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Planning Board, MTA Suggest Redevelopment of Wisconsin Ave. Site for Purple Line

For the best possible Bethesda Purple Line station, the county planning board and the Maryland Transit Administration suggest redevelopment of the Apex Building.

Proposed redevelopment of Apex Building Site. Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Department.
Proposed redevelopment of Apex Building Site. Courtesy of the Montgomery County Planning Department.

If a building in Bethesda is redeveloped in order to build the best possible Purple Line station underneath it, "a lot of real estate transactions" would have to happen quickly, Council Member George Leventhal (D-At-Large) pointed out at a council committee meeting on Monday.

Construction on the Purple Line—a light rail connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton along an old train track bed currently part of the Capital Crescent Trail—is slated to begin in 2015.

At the line’s western terminus is the Bethesda station, planned to be underground in the vicinity of the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue.

Currently, the old train track bed runs through a tunnel under the Apex Building and Wisconsin Avenue, but it’s a narrow, curved tunnel, with an irregular grid of columns. Both the Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail cannot fit in the current tunnel.

In response to Montgomery County council members’ request that the Maryland Transit Administration come up with a way to have the Capital Crescent Trail continue to run through a tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue (rather than cross the busy thoroughfare at street level), the MTA suggested that the Apex Building be redeveloped, i.e., torn down and rebuilt in conjunction with the Purple Line. The county planning board supports this suggestion.

"From a land use perspective, it’s clear to us that there are very significant benefits" to redeveloping the site along with the Purple Line, Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said.

David Anspacher, planner coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission also supports redevelopment of the site, as the platform for the Bethesda Purple Line station would be narrower than that of other Purple Line stations if the Purple Line is built within the current tunnel below the Apex Building.

Of course, the owner of the Apex Building—the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists—would need to agree.

To entice the ASHP to agree to a redevelopment deal, the county planning board has proposed a minor master plan amendment that would allow the site to be redeveloped with a higher floor-to-area ratio (FAR)—the FAR would be increased from 5 FAR to 8 FAR. (Currently, the site is built out to 3 FAR.) The council’s approval of the minor master plan amendment could make it possible to convince the Apex Building’s owners to agree to a redevelopment deal, Carrier said.

But, "we don’t know what it will [ultimately] cost to convince the owners to tear down the building," Glenn Orlin, the county’s deputy administrator, told the county’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) committee.

The MTA has met with the building’s property owners, MTA's manager for Purple Line planning Michael Madden said.

"They have engaged a design team and some developers. From their perspective, they seem interested, but it all depends on what incentives they get," he said.

The Bethesda station will be one of the more complicated parts of the Purple Line to build, and construction on it would need to begin by 2016 in order for the line to be completed by 2020, Madden added.

"We’re okay if the Apex Building is not redeveloped. If it is redeveloped, it does have a number of advantages," but the MTA will need to know, soon, what is to happen with the site in order to keep on schedule, Madden said.

jag January 29, 2014 at 01:12 PM
"Of course, the owner of the Apex Building—the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists—would need to agree." No, they don't. Eminent domain has recently been floated as an option. The problem is that'd take time, which MD might not have, and it'd require $$ allocation to purchase the land. Though one would think the state would just about break even on cost if they're purchasing this old, short, junky building and then reselling such a prime parcel, now w/a Purple Line station, zoned at a much higher FAR.

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