Friday, May 30, 2008

Will traffic barriers stall JBG’s Glenmont project?

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Rendering courtesy of the Chelsea School
The Chelsea School in downtown Silver Spring plans a $12 million expansion that includes a two-floor library, a new gymnasium, underground parking, two sports fields and a new entrance facing Ellsworth Drive.
That thump-thump sound you hear is the latest traffic barrier getting stuck under the wheels of approval for the JBG Cos.’ massive mixed-use project planned across from the Glenmont Metro station.

The Chevy Chase company’s increased zoning density request for the planned complex, with 1,550 residential units and 90,000 square feet of retail, has bounced back and forth from the Montgomery County Planning Board to the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings to the County Council. Now, just in time for a June 9-10 zoning and administrative hearing, comes a new study showing that the nearby junction at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road ranks second worst on the list of the county’s most congested intersections.

The traffic choke point three blocks from the JBG project didn’t even make the last Highway Mobility Report two years ago, but now Glenmont’s rush-hour congestion far exceeds the county’s standard for judging the impact of new housing developments in Metro policy areas, according to the release this month by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the county Department of Park and Planning.

The report said that Georgia Avenue traffic can back up all the way from Wheaton to Glenmont during the afternoon rush hour. Traffic samples indicated that it takes up to 13 minutes to travel the roughly 1.6 miles from Veirs Mill Road to Randolph Road, at an average speed of 7.4 mph, compared with the posted speed limit of 35 mph.

That essentially confirms the fears of Glenmont resident groups that traffic conditions cannot absorb JBG’s planned 1,550 residential units and 90,000 square feet of retail. Their complaints persuaded the County Council in January to remand consideration of the project back to the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings despite a recommendation for approval by the Planning Board.

JBG’s outside zoning attorney, Steven A. Robins, declined to comment on the upcoming hearing, but he dismissed the new county traffic congestion study.

‘‘That was only one sample taken in 2006 and there are numerous samples taken since then that show differently,” he said.

Hearing officer Françoise Carrier is scheduled next month to consider JBG’s new traffic mitigation analysis, which the council ordered after concluding on a 6-3 vote that the Planning Board’s review did not reflect the reality of gridlock conditions at Georgia and Randolph. Board staff recommended approval based on an average of two traffic studies carried out by a JBG consultant in January 2006 and January 2007, which showed lower vehicle counts than those taken in two other studies in September 2005 and February 2006.

JBG’s Glenmont MetroCenter would replace Privacy World at Glenmont Metrocentre at Glenallan Avenue and Layhill Road. The new upscale complex would supplant an affordable but run-down garden apartment complex that dates to the early 1960s.

At issue are the traffic assumptions behind Carrier’s conclusion that there is ‘‘insufficient evidence that the proposed development would not have an adverse effect on local traffic conditions,” even if the project is in the public interest to encourage building around Metro stations.

JBG argues that Glenmont can handle more traffic and stay within the county’s Metro area limit under its mitigation plan to add two lanes to Georgia Avenue. JBG says its traffic plan would reduce critical lane volume — a measurement of traffic flow during peak hours — to 1,656 in the morning peak hour and 1,685 in the afternoon peak hour.

That is based on numbers derived with the help of planning staff that showed traffic without any mitigation would increase to a critical lane volume of 1,952 in the morning peak hour and 1,898 in the afternoon peak hour once the JBG development is completed — as well as another nearby housing project and a planned second Metro garage.

But the Highway Mobility Report shows that Georgia and Randolph already had a critical lane volume of 2,069 when a sample was taken in February 2006. That exceeds the county standard of 1,800.

Woodmore groundbreaking set for June 5

Groundbreaking for Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden, the much-anticipated development that will feature a Wegmans supermarket, has been set for Thursday, according to information from developer Petrie Ross Ventures, which is working on the project with Greenberg Gibbons Commercial and Hovnanian Land Investment Group.

Costco will also be an anchor in the 245-acre mixed-used development, which is to include retail, residential, hotel and office elements, at the interchange of I-495 and Landover Road, Route 202 in Prince George’s County.

Debated Bethesda tower gets modified OK

The Montgomery County Planning Board staff has recommended approval of a slightly smaller version of a hotly contested 16-story office building proposed for the top of the Bethesda Metro Station.

