Purple Line could bring redevelopment to area
Commercial, residential, retail space could resemble King Farm
The Chevy Chase Lake area could resemble Rockville's King Farm mixed-use development in terms of style, if the Purple Line light rail project is built and a station is constructed along the Capital Crescent Trail.
Approximately 250,000 square feet of commercial property owned by the Chevy Chase Land Company called Lake East, located between Manor Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive on the east side of Connecticut Avenue, would be redeveloped to include a transit-oriented shopping center, small retail stores and office space, according to company president Edward Asher.
Twenty acres of current residential areas could also be altered to include multi-family homes, as well as low- to moderately-priced residences as required under Montgomery County land use rules.
The trail runs between Manor Road and Chevy Chase Lake Drive, through Lake East, Asher said. He said the redevelopment plans for Lake East have not been reassessed for six years. Lake East currently includes high-rise office space, a supermarket, and a hardware store.
King Farm, located within Rockville, is a 430-acre mixed-use residential community with 45 acres of recreational amenities and 33 stores in a village center. Eight homes recently sold in King Farm ranged in price from $450,000 to $866,000, according to a Web site run by Llewellyn Realtors, which specializes in King Farm homes.
Some trail advocates are objecting to the Chevy Chase Lane Company's role in discussions over the Purple Line, which would connect downtown Bethesda to New Carrollton through Silver Spring over 16 miles with rapid bus or light rail.
They have expressed concern that the development around any light rail project would create a "Trojan horse" for dense commercial zones that would destroy the community on the trail and the trail itself.
Asher, whose company owns 100,000 square feet of high-end retail space called the Collection at Chevy Chase in Friendship Heights, and is developing another commercial site in Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase Center, asserted that Lake East would be primarily low rise structures and would not resemble the shopping area in Friendship Heights. He said stores convenient for working people on foot were being considered, instead of "big box" stores such as Target and Best Buy.
"It would be an integrated, residential, walking community," he said.
But others believe that overbearing commercial spaces and a loss of the trail as a community resource are inevitable if Chevy Chase Lake gets light rail.
"I don't know how you measure that in dollars. But when you lose that, we become more like rats in a maze," said Maureen Jais-Mick, co-chair of Rethinking the Purple Line, a community coalition against light rail on the trail. "We've got good development going in. We've got good green space. Why do they want to bulldoze it?"
Tom Autrey, a member of the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission's transportation staff, said development near a light rail station must be friendly to pedestrians.
Some goals in development around rail stations could be to get 25 to 30 jobs per acre, as well as five to nine dwellings per acre, he said, although all plans must be tailored to fit existing conditions.
"Typically what you're looking for is a mix of uses, and some kind of transition to the surrounding area that makes sense," he said. "In other words, it's not just abrupt. It works physically. Walking is very important."
Gigi Godwin, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said light rail is more attractive than buses to the business community because of its appearance, dedicated infrastructure, and the sense that it is the "best technology out there."
"It's a model that people are familiar with all over the country and the world," she said.
But trail advocates argue that new rapid bus systems are significantly more advanced as well as visually attractive than past buses, including such features as priority at traffic signals.
Jais-Mick said despite private sector enthusiasm, public sector financing for light rail from fares would not be enough to pay for the possible cost of the project, estimated as high as $1.6 billion.
"One hundred million dollars a mile for something we're going to have to subsidize in perpetuity is simply irresponsible," she said.