50-acre development set near Walter Johnson approved with changes
New plans increase office space, but decrease retail
Changes to the proposed Rock Springs Centre a 50-acre collection of offices, shops and apartments near Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda were approved today in what could be a sign of life for the once-troubled development.
The Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of allowing Washington, D.C.,-developer DRI Development Services LLC to alter its plans for the site originally approved in stages between 2004 and 2006 located across Rock Spring Drive from the high school.
The Rock Spring Centre will remain essentially the same, senior planner Sandra Pereira said, featuring about a dozen buildings that altogether feature 1,250 apartments, 549,000 square-feet of office space, 210,000 square feet of retail area, a movie theater and a 157-room hotel.
Since it was approved, more than 300 apartments have been built on the property, known collectively as Avalon Bay, and two apartment towers one planned to hold 351 and another with 352 apartments were given the green light for construction, but not built.
The original developer Penrose Group creator of King Farm in Rockville won a $36 million lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court in March against the Camalier and Davis Families, owners of the land, claiming they broke a contract between them and purposefully delayed construction.
The new plans change the layout of the buildings and increase the office space by 10,000 square-feet while reducing retail space by the same amount, she said.
Steve Robins, an attorney representing DRI, said the drop in housing values over five years have delayed the project, but the group is still dedicated to finding a way to finance construction by 2012.
"There's every intention here to complete this project," he said. "It's still, I think, a terrific mixed-use project and it's been a long time coming."
Robins said he did not know how much the total project would cost. Projected costs were not included in the Planning Board's review.
Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said the approvals for the projects given since 2004 would expire in 2013.
A 30,000 square-foot community center once included in the plans is no longer expected to be built, Pereira said.
Jeffrey Bourne, a project manager with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation, said Montgomery County is no longer pursuing the center near Walter Johnson, but rather is looking to build a bigger center elsewhere in the area north of Bethesda.