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MoCo Staff: Allow Bethesda High-Rise

A high-rise building proposed for property atop the Bethesda Metro station has won support from the staff of the Montgomery County planning department and is scheduled for review June 12 by the planning board.

The 16-story office tower proposed by Meridian Group would be one of the tallest in downtown Bethesda, and one of the few that has embraced "smart growth" by both locating next to Metro and not building a parking garage for the building's occupants.

Meridian has offered to enhance the public plaza where the building would stand by adding artwork, small fountains and, during the warm months, outdoor evening movies. The company also plans to spend $2 million to fix up the bus bay and Metro entrance below.

Opposing the project are Clark Enterprises, Chevy Chase Bank and Chevy Chase Land Co., all major players in the Washington real estate market, who have large offices nearby. The companies said that Meridian's proposal is counter to longstanding plans for downtown Bethesda, which they say does not envision more buildings on the site.

Gus Bauman, an attorney representing Chevy Chase Land Co., said the companies are studying the report.

"Do our master plans and sector plans mean what they say? That's what this all comes down to," he said. Bauman is a former chairman of the planning board.

Clark Enterprises recently hired Jerry Pasternak, an attorney who formerly worked for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and I.J. Hudson, a former television reporter, to try to spark more opposition. They are conducting a series of meetings with community groups.

Robert Harris, an attorney for Meridian, said he was glad the company had cleared its first regulatory hurdle and awaits a ruling by the planning board. "Obviously, we are pleased by the report," he said.

In March, the planning staff had suggested in internal memos that official county plans would not allow the new building. Harris asked for more time to make the company's case, which was then reviewed by the planning agency's top attorney, Debra Daniel. The new planning director, Rollin Stanley, also reviewed the case. After that, the staff report was issued supporting the project.

By Anne Bartlett  |  May 29, 2008; 3:26 PM ET
Categories:  Miranda Spivack  
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Comments

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