International school planned for historic Grosvenor site called off
Officials involved with Nations Academy withdraw application for necessary zoning exception
Plans to build an international, private school on a historic Bethesda property have been called off.
Officials involved with the Nations Academy announced on Wednesday that they had withdrawn an application for a special zoning exception needed to build the school.
Nations Academy in Bethesda was planned as the flagship location of a series of international schools for students in preschool through 12th grade. The Bethesda campus would have accommodated 1,600 students, and included a dormitory for international students.
In a statement, Nations Academy Spokeswoman Jeanne Allen Strother cited "current real estate market and financial considerations" as reasons for the withdrawal. When reached by phone, Allen Strother would not comment further.
The site of the proposed school is located on Grosvenor Lane, between Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike. The 35-acre property, which was once owned by National Geographic editor Gilbert Grosvenor, contains a 1920s Tudor-style mansion, as well as a cottage and carriage house.
The Montgomery County Court of Appeals would have needed to grant a special exception for the school to be built, due to zoning restrictions on the land. The property is currently owned by the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation. The sale to Nations was contingent upon the approval of the special exception.
A plan for a second campus in midtown Manhattan was also nixed, according to news reports.
Controversy over the proposed school was vehement for the past 10 months, with community associations defending the historic nature of the property and citing traffic concerns as reason to build the school elsewhere.
While Nations officials said they hoped to incorporate the historic elements of the property into their design, a pending application for the Grosvenor Lane site to be named to Montgomery County's Historic Preservation Commission forced officials to move the proposed opening date from fall 2010 to fall 2011 in June.
Upon hearing the news, area residents rejoiced.
"Oh yay," said Cheryl Leahy, president of the Wildwood Manor Citizens Association, a community neighboring the Grosvenor site. "…We're thrilled. A private school would not be the worst use of that land, but that one was just too ambitious."
Norm Knopf, a Rockville attorney hired by three neighboring citizen associations, said the main issue was the traffic.
"This means that [area residents] will no longer have to live in fear that their roads will be over-congested," he said. "The community was against it based on the size of the project. These are very narrow residential roads; they couldn't have accommodated the extra traffic."
And while the current project is shelved, Nations officials didn't leave out the option of still returning.
"Nations Academy remains committed to opening a school in the greater Washington, D.C. area in the future," Allen Strother said in the statement.