A potential deal between developer JBG and County Executive Isiah Leggett’s office to build a new police station in Bethesda as part of a larger residential development hinges on the passage of a zoning text amendment proposed by the executive, JBG chief development officer Ken Finkelstein said at a council committee session Friday.
The zoning text amendment, proposed by Leggett May 2, would allow for developers to be offered more density for building publicly owned or operated government facilities as part of their projects, subject to approval by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Though the zoning text amendment would need to undergo an extensive public hearing process at Park and Planning before it’s approved or shot down, it drew discussion from councilmembers Friday at a public safety committee session set to discuss the ongoing negotiations between JBG and the county.
“Simply put, if the [zoning text amendment] as currently drafted isn’t passed, it would not be feasible for us to proceed with the project,” Finkelstein said at the session.
The deal isn’t yet official, but Leggett’s office is in the final stages of extended negotiations with JBG on a “land swap” that would allow the county to save some money on the construction of the new police station. The plan is for JBG to build a new Second District police station on Cordell Avenue between Woodmont and Wisconsin Avenues, and it could be part of a larger, residential development with up to 400 housing units – 70 or 80 of which would be moderately priced. The new station would be about 30,000 square feet on three floors. The county would give the developer the site where the current police station is located – a high-traffic location at the corner of Montgomery Lane and Wisconsin Avenue across the street from the Bethesda Metro station, where JBG may build offices, Diane Schwartz Jones, assistant chief administrative officer in Leggett’s office, said at the session.
The current station, built in 1961, is in desperate need of repair, according to information in a council committee packet. There have been problems with the HVAC systems and mold growing in the locker rooms, according to the packet. And with constrained parking at the site, most of the staff and public parking is only available in a public lot across the street, and there have been problems with vandalism to police cars parked there.
The new station would have 44 underground parking spots, according to the packet. The total development with residences would be 600,000 square feet, Finkelstein said at the session.
The new station is estimated to cost $21.8 million, according to the packet. Of that, the value of the original police station site will cover $8.7 million, and the county would pay an additional $10 million to JBG if the deal is finalized. JBG would be responsible for covering the balance and any overages.
At the session, Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) asked whether the zoning text amendment would be an additional “embellishment” on the original deal between JBG and the county. He posed the question of whether the additional density that could be made available if the amendment were to pass could come at a price.
“If that wasn’t part of what got them the winning bid, then this has a value and we ought to get a piece of that value,” Elrich said. “…I’m just saying, ‘Is there a better deal to be had?’ I just want to be sure we’re not giving away something we didn’t have to give away.”
Schwartz Jones countered that the deal was a good one for the county and would result in significant cost savings on the development of the police station. The intent of the amendment, she said, was to make similar cost-saving public-private partnerships possible in the future.
“This is not a deal for a [zoning text amendment,]” Schwartz Jones said. “It’s one of several different conditions that would make this work, but the ZTA came over here because this is the way of the future …. to help incentivize people, developers, to provide or contribute to public facility.”
The council committee is expected to re-convene next week to further examine the negotiations.