Pooks Hill High-Rise Proposal Already Facing Opposition


  The Montgomery County Planning Department will start work this fall on a plan that would allow for three new high-rise apartment buildings on the the Pooks Hill Bethesda Marriott hotel site. Because the property (5151 Pooks Hill Rd.) is zoned Hotel-Motel, property owner CMG Bethesda Owner LLC applied for a minor master plan amendment to rezone the site for residential use. The minor master plan amendment, a process the County Council approved in April, would have to get approval from the Planning Board and County Council. This week, Acting Planning Department Director Rose Krasnow told The Gazette that the process would take about a year, but homeowners in the nearby Maplewood neighborhood are already voicing concerns. "It's probably not such a great idea to add incredible density to the development along Pooks Hill Road," Maplewood Citizens Association Vice President Ralph Schofer said. "Is there a limit to how much traffic they can put on [Route] 355? With all the growth going on, the Walter Reed expansion, Downtown Bethesda expansion and the plan to increase density at White Flint, what is the limit?" CMG, which bought the property in 2006, commissioned a traffic report that concluded the intersection of Pooks Hill Road and Route 355 would continue to operate at an acceptable level of service. But in its June presentation to the Planning Board, Planning Department staff said an independent traffic study would not be required for the minor master plan amendment. In its application for the amendment, CMG cited the underutilization of the parking lots around the Bethesda Marriott. The three high-rises, which would each be up to 20 stories tall and provide a total of about 780,500 square feet of space, would be built on the parking lots. In its recommendation to put the amendment on its work plan, Planning Department staff cited the site's distance to the Grosvenor-Strathmore and Medical Center Metro stations: Based on the staff's evaluation, the Pooks Hill Marriott property was ranked first because of the public benefits associated with added housing, the reuse of currently under-utilized parking lots, its proximity to transit, and the limited scale of the study area. Planners will also look at a minor master plan amendment application for a village center in Sandy Spring. The Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station is about a mile north of the site, across the Pooks Hill Road intersection with Route 355 and over the Beltway and Interstate 270 interchange. The Medical Center station is 1.3 miles south on Wisconsin Avenue. "You go try to walk to Grosvenor station from here. You tell me how you're going to walk across the Beltway," said Schofer, who added the Maplewood Citizens Association would probably fight the plan. The group was against a similar apartment proposal on the property in 2006, but the project did not go forward.

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