about the proposal, to get approval for a new building, Stanley and Hisel-McCoy said. That is not the case with development in a commercial zone.
Along with the new zoning plan, the planning department is proposing new local parks and new traffic-controlling measures on Connecticut Avenue. Rather than widening the street, the planners are suggesting turn lanes, reversible lanes and better pedestrian access, as well as rapid transit buses.
The Purple Line, if built as proposed, will help expand transit options for people living and shopping in the sector, Stanley said.
Responding to audience criticisms that the planning department is not maximizing the density potential of the Purple Line, Stanley asserted that “it’s not about maximizing density, it’s about moving people.”
"Maximizing transit means serving people."
And, “while the Purple Line will bring new development, it must be compatible with the existing community,” Hisel-McCoy added.
When county planners met with residents at a series of design workshops in March, residents said they wanted only low-to-medium-scale buildings in any new development in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector, with a diversity of uses for the buildings, a neighborhood center, pedestrian-friendly streets, street-oriented retail and improved access to the area. The planners are working to take that feedback into account as much as possible.
“A neighborhood center at Chevy Chase Lake that balances redevelopment with the character of this established residential community” is our vision, Hisel-McCoy said.
And asked about the existing high-rise buildings on Connecticut Avenue just south of the Capital Beltway, Stanley said, “We reserve the right to not continue to make mistakes."