Amended Woodmont Central Plan Approved by Montgomery Planning Board -- with a 'Twist'

Plan to include recognition of former "Twist and Shout" music venue, which stood on site.

An amended plan to develop two sites in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle with retail, residential and office space was approved by The Montgomery County Planning Board approval during Thursday's meeting. 

The "Woodmont Central" plan, first approved in 2009, would bring mixed-use buildings to the area, including offices, retail space and residential units.  The initial plan called for one large commercial building, at the corner of  Rugby and Del Ray Avenues. The amended plan divides that space into two separate buildings, with residential units above and street-level shops. A third, all-commercial building with ground-floor retail is to be built at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Street (replacing the current Texaco station). 

Developers Donohoe Development Company came before the board Thursday seeking approval for the plan amendments, which between the two sites would create up to 455 housing units, more than 30,000 square feet of retail space and 80,000+ square feet of office space.  The project is to be built in phases, with plans calling for the commercial building to be first constructed. 

The Board approved the changes, adding conditions to address density and related concerns. The approval came following other discussion concerning area businesses, LEED (green) building certification, parking, public space--and a bit of area cultural history: the "Twist and Shout" music venue, which formerly stood on the site.

In a letter to the Board, local resident Ben Pagac testified that the site of the planned residential buildings (at Del Ray and Rugby Avenues), was once home to the famed "Twist and Shout Club," which operated from 1986-1991 and 1996-1998.  The venue was created by Marc Gretschel, a Montgomery County resident, and featured performances in the bottom floor of the two-story VFW building.

"Over a 12-year period [the club] featured national musical acts that represented the finest fabric of the American musical arts and creative heritage," reads Pagac's letter. "Musicians who performed there spanned all American genres including blues, Cajun, zydeco, honky tonk and rockabilly...  [artists included] Queen Ida Gillory, Michael Doucet, Koko Taylor, Wilson Boozoo Chavis, Santiago Jimenez Jr., Robert Jr. Lockwood, D.L. Menard and Dewey Balfa."

Singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, a former area resident "was so taken by the Club that she wrote the Grammy award-winning song, 'Down at Twist and Shout'," the letter goes on to note.

Paget proposed that "consideration be made at this site for recognizing the rich cultural contribution" of the club, its history, area relevance and musical importance.

As part of the amended development plan, a "public art program" is to be built in the open space between the two residential buildings.  The Board agreed to recognize "the past musical use of the site" in the open space artwork.

Testifying on behalf of Paget, Montgomery County Urban Designer Margaret Rifkin said that the Woodmont Triangle Action Group and the Bethesda Arts and Entertainment District Advisory Group "are interested in participating in the discussions about how to reflect the cultural heritage of the site."

"This is the type of thing that makes a community special," said Rifkin afterwards.  "We're looking for looking for a way to recognize this local cultural feature, as part of the open space."

A panel spokesperson from Donohoe Development told the Board an artist is also working with the company on how to best reflect the site's history. 

"We understand and respect [the history]. We hear the community and other's concerns about it."


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