Plans for a 343-unit apartment building to replace a closed car dealership in Bethesda moved forward Thursday after debate over the affordable housing that would be provided by the complex.
To secure majority support from the Montgomery County Planning Board, the developer ended up offering to include an additional moderately priced unit in the proposed apartment building at the Ourisman Ford site just north of Westfield Montgomery mall.
Representatives of the developer, FP Whitro Westlake LLC, an entity with ties to Potomac-based Foulger-Pratt, had argued that imposing a higher affordable housing requirement so far into the project planning process would place an unfair burden on them.
“Now to have this happen … is very, very disappointing, but again, we’re looking for ways to reach agreement and go away from this feeling good on both sides,” said land use attorney Barbara Sears, who was representing FP Whitro Westlake.
At issue was whether 15 percent of the project’s proposed units should be be classified as moderately priced dwelling units under an affordable housing standard established by last year’s Rock Spring Master Plan. The threshold had been 12.5 percent prior to that.
When the project came before the board for sketch plan review in November, the developer noted that the 15 percent MPDU provision was instituted at the 11th hour of the project design process. Planning staffers said it wouldn’t be equitable to force the developer to alter the apartment proposal at the last minute, and board members ultimately approved the project at the 12.5 percent level.
However, during that meeting, board member Tina Patterson voted against the plan, and board member Natali Fani-Gonzalez was absent.
On Thursday, Fani-Gonzalez said she would’ve sided with Patterson if she’d been present at the November meeting. She also declined to support the project’s advance unless FP Whitro Westlake raised the number of affordable units from 43 to 44.
“Unless you increase the MPDUs, you’re going to have a 2-2 vote. You’re going to have to increase it,” she said.
Even with the additional unit, the project is not reaching the 15 percent threshold; to do so, the developers would need to provide 52 affordable units. Patterson again cast the only vote against the proposal.
“I’m a small business owner. I understand that you need to make a profit,” Patterson said. “I understand that there needs to be flexibility, but if I’m saying I uphold or I’m encouraging development of MPDUs, I have to stick with that.”
Sears earlier in the meeting had said requiring the full 15 percent at this juncture would “send the project into a tailspin.”
The redevelopment project at the corner of Motor City Drive and Westlake Terrace has been in the works since before 2009. However, prior plans for a 340-unit complex didn’t come to fruition, partly because they included ground-floor retail that would not have been viable because of competition from the neighboring mall.
The revised version now under consideration does not include this retail component and instead incorporates three additional housing units. The developer is proposing a public plaza near the corner of Westlake Terrace and Motor City Drive, with a landscaped area, trees and seating. The site will also feature a pedestrian trail around the building, and the apartments will have two private courtyards and a swimming pool.
The project site is covered by a residential development moratorium triggered by overcrowding at the nearby Ashburton Elementary School. However, the apartment construction could go ahead regardless because it was approved for 340 units before the development freeze went into effect earlier this year.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.