The Montgomery County Council voted Tuesday to pass a zoning text amendment that would allow developers to use publicly-owned facilities to fulfill public amenity requirements in their developments. The move would afford more building density for private developers who partner with public agencies to create public facilities as a part of their projects.
The ZTA, proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), was prompted by negotiations between the county and developer JBG to build a new second district police station in Bethesda as part of a mixed-use residential development in the Woodmont Triangle. The passage of the ZTA will allow for JBG to use the station to fulfill their amenity requirements and would allow more density for JBG on the project, which will create housing and a retail-lined pedestrian pass-through between Wisconsin and Woodmont Avenues near Cordell Avenue.
The new police station project is part of a land swap deal under which JBG would retain the land on which the current station sits, across Wisconsin Avenue from the Bethesda Metro station.
JBG chief development officer Ken Finkelstein said at a council committee session last month that the project “would not be feasible” without the passage of the ZTA.
Representatives from Leggett’s office have argued that the ZTA would not only benefit the Bethesda project, but would incentivize other developers to partner with the county on public facility projects.
Some councilmembers, however, took issue with the ZTA. Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) raised concerns last month about the process of soliciting bids for the project, wondering whether it should have been more transparent from the beginning that a zoning text amendment could afford the bidding developers more density. He called the ZTA a “red-eyed Eskimo,” proposed to benefit the police station project.
Following up on questions posed by Elrich and County Councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large) the county reduced their payment to JBG based on the value the increased density the ZTA would bring.
The ZTA passed unanimously Tuesday. The police station project requires an approval process at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission before moving forward.