Planning board approves plan for Glenmont garage
Board upset Metro didn't meet guidelines
Montgomery County Planning Board members approved a key part of a plan last week to build a 1,200-space garage that would ease the parking crunch at the Glenmont Metro station but they weren't happy about it.
Board members approved the forest-conservation plan for the garage at the corner of Urbana Drive and Georgia Avenue on the current Kiss & Ride site, even though the project will destroy more than one acre of trees on the 10-acre plot of land. The board objected to the fact that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is financing the project, didn't follow previous recommendations to save all of the two and a half acres of forest now at the site, according to planning staff memos.
"I can't think a major developer could get away with this, but I guess the government can get away with this," said Commissioner Joe Alfandre, who was the only board member to vote against the forest-conservation plan that was up for review April 8.
Board members were ambivalent about whether or not to vote down the forest-conservation plan, but the majority agreed that it would only cost taxpayers more money and waste more time. So three of the four board members present voted to let the County Council know that they disapprove of the garage plan as a whole, even though they approved the forest-conservation piece of it.
"I think this is a terrible location," said Chairman Royce Hanson. "I think this is a dreadful mistake. I am extraordinarily unhappy with putting the garage on this side of Georgia. It's both an injury and an insult to the neighborhood."
And much of the nearby Glenmont community is adverse to having the large garage so close to their neighborhood.
"WMATA has flaunted its responsibility to the community," Michael McAteer, the president of the Glenmont Civic Association testified in front of the board last week. "Now they're asking you to wink at previous transgressions and approve the removal of even more forest."
The forest-conservation plan comes with some stipulations. WMATA must plant two acres of trees somewhere else in the county to make up for the one acre including seven large trees the garage will pave over. The board is also requiring WMATA to create a minimum of 50 feet of forest buffering the Glenmont neighborhood from the garage.
The Glenmont garage, which should be open by early 2011, will provide much-needed parking for the crammed end-of-the-line stop, said Gary Erenrich, the special assistant to the director of the county's department of transportation for WMATA. The existing 1,700-space garage is full most weekdays before 8 a.m., and more than 700 people are on a waiting list to buy one of the 180 reserved parking spaces there, said Patrick Schmitt, the senior traffic engineer for the parking division at WMATA.
WMATA is paying for most of the design and construction of the $23.6 million garage, although the county set aside about $25,000 for construction and the state chipped in another $1.6 million, according to an expenditure memo.
Developers say they are now securing site and building permits from the county while waiting for council approval. Once that's locked down, construction should take 18 months.
In 2006, planning staff recommended the garage be built on the east side of Georgia Avenue, where it would be far enough from neighbors and forest land to avoid controversy. But the County Council approved funds to build on the west side of Georgia because it would cost significantly less, Erenrich told the board Thursday. To build on the east side, construction crews would have had to move the Kiss & Ride and bus bays across the street, and there would only have been room for about 900 new parking spots, he told the board.
But many on the board reiterated that the benefits would have far outweighed the costs.
"It's too late now," said Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss. "Unless there's some alternative, we have to mitigate potential damage. Where it goes and how big it is is already done."