In a report released Wednesday, in advance of a June 12 board hearing, planning staff concluded that the 4 Bethesda Metro Center proposal falls within available density under the Bethesda sector plan in return for significant new public amenities.

The report recommends imposing a number of conditions for approval, including a change in the square footage of the project and space for public amenities.

‘‘It’s a recommendation for approval with certain conditions, most significantly slightly less density,” said Joshua Sloan, coordinator of the planning department’s development review division.

The report would limit the overall size of the project to 235,371 square feet, rather than the 256,084 square feet that was originally proposed last year by the developer, Bethesda-based Meridian Group. The report also calls for providing a minimum of 39 percent of the net lot area for on-site public-use space.

The report would allow Meridian to build a 200-foot-tall office and retail building, replacing a three-story office building currently on the lot. The first floor is slated to include two retail spaces, which will likely be restaurants. The building would sit at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue, Old Georgetown Road and Edgemoor Lane.

The plan has spurred intense opposition from the Chevy Chase Land Company, the Chevy Chase Bank building, 2 Bethesda Metro Center and the Clark building, who complain that the project is too big and too tall for Bethesda’s Central Business District. Each of those properties was built in compliance with the area’s sector plan, which called for a public plaza atop the Metro.

Baltimore’s Harbor East lands law firm offices

The Harbor East complex rising in Baltimore has landed a new marquee tenant in the law firm Hogan & Hartson, which announced it has signed a 37,500-square-foot lease.

The firm will move its Baltimore offices to the 650,000-square-foot Class A office building, which will be the new global headquarters of Legg Mason Inc. H&S Properties Development Corp. signed a 15-year lease with Hogan & Hartson to move to the Harbor East project between Little Italy and the Inner Harbor in 2010.

When completed, the 38-acre complex will include 1 million square feet of office space, a Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, and 500,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space.

Hogan & Hartson is advising H&S on the Four Seasons portion of the project.

Siemens USA leasesfull building in Beltsville

Siemens USA has signed a full-building lease for 76,000 square feet at the Ammendale Commerce Center in Beltsville, First Potomac Realty Trust, the property’s owner, announced. The German electronic conglomerate will take full occupancy of one of the center’s buildings at 6435 Virginia Manor Road.

Ammendale Commerce Center is a three-building, 130,000-square-foot business park located off Interstate 95, just north of the Capital Beltway.

‘‘We are very pleased to have Siemens as a tenant at our Ammendale property,” said Matt Wilson, First Potomac’s regional vice president for Maryland. ‘‘We acquired Ammendale last year at 40 percent leased and have worked diligently to add value to the property since then — this Siemens lease will bring the property to 100 percent occupancy.”

First Potomac acquired the Ammendale center last year for $10.2 million in cash.

Chelsea School plans$12M expansion

A $12 million expansion in the works at the Chelsea School in Silver Spring would help transform the school into a college preparatory institution focused on math, science and technology for students with language-based learning disabilities.

The conceptual design for the physical expansion includes a two-floor library made of zinc and glass, a new gymnasium, underground parking, two sports fields and a new entrance facing Ellsworth Drive. Any new buildings would be constructed on the school’s current site at 711 Pershing Drive. The yellow David S. Stone Building, which currently houses administrative offices, would be used as an incubator for visiting researchers, said Tony Messina, the head of the school.

‘‘We have to be forward-thinking,” Messina said. ‘‘Why shouldn’t these students have access to the very best?”

An additional $8 million, paid for by a capital campaign that kicks off next month, would go toward endowments for staff development, outfitting the school with modern technology and setting up a scholarship fund. Tuition is $34,700 per year, and most students’ tuition is paid by their public school systems, Messina said.

The design of the new facility, which would not be up for public and county scrutiny for at least four years — the duration of the upcoming capital campaign — was created by Montreal architect Robert Claiborne. Claiborne is a protégé of Daniel Libeskind, the architect whose design will be used to create a new structure on the former World Trade Center site in New York.

Claiborne agreed to consider the project on the insistence of Libeskind and his wife, Nina Libeskind, who have donated $50,000 to the capital campaign and arranged about $1 million in savings by finding companies to sell materials for the project at cost. The Libeskinds were introduced to the Chelsea School by Eric Miller, the school’s consultant on the capital campaign.

Staff Writer Agnes Jasinski contributed to this report.

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