Could the Apex Building site at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. become a new "best address" in downtown Bethesda?
The county planning board thinks so, as long as the Apex Building is redeveloped in coordination with construction of the Bethesda Purple Line station, which is slated to be below-ground in the vicinity of the Apex Building.
The planning board approved the planning department's draft plan for the Purple Line Station Minor Master Plan Amendment last Thursday, recommending redevelopment of the Apex Building site, which is owned by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
"With an improved Purple Line station, the south entrance to the Bethesda Red Line Metro station and the Capital Crescent Trail literally under one roof, the Minor Master Plan Amendment Area [mainly bounded by Elm Street and Wisconsin, Bethesda and Woodmont avenues] has the potential to become the new 'best address' of the Bethesda Central Business District," according to the draft plan.
Currently, the Capital Crescent Trail passes through the building below-grade, along an old train track. The Purple Line is planned to be built along that track, and the trail likely will be re-routed. If the Purple Line station is built around existing sub-grade building structure, the station will be curved and cramped.
But, if the current Apex Building is demolished and rebuilt, a better-designed Purple Line station can result, according to the draft plan:
- The Purple Line station platform would be larger and—without interrupting columns—would provide more room for riders and trains.
- The Purple Line station platform would be straight, eliminating gaps between the train and the platform.
- The Red Line Metro south entrance would be located within a new building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. and would be accessed via high-speed elevators from the street.
- Capital Crescent Trail users would have a choice to cross Wisconsin Avenue either in a new tunnel below a new building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. or at street level.
- The 90-foot-tall ventilation tower needed by the Purple Line Bethesda station would be incorporated into the new building, rather than standing alone in the middle of a plaza.
- The over-run tracks for the Bethesda Purple Line station (which will be the western terminus for the east-west Purple Line) could be shortened, and wouldn't have to extend so far into Woodmont Plaza.
- The station could accommodate space for full-service bike storage.
They'd likely get an increase in allowable height on the property, at the minimum. The draft plan recommends increasing the allowable height of the site from 143 feet to 250 feet. If the building is redeveloped after construction of the Purple Line, then the allowable height would be only 200 feet, the draft plan recommends.
But, additional incentives probably will be needed.
Bolan Smart Associates—hired by the planning department to review public and private costs of redeveloping the site—determined that "from the perspective of the owner of the Apex building, the increased economic value of additional density on the Apex site is largely offset by the significant cost associated with relocating the existing tenants, including the building owner and an established, though aging, movie theatre, and the additional private costs related to construction of the Purple Line station."
"Although additional zoning may incentivize redevelopment, additional measures, beyond those available to the planning board, are necessary to help guarantee redevelopment on [Maryland Transit Association’s] timetable," the company's analysis added.
The planning department's draft plan for the Purple Line Station Minor Master Plan Amendment is with the county executive and county council for review. The council will hold a public hearing on the draft plan on Jan. 14, 2014, and the council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee will discuss the draft plan on Jan. 27, 2014